“What was that sneeze about!?”
Wednesday night, November 2, 2016. I got up at 5:30 in the morning today to do my mid-week interval session – ‘On the Rivet’ – in my basement. I didn’t feel great, but figured the intensity would help me a bit come Saturday’s race. What race? My first truly targeted cyclocross race I’ve done in all my years of racing the discipline. On Saturday I race the senior/elite Canadian Cyclocross Championships event in Sherbrooke.
Last weekend’s race in Perth was solid. I didn’t feel fantastic on the bike, yet managed to finish closer to Evan McNeely, Matteo Dal Cin, and Osmond Bakker than ever before (except when the first two have imploded/had mechanicals). I had a mechanical issue that made my race harder than it had to be, but it was a good day. Rolling into Monday, I knew I’d not have Wednesday night to train, due to a family dinner, so I’d have to either do a workout Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
At this point, I think I’ve realized that I need two days of recovery from hard races in order to get back to full strength; Wednesday morning was the plan. An unexpected wake-up at 5 A.M. saw me up at 5:30 and heading downstairs to get onto my bike. The workout went OK, and I didn’t feel bagged all day.
Then, just before leaving work…the sneeze.
As I ride home I’ve initiated what could become panic spiral. Am I getting sick? I’ve heard my colleagues sneezing, coughing….it’s all around me. Was it just some dust or whatever? A mild reaction to something I ate? Ok, ok, be positive, it’s nice out, and stress will only make a potential problem worse.
But am I getting sick!?
At dinner I’m tired, but how should I interpret that? After all, I was up much earlier than I’ve been getting up lately. Did I push myself over the limit?
Don’t even consider eating the chocolate pie! The last thing I need is insomnia.
It’s 8:30 and I’m heading to bed. Regardless of whether I’m getting sick, I need the rest. I’m not going to ride before work in the morning.
Awake, a couple snooze buttons pushed. How do I feel? Well, I can’t detect any symptoms, so that’s good. Do I feel energized? No…but should I? I mean, I was up early yesterday and did a hard workout. Maybe I’m just recovering from that. Yeah, that’s it, believe that: I’m just recovering from the workout. In hindsight, I’m thinking it was a dumb thing to do.
Riding to work feels ok, albeit tired. Tea, not coffee! Yes, then I can refill all day, stay on top of it. Mint.
Now, looking forward, to Friday’s drive to Sherbrooke and afternoon spent on course inspection. Just two days ago I was thinking about how much effort I should put in on the course on Friday; now I’m thinking about whether I should ride more than the bare minimum to feel it out. I’m thinking back to illnesses I’ve had and ridden through, sometimes with decent results, other times utter failures that made me sick longer. I’m feeling reasonably confident that I’m fine, and that rest is what I need. Tonight will be occupied with packing and hopefully a short ride inside.
If I’m sick on Saturday, all I can do is focus on executing skills well, being part of the weekend with our team, supporting the guys in their races. If I’m fine how will I approach the race? The reality is that I am not on the level of the best guys in Canada, and a top 5 finish would require a miracle. So what am I racing for? How should I approach a race I know I can’t win?
It’s pretty simple: I’m aiming for a peak performance. In order to create the conditions to support such a performance, I decided back in the summer to use the first two months of cyclocross season as preparation for Nationals. What did that mean? Rochester’s UCI race weekend was my kick-off, cracking the seal. I knew the racing would be beyond my level of preparation, but that it would get me into the right frame of mind for Nationals, reminding me what the demands of a big race are. It worked well, I was amped after the weekend.
The preceding weeks were mostly occupied by our Eastern Ontario Cyclocross Series races, with a Quebec Cup peppered in. Whereas in previous years I was preoccupied with performing well at each race and aiming for the overall points race, my angle this year has been completely different. I’ve been using each race as part of my weekly training, focusing on how I use what I have to work with each race in terms of form, and putting a lot of thought into racing smart. Since I’m not worried about peak performances each week, I feel comfortable doing endurance rides on Saturdays for 3-4 hours, which I feel helps keep my fitness up over the whole of the fall. In previous years I’d be worried about doing too much on a Saturday; not so now. It’s all building for this weekend.
With this one weekend as the focus for the fall, it’s easy to see how I’d get tweaked by a sneeze. The key here, for my sanity, is to remember that this process has been one of learning, and I’ll carry that forward regardless of how I feel on Saturday. I’m moving toward focusing on cyclocross more and more each season, so I’ve got time to put all the pieces together. It doesn’t HAVE to work 100% this time around.
But assuming I’m ok on Saturday, how will I race against a bunch of guys I know have better form than me? Process goals. I’m not focused on a placing at all. I have no idea whether a top 15 or top 20 would be good, so it would be pretty meaningless to pick one of those. Sure, a top 10 would be perceived as a good result by most observers, regardless of how many people start (37 at the moment). But more useful, on the bike, is the intention and goal of racing smart and HARD the whole 60 minutes. I feel I have a good handle on my limit for the first lap effort I can do, and from there, I want to work each lap at finding faster lines, conserving energy, and putting out big efforts where they will count the most. I’ve been close to, but not all the way ‘with’ Osmond this season, so I can likely key off of his performance to gauge how I’m doing. But really, what I’m looking to lay down is a performance that transcends what I’ve done to date, which means I have to recognize that I should aim to not just hang onto Osmond, but ride faster than him. The same applies to Derrick St John. I’ve been very close to him in a couple races this year, so I need to believe that I can ride with him and willingly accept the discomfort that will involve. I can’t settle for a comfortable position, I’ll have to make it borderline unbearable the whole race.
I’m not alone in this. My team-mates, Iain Radford, Mike Reeves and Jim McGuire all face very stiff competition in the Master 40-49 race, and odds are good they will draw poor start grid placements. They are all aiming to simply race strong from start to finish, and not settle for positions that feel ok. If they crack into the top-8 placings they’ll earn front row call-ups for 2017, which will count for a lot. I look forward to performing pit-crew duties for them, a rare opportunity.
As I wrap this up I feel the bug I’ve been hoping isn’t here starting to kick in. I’ll do my best to remain positive, hoping that a good sleep will take care of it. If not, the weekend will test my ability to find silver linings and be content with my fate. There’s only so much we can control in life, and the best we can do is to avoid being bound by our expectations, learn from experience, and keep moving forward.