Friday, July 27, 2007

The Greatest Rewards

Okay, so where have I been? I've been home and dealing with the existential dilemna of how racing fits in my life. For a short few weeks, cycling just wasn't fun anymore, and I simply had no idea what to write in my blog that would be beneficial for others to read. So I decided silence was best until I figured out what was eating at me. I think I found some answers, and in turn, am having fun again on two wheels.

After a couple weeks of reflection, I believe I raced this whole season from the wrong mental perspective, and it "did me in." I look back to earlier in the spring, when I was chomping at the bit to race and to go out and prove myself. I had not gotten onto a "pro" team, but knew that was my continued dream and goal for next year. At some point early into my season, I read a short write-up on cyclingnews about the Women's Cycling Development Program, run by Mike Engleman. I figured that there could be nothing wrong in finding out if I could take advantage of any sage words of advice or guidance in reaching my dream, so I got up the nerve to send an inquiry email and included a brief race resume. I now believe the response I got set the tone for the psychological mistakes I made this season. He basically said that to get on a team I needed results, which I did not have. No, this was not a news flash to me, but it showed me that all of the New England results that I've worked very hard to achieve probably mean little to anyone beyond the local scene. Okay, so this wasn't divine revelation, either, but it hurt to hear and made me crazy to prove myself.

Then the frustration built because I have relatively few opportunities to prove myself. The rest of the pro's can race starting in March with Redlands and crits in California. Sea Otter and the Southeast crit series is in April. With a full-time job, I'm resigned to gluing myself to cyclingnews and various racer's blogs to read about race reports and see pictures in between classes at work. Doing this was really bad for me. I was so jealous of those racers that I began to resent my job because I saw it as keeping me away from my dream of racing. I really wanted to be at those races, not at cafeteria duty at 7:30 am, or superivising detention with a bunch of 12 year old boys. Gila and Joe Martin happen in May when the New England local scene is just getting going, and then I finally get my chance to race NRC during the BikeJam/Somerville weekend. I spent every weekend from Memorial Day until end of June driving to the mid-Atlantic to race NRC crits and the Liberty Classic, wearing myself out leaving Friday afternoon and making it back to work for 7:30 Monday morning. I wanted very much to race Nature Valley, but besides the fact that I didn't have the cash for the plane ticket, it was the last week of school, and I couldn't ask for that off. The frustration and fatigue built. I got sick after Philly, raced at less than 100%, and now I still feel run-down.

Why run around like this? Because I only have so many races where I can get a result, and none of them are in New England! Since Fitchburg lost its NRC status, the national road scene doesn't visit New England. I have only raced five NRC events so far this season. Chris Thater will be next and last unless I can get out to crit nats, and I don't know if that's worth it for me at this point. I put pressure on myself to show up, race hard, and get a result because that's what I believe I need to achieve my dream of racing professionally. Every race I have been so close. I am absolutely strong enough to race in national level fields, not just sit in hanging on for dear life. I often am too active in the race, sometimes burning matches I should save for the finish, but most of the time when the last few laps come I feel great but I blow the finish every time. Sometimes I just haven't been aggressive enough to put myself where I need to be. I'm sure I've made bad tactical errors. I only race with the big girls a handful of times a season, and I just need more practice to get it right!! But the frustration of feeling like I screwed up again and again and lost my chances for a result at the end of every race eventually left me feeling negative even before the race began. "Here we go, another chance for you to screw it up, Wellons" I'd think on the start line. How's that for self-fulfilling prophecy? After the race, I would re-live mistakes over and over, wishing I could have this or that moment back, drilling myself with what I did wrong. I began to doubt that I could ever be good at this sport, and felt my dream dying. Enjoyment was snuffed out in this downward spiral. Eventually, around Fitchburg time, I felt I never wanted to ride or race a bike again. In a case of incredibly poor timing, I also got very sick after Fitchburg, forcing me off the bike on a physical level, too. I missed nationals and Superweek, but was in no shape, physically or emotionally, to race anyway. So I didn't ride for two weeks.

Maybe this time off was a blessing in disguise. It gave me plenty of time for reflection. In hindsight it seems so clear, but it wasn't while I was a tangle of frustration and denegration. Racing just for a "result" was not why I should have been racing. Nothing made this clearer to me than crying while reading this diary entry by Mara Abbott. Her theory 'That when I find pure joy in what I am doing, amazing things will follow' hit me hard and made me realize I'd been crippling myself with my own mind. I believed joy on the bike would be in the finish line result, not the race to get there. I too often spend time comparing myself to others and minimizing my own accomplishments. I am definitely my harshest critic. These things do not foster joy on the bike or in life. I can mentally push myself to sacrifice and train hard and push myself to my limits. My same strong mind can be used against myself. I wish I could understand why my mind works this way, but it needs to change.

I realize I'm not the only racer with a day job. I wonder how others make it work, especially for stage racing. I've finally decided that I am unhappy with my job regardless of my passion for cycling. It's just not the right school/situation for me, and I need to make some changes soon. Cycling has been a scapegoat, not the cause of my angst.

I'm sharing all this because maybe some of you out there struggle with the same challenges
and reading my story can help you sort through it. Cycling is such a difficult sport on so many levels. We put everything on the line as we push our bodies through hell and often neglect what that can do to our psyche. Our powerful minds can be our greatest asset and our greatest limiter.

Now I'm in the process of picking up the pieces and building a new framework for my life and racing. I feel like my road campaign, short as it was, is pretty much over for this year. Although I'm still racing on the road with my team, much of that racing will serve as training for my deepest passion... CYCLOCROSS. I'm working on changing my approaches to racing and adjusting my goals to reflect a healthy and positive mindset. I still dream of racing road as a "pro," but the moments on the journey there must be enjoyed to make it worth it.
From happiness will come the greatest rewards.


Anna Milkowski said...

YES to JOY in bike racing and in the process. See you soon rockstar,

Adam said...

Miss Wellons, glad to see you keepin your chin up, gives hope to the rest of us in the same situation in one form or another. See you soon,
~A in VT

Greg said...

Rebecca, you're money, sister. The moment you can punch through that mental wall which is separating what you want from actually executing on it will be your tipping point moment. The rhetoric and questions have probably passed through your own brain and been said back to you by those you've elected (and trusted) to exchange dialog with on the subject all in an effort to digest it and find the answer on how to get what you want. Or lessen the blow of simply not being able to do it. You've got to punch through and do it hard and make what it is you want, happen. This shit we're living every day is not a dress rehearsal and while you're writing about it (eloquently in fact!), someone else is getting it done. Maybe in situations similar to yours (job situation and like constraints). If Joe Martin or Tour of Utah or Gila is what is going to send you where you need to be, then you make it happen.

Balance grasshopper.

Zoo said...

Rebecca, thanks for this entry. I definitely needed this. I'm only a cat 4 but feel that I'm in the same situation as far as progressing as a cyclist. So THANK YOU for taking the time to share your feelings. I've always been a HUGE fan of your's that I've been following from cyclocross racing season and beyond and felt like I was training with a pro during the few cross practices that I went to last year. So just keep in mind that even though you may not see yourself as a pro there's many of us who do. Keep up the great work, I always enjoy reading your blog entries.