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Practicing Racer: Notes from October

In my first reflective piece about returning to racing, I talked about being a "practicing racer" as opposed to pursuing podiums.  What does this mean exactly?  For me, it has meant re-establishing habits of body and mind and I didn't try to do it all at once.  I have found attempting change on a massive scale is pretty much a recipe for failure unless that's the only thing you have to think about.  Instead, it's better to break everything into little pieces and address them one by one.

Sleep

Strange as it might sound, my first move wasn't to start a training program, but rather to just focus on getting a good night's sleep, every night.  Sleep is essential to self-discipline and without that, there's no way to address diet and training, so that was the first habit to put firmly into place.  I go to bed between 8:45 and 9pm almost every night and wake up at 5:30 for a solid 8.5 hrs of shut-eye.  It's simply amazing how good you feel and what you believe you can accomplish, when you've slept well.

 (Here's a good article from Huffington Post with research links about the interactions between sleep and self-regulation, discipline, and control.)

Nutrition

Favorite protein powder with frozen bananas to get 3:1 carb:protein ratio.
I'm almost 10 years older than when I first started racing and my aging body has different nutritional needs.  Moreover, my life since 2012 had become comparatively sedentary and I had become way more relaxed about what I ate and drank leading to about 12 extra pounds.  Consequently, I did some research to see what had been learned about female athletes and nutrition while at the same time began to make changes to my diet.  I found Osmo Nutrition's FAQ a great place for overviews and links to research articles.  Key takeaways for me were that I needed to decrease carbs, increase protein, and be attentive to the timing of pre and post exercise nutrition. Other changes included a massive cocktail reduction, not eating later than 7 or 8 pm at night, and replacing one meal with a super-awesome-layered salad.
Salad, asparagus, cod.

Salad, apple, recovery drink, osmo hydration

Riding

From April through June, I rode fairly regularly, but for fun, and kept my focus on sleep habit development.  If I didn't feel like doing it, I didn't, and primarily did group rides or took pleasant solo excursions.  Then, I took July off to do a motorcycle tour, which was tons of fun, but pretty much let any of that foundational fitness go. Beginning in August, I turned my attention to nutrition and rides made up of fun group efforts with some sweet-spot training in the mix as I felt mentally up for it.

As my weight dropped and I felt consistently good physically and mentally, I began to get excited about the possibility of racing again and enjoying it.  This led to the #GPCTCX  project.

I was finally feeling strong enough mentally about riding that I felt some external expectations would help push me were I wanted to go.  I find this to be a key aspect achieving something I perceive to be difficult.  With a team, I knew I would feel compelled to walk the talk, so to speak, but it did more than that.  Seeing people who were new to racing get excited about it and celebrate their accomplishments was fantastic and energized my enthusiasm so much that I decided I could handle the most potent of motivators - some big objective.  I chose nationals and talked my mom and teamie Sara into doing it too. 

Upon committing to attending Nationals it was time to adopt a structured training program. I reviewed several and after recording my riding through the summer, I knew realistically I could not dedicate more than 6-8 hours each week to training.  Knowing what you can hold sacred time-wise for an activity is critical to its success for a couple of reasons.  First, if you commit to something and aren't able to follow through on it, you're going to feel bad and it actually makes you less capable of following through on it in the future.  The good news is that the converse is also true.  Setting realistic but challenging goals and then being successful builds what is called "self-efficacy," which is the belief that you can be successful doing that thing in the future.  In fact, self-efficacy beliefs are one of the best predictors of success and a wide variety of domains.  Therefore, I knew I had to have a plan that accommodated by limited schedule because if I completed the workouts, I'd feel more motivated, and more motivation would help me do more workouts, maintain nutrition and the other habits I'd put in place.

So, I've been using Chris Carmichael's Time Crunched Training Plan (TCTP) 2nd. Ed., and am very happy with it.  I don't have much beyond two hours, but I don't need it.  I need to go full out for a maximum of 45 minutes.  I'm only four weeks into the plan and my legs are starting to feel a bit more reliable.

Racing

There's a lot to think about when racing.  Not having done it for so long, I feel in many ways I've had to refocus on it bit by bit.  The first few race weekends, my legs weren't even sore because all my concentration was on trying to execute the technical aspects of racing. Things like identifying and riding lines, dialing in air pressure, getting a feel for the bike, etc.  There is so much.  After day one of Cunningham Cross, I challenged myself to being to really make an effort between technical sections.  This yielded two results: podium finishes and some crashes.  I guarantee if you're pushing the edges, you'll go over on occasion, and I've spent some time on the ground from taking corners too hot.  But, because I am not as powerful as I used to be wattage-wise, I have to find seconds elsewhere, and one key place is in the turns.  Consequently, I've been hitting them hard and fast, getting them mostly wrong at first and increasingly right.  I've also developed a keen empathy for anyone starting further back that the second row.

Not even the twistiest part.
For example, at the first larger race (Night Cap Cross, Des Moines, IA) where I hoped to improve my ranking, I found myself starting on the 4th row.  Holy-moly was that an eye-opener.  On a tight and twisty course, by the time you work your way to the front, the front line racers have disappeared.  It was then that I decided working up was just going to be part of the process and I am relishing the challenge. 

The points system appears to incentivize "racing up," or seeking out more difficult fields because those races are considered higher quality and will help improve your ranking.  If you stay in your comfort zone, say winning local races, you won't improve your standing.  For me, I would really like to be in the first or second row in my age-group race at nationals, so rank improvement is key.

When I began racing this year, I had no points ranking, which meant lining up at the back, but with solid finishes at Flatwater Cross, Cunningham, and Spooky Cross, I've moved to  22nd in my 5-year age range in the national standings.  The next race that could improve my standing is Jingle Cross where I've entered the UCI category all three days.  I know it sounds presumptuous, but the quality of racers there will likely be so good that it may be more beneficial points-wise to be in the bottom half of the top-20 in that race, than to win the masters 40+ race.  I'll let you know how it goes.




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