Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Off Season

The best part of having cyclocross nationals in January is coming out of the tunnel at the end of the season and realizing winter is half over and I have the next two to three weeks off the bike.  Those weeks happily fall during the coldest part of the year, which means not really caring one bit if it drops down to 5 degrees.

When I lived in Reno and my focus was road racing I would be deep into training at this point and fretting about trainer rides vs. getting cold and potentially sick.  Those of us with day jobs, or limited income, or dogs (or all three!), can't jet off to Arizona to put in the miles and work on our tans.  But regardless of whether your off season falls in October or January, it's a fantastic opportunity to recharge the batteries and refocus for the coming year.  

It's also a fantastic time of year for guilt-free Ben and Jerry's consumption.

Without a doubt, the best part about of the off season is the carefree approach to activity that it affords.  Whether it's running, easy rides, cross country skiing, yoga, or just going for a walk, it can all be approached with a sense of leisure that is impossible when we're training.  I love the focus and intensity of structured training - if I didn't love it I almost certainly wouldn't return to it year after year.

But the off-season harkens back to a time before bike racing was the point around which life revolves.  For me that time encompasses the two years of cycling I did prior to that first pivotal MTB race.  Memories of many of my rides from those years remain the most vivid, even after seven intervening years of riding and racing.  They were rides where every mile was an accomplishment, every descent joyful, and every gluttonous post-ride meal deservedly devoured without guilt.  I clearly remember my first mountain bike ride with my dad up Keystone Canyon in Reno (sans helmet, no less), and the first century I completed.  Every ride was done at whatever pace felt best, with no regard for training or recovery.

I remember these rides with the nostalgic wistfulness that we view so many experiences of our youth - with a bittersweet knowledge that we can never return to that place of innocent pleasure.  If I quit racing bikes tomorrow my recreational rides wouldn't magically take on that sense of wide-eyed discovery that characterized my early riding, but for a couple weeks each winter I am able to recapture a little of that carefree spirit.

I've done long trail runs with no regard for how long or fast I travel.  If I walk, I walk.  If I want to stop and just enjoy the woods for a few minutes, I stop.  I've gone to yoga classes and struggled to not feel (like all of us bike racers do) like I need to "win" yoga.  I've been able to rediscover that every physical exertion is not a battle, with myself or anyone else.  And when the time came to get back on my bike I rode with complete disregard for the cardinal sin of the early season, and hammered up every climb in my big ring.

Tomorrow I'll do a field test to determine where my fitness is at.  The next day, and the day after, I'll probably spend multiple hours on my trainer.  I'm excited to start training again.  I'm driven to succeed and be faster this year than last.  But I'd like to hang onto that immediate sense of joy in the ride, and knowledge that, amidst the daily abuse I inflict on myself to be stronger, it's important to be kind to the body as well.  While it may not always put out as much power as I'd like, or bend as far as some, it does everything I ask of it.

Anyway, farewell, Offseason 2013.  It's been nice.

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