I’m quoting blatantly stealing from one of my favorite movies to summarize what this rambling entry will be about. This is something between a (season of) race report(s) and a confessional. So if you’re not in the mood to see the Green Fairy get all maudlin, or read a particularly long post, please feel free to continue going about your business.

This past winter was hard for a lot of us. There was a record amount of snowfall that only recently completely melted. I had a head injury in time for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s. This winter sucked. There’s only so much time you can spend on the trainer before you find yourself typing “ALL TRAINER AND NO OUTSIDE RIDING … something something … ” Even the crit clinic Allison, Grant and I attended back in March had to be cut short due to inclement weather and icy course conditions. Yet when it was finally nice enough to ride outside, I felt… nothing. I saw all the joyous Facebook, Twitter and even Strava posts of those riding in the sun once more and resented them for finding enjoyment where I could not. It actually reminded me of Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, in particular, this image from Depression, Part Two.

Image by Allie Brosh from Hyperbole and a Half
Above: everyone I know having fun and riding bikes. Below: me hating everyone I know for having fun and hating myself even more for hating everyone I know for having fun and not having any fun riding bikes at all.

I couldn’t pinpoint what it was, considering the whole time I was out recovering from my concussion, all I could think about was getting back on the bike. Yet when the time came for me to do that, I just wasn’t feeling it. Also, it certainly put a strain on my interpersonal relationships considering so many of my friends ride. All I knew was that my knees hurt like hell after what was ordinarily a normal distance (between 30 and 50 miles) and I just had no desire whatsoever to get back on the bike. Yet this conflicted with my major goals of:

  1. Being less terrible at road racing.
  2. Having more fun at road riding.
  3. Building a larger fitness base in time for CX season.

This crude infographic sums it up nicely:

It truly is a ... vicious cycle. Ok, I'll go home now.
It truly is a … vicious cycle.
Ok, I’ll go home now.

This all culminated with a rather dramatic Facebook post that had a resulting response similar to if I had written a suicide note.

... and in her darkest hour, Valerie turns to ... Facebook? Really?
… and in her darkest hour, Valerie turns to … Facebook? Really?

I received an outpouring of comments and private messages from close friends and surprisingly, people I was only tangentially acquainted with just because we’ve rode/raced together. Some were asking if I was ok either physically or emotionally. Others had suggestions regarding training and/or nutrition or just advised me to go on more fun rides with friends and not worry about training. Everyone told me to go get a bike fit. “What can we do to keep you on the bike?” The message was clear: they did not want the Green Fairy to hang up her wings/bike for good. I’m not sure if I should be touched or worried like I joined some sort of secret society where once you’re in, you’re never allowed to leave. I’m leaning more towards touched for now.

This was the turning point, or climax, if this were some sort of narrative. I went to my doctor and therapist and switched up my anti-anxiety/depression medication. I decided to finally go see Greg Robidoux  and figure out why my bike was hurting me so bad. If you haven’t gone in for a bike fit, I will say that it can be life-changing. Cleat position adjusted by millimeters, saddle slightly raised with an adjustment in angle/setback, a slightly longer stem… it was like riding a new bike. I then decided that I was just going to keep riding until it was fun again. To treat myself, I got a Magellan 505 so I could surprise myself with new routes and go on adventures on my own. I had every intention of going out early in the morning or getting out of work early to do more exploration. Granted, not a lot of this happened due to work and other things getting in the way, but having that option was nice. I even brought my bike with me to a wedding El Boyfriendo and I had been invited to and we went for a nice spin the day after with his brother and friends followed by a (borrowed) mountain bike ride.

Usually in sports movies or TV shows, the climax is some big game or event where the underdog team proves themselves. I wish I could say I came back stronger than ever and kicked ass at every race I signed up for this season. In all truth, it was more of the opposite.

Races so far:

  • 3/29 Boston Beanpot Criterium: This was before the funk I was in. I didn’t race the women’s open field mostly because I knew I didn’t stand a chance against such a strong field. There were a couple of laps walking us newbies through how to handle that downhill corner. Finish: 5/11 I feel like I could have placed better if I didn’t let someone ride on my wheel until I had nothing left to sprint for the finish.
  • 5/3 Mt. Blue Criterium: This was right in the thick of the fog. My knees (still) hurt after a ride I did with the Community Bicycle lads and the ride I did with El Boyfriendo, Dana and someone visiting for the Marathon. I didn’t even want to get out of bed. DNS
  • 5/16 Lake Sunapee Road Race: This was the week after my bike fit, but I still didn’t feel ready to return to racing and ended up just doing a solo ride that Sunday instead. DNS
  • 6/7 Purgatory Road Race & Massachusetts State Championships: It was interesting tagging along with El Boyfriendo and his teammates to see the behind-the-scenes of what goes into hosting a bike race. I assisted with putting up signage and driving very slowly behind everyone as they patched cracks and holes in the road on Saturday and then taking everything down at the end of the race on Sunday. Both days that weekend ended back in Boston quite late.
    • Finish: 21/22 Even if I wasn’t already tired from the long Saturday, I doubt I could have held onto anyone else’s wheel during the climb. I had tried to work with another rider who got dropped, but the classic trope of “go on without me” happened as much as I wished “I’m not going on without you” could have been in effect, there didn’t seem to be a lot either of us could do to help each other on that last climb on the first lap.
  • 6/28 Longsjo Classic Day 3, Fitchburg: It was cold, rainy and miserable and frankly I wouldn’t have traded it in for the world. Caught a ride with El Boyfriendo and his team again and got to listen to them strategize. I fell off the back after the first turn just because I couldn’t pick a wheel to stay on in time. While it was frustrating that I let that happen, looking at the data, I probably could have held onto the chase group (who were usually in my sight). I even somehow managed to pass another dropped racer along the way. I also felt better about downhill cornering in the rain. You’d think after the slip and slide that was Night Weasels, I’d be fearless and have that down pat by now. Off the back for the whole race in the rain, but did I stop? No, I figured I already paid my $40 so I might as well get some threshhold and handling practice in. A couple of people gave me props for hanging in there despite the futility of the exercise. Whenever I think about it, I still waver back and forth between feeling proud of this and “don’t you dare pity me.” Finish: 25/27
  • 7/4 Davis Bike Club 4th of July Criterium: I can’t tell you how much it tickled me that this race took place in YOLO county. Friend of the team Stephanie had invited me along to hang out with her Metromint teammates and get a race in. Climate-wise, it was the exact opposite of the previous week. Where Fitchburg was rainy and cold, Davis was hot and dry. I had a knee-high pantyhose full of ice down the back of my jersey that practically evaporated after the first lap. Despite Stephanie yelling from behind me, “GET ON THAT WHEEL!” I also fell off around the end of the first lap despite being on the wheel of the person who ended up 5th. Finish: 17/20 The DNFs were likely due to crashing into the haybales and rose bushes (ouch) on the second to last or last corner. Stephanie’s teammate Liz won the Women’s 4 race and we celebrated with the pizza she won from a prime.
The Metromint game plan.

In the end, I’m still pretty terrible at road racing… but at least I’m ok with being terrible at road racing. I just had to remember why I started doing this in the first place: not because I think I could ever win anything or because I’m particularly sporty. I do this because I’ve met some of the best people I know doing this. Allison crashed at Blue Hills and would have kept racing if the pain wasn’t so great and most importantly, she got back on the bike and kept at it. Stephanie broke her shoulder on the ice this winter and is chomping at the bit to get back to the races. Various friends of mine have battled cancer or currently battle chronic illnesses and still stay on the bike. What’s my excuse? That’s right, I don’t have one (unless you count the occasional crippling self-doubt, self-loathing and depression). This probably wasn’t the grand sweeping inspirational ending people look for in these sort of narratives, but hey, I’m the one writing this story and I will continue writing it on my terms.

Keep on MonsterTruckin’!