I'm ready for a new challenge.
I woke up this morning and watched the world covered in white turn from dark to light, and I felt potential in my arms, legs and heart again. I can't really explain it: I'm not fitter, not thinner, not richer or more successful than I have been. But, somehow, I was ready for change.
Ironman still echoes, and so does the California Triple Crown Stage Race. I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to compete in such long races.
This year, too, I was granted another honor: I was named an Athlete Ambassador by Shebeest Cycling, a company which makes women-specific cycling gear and whose initiative includes getting more women out there, on the bike.
But, there is something about a race that's over a hundred miles long that makes it somehow "different" and... abstract. After all, there is the possibility I won't finish a race that long no matter how fit I am. Over a hundred miles is a long way, and well, even driving that far in a car has its own risks and chances of failure.
I love distance. I love the unknowable quality of it. But, there is a part of me that loves a new focus, a new challenge. Another kind of unknown.
This weekend, I watched a documentary of sorts
...on a local cyclist who has been training to win the USA Cycling National Time Trial for three years. He's taken second place two years in a row, and the video outlined his training, his life and how incredibly close he's come to that first place finish.
For those of you who don't know, a time trial is literally a race against yourself and the clock: open road for twenty or so miles, and the question becomes NOT will I make it but rather how fast can I ride?
It made me wonder: how fast can I ride? Am I fast? Do I have the ability to do something other than endure for hours on end? Can my legs do what they did when I was a runner: only faster now, and under the strict watch of a power meter?
One year ago, someone told me I'd never be a cyclist because my shoulders are too big.
And, because I take criticism to heart, I more than adopted this as a personal mantra and reason why I couldn't do something. This is a thought-process I'm trying to change. Instead of finding (or, inventing) reasons why I can't do something, I want to find reasons to try. Or, forget the reasons: let's just do it.
As an athlete, I train with a lot of men. And while men carry their own reservations about their ability to complete a certain race, broadly speaking, their insecurities aren't the same kind that I notice that I have.
While their worries seem primarily focused on not being able to hold a certain wattage for a specific climb or lose enough weight before the next race (but they will still race regardless); my worries have a certain finality about them. I can't because... I'm physically unable and, usually, I don't think that training will fix whatever road block I've put up for myself.
Is this true for female athletes generally, I wonder? Or is this my own personal problem? The possibility of a cycling-specific race for a distance I haven't ever trained for has lifted the fog, somewhat. After all, I survived over 1,000 miles of racing last summer. If I'm not too heavy for that, how can I be too heavy for 20 miles?
I imagine I will ride the bike a lot more.
I will do drills. I will ride so long that my mind will drift and I will come-to and not know where I am, out on the open road (as I've done, at times, when training for something else.)
When I was in the Master of Fine Arts program in the bay area (and a semi-elite runner), I remember hearing the words of my academic advisor in my head as I ran mile repeats on a track before dawn. Immerse yourself in this life, she'd said. Drown in it. Breathe it. Of course, she'd meant writing. For me, though, writing and running were one and the same. It was the life I wanted, the life I was willing to race for, to be injured for, and to live my entire life.
Yet, it was a scary thought to me, more scary than the fast pace I was supposed to maintain around that quarter-mile rust-colored track. There are already so many ways to fail in life; why was it that I had more than one?
A moment came, though, right as the sun crested the Coastal Range and I surrendered myself to not-knowing, to the track and the words. And now, here I am again, only this time my challenge involves a bike.
I want to focus on a Time Trial.
I want to focus on Nationals.
That morning on the track was six years ago, and since, I've learned that there is nothing guaranteed in life, not even life itself. And, I as corny as it sounds, I take my job as "Athlete Ambassador" very seriously. Athlete Ambassadors aren't whiney damsels, frail and pale stick figures who pose for scenes they never actually live. Instead, Athlete Ambassadors are Athletes first, which mean they ride and run and swim and do yoga and hike and bike and get bruises and scratches once in a while. They are wrinkly from sun exposure, from swimming too long and from smiling. Sometimes, they have helmet hair, sweat (or, sparkle) and sometimes they win big races. And, sometimes they don't. But, no matter what their personal hang-ups, they always get to the starting line and they try.
I admire the women out there who are winning these kinds of races, and who have raced for years and bring a lifetime of experience and hard work with them. I know I will have to work very hard in order to even hope to do well, and that I have so much to learn.
Bring it, I say.