Checking In: The Upgrade Progress Report

Chapter 2 of the 2010 Questionable Decisions Tour.

So here we sit, getting on the end of October.  I suppose it could be considered the “late middle” of the cross season here, as this is the last jam packed month of action, transitioning to a more sparsely populated November and December schedule.  At least, for me.  Still plenty to do, just not the avalanche of activity that begins in September.
As I walked to work the other day, I started to reflect a little on how things have been going from a longer term perspective than just day-to-day.  It’s been twelve races now, seven with the Cat 3 field.  It feels to me like a long time, but it hasn’t even been two months.
So right off the bat – first question – was upgrading still a good idea?
A question I ask myself on regular basis.  From a purely “how did you place” perspective, I can’t say yes.  When I keep the bike in one piece, I’m in the fight for a podium at my practice races.  But racing with the 3s, I think my only goal this season, aside from never finishing last, is to finish a race without being lapped.  It’s that bad – again – from a results point of view.  It’s definitely not easy keeping your head up every week.  It gets harder and harder to look forward to racing.  And then it’s like – well – this is supposed to be fun, so then what’s the point.
But this is what USAC wanted, right?
As I said before, and this is all my own speculative theory that you are welcome to challenge, they made the 4-3 upgrade trivial in nature for a reason; that being to reduce the swelling Cat 4 fields, which would then redistribute experienced riders northward.  And IDEALLY, that would cascade all the way up the tree – 3s would migrate up, the fields would start to balance out and become less bottom-heavy.
Well that obviously doesn’t happen.  And the net result is that I, by following the 4-3 upgrade rules, am now in a field where I have a shitload of work to do to get competitive.  There aren’t people like me in the Cat 3 field.  The Cat 3 field is full of Cat 3 roadies, who have good engines, and a huge spectrum of skills.  Where their skill lack, they still have horsepower to fall back on.  I don’t have –
And see, there’s the bigger problem right there.  Right there.  I don’t believe I can do it.  I don’t believe I belong here.  I have this f*cking self-doubt, and as long as I choose to hold onto that, I’m not going to succeed.  I thought of that just last night actually.  I saw a picture of myself at a race.  It’s actually right here.
What really gets me about this picture is that, at least to me, I think I look strong.  Stronger than I’ve ever looked before.  And there is literally no one – no one – in sight, and that’s because I am at the absolute tail end of the field.  And trying to reconcile someone who looks that “normal” for lack of a better word, and then that person finishing last – that’s not connecting for me.  It doesn’t make sense.  In my head, when I picture the guy finishing last, that’s not at all what I see.  I envision some out of shape looking guy, or a frustrated guy hauling a bike in some state of disrepair, or a guy who just looks defeated.  But not that – not what’s in that picture.  That’s f*cked up to me.  And I know, in spite of needing a lot of work with my racing skills, that I must have bigger issues going on.
The person in that photo looks, to me, like strong rider who doesn’t want to win a race.  Not someone without the right fitness, or the right equipment, but someone who doesn’t want it.  And regardless of whether or not he really can win, that person looks like he doesn’t even want to try.
It’s weird how this whole confidence thing manifested itself over time, because it didn’t seem like it was there when the season started.  In the beginning, it was nerves.  Really, really bad nerves.  In fact, nerves so bad I could feel it.  I could feel it holding me back like a parachute every time I lined up.  I literally could feel it like cinderblocks on my quads in less than a minute of any given race.  I don’t get like that anymore, and it took race after race and some solid time with some books I found to turn the corner and finally get over it.  Most of it.  I think you always have a little bit of nerves in there.  But a healthy, manageable, motivating amount.
Closing the door on the confidence issue is going to take more work.  Writing this out was actually a good exercise in realizing what I need to be focusing on.
Wow.  So that’s kind of a chunk of baggage to be hauling around while you’re out there trying to race a bike.
The good news, however, is that I am getting more confident.  I should probably give myself at least some credit.  I have definitely started lining up with at least some attitude.  Probably the last two 3 field races I’ve been in, I started to feel comfortable.  Contrast that with Quad Cross, where I physically and mentally let everyone go.  Those guys could have entered their pets in that field and I would have let them go too.  It’s definitely not like that now.So if I’m not getting decent race results, am I getting anything more rewarding out of what I’m doing?

Eh. To a degree.

Fitness, I guess.  Ride this hard day-in-day-out, you’re bound to get fit.

At first, it was gratifying to finish ahead of any Cat 3 rider, just because I had built all of them up to be near-mythical in terms of ability.  Which is so f*cking stupid, because having now raced with them over a dozen times, 3s, like 4s, like 2s, like any group, run the gamut.  There are strong riders, and – let’s avoid the term weak because ‘cross is hard and no one riding CX is weak – less strong riders.  Everyone is a superhero though if you psyche yourself out right from the beginning.

(Notice how I keep talking about the field that I’M A MEMBER OF and I still don’t refer to the field as a group I belong to.  That’s healthy.)

But now, I know that I can beat at least some people.  I know, barring a mechanical, that I won’t finish last.  And that’s too low a bar to set for yourself.  I could enter a Pro/1/2 field and technically not finish last, because someone will always drop out for one reason or another.  So then what, you say you didn’t finish last in a tough field, and that’s worth something?  To me, not really.  Not anymore.

I want to be racing, as opposed to riding the course by myself as hard as I can in the context of a race.  Were I still a Cat 4, I would be doing that.  And not even so much based on having the skill or fitness to do it, but because of the confidence.  So to bring it up for the last time, I need to have more of that in 3s before anything is going to happen.  And you don’t really know when – I mean, it could happen as early as this weekend for all I know.

I would go on a diatribe about how I think USAC needs a Category 5 field for true beginners, mirroring USAC road – sometimes that crosses my mind – but I won’t yet.  That argument has implications I fully appreciate and don’t even want to get into right now, and I haven’t proven anything yet except that on paper I upgraded from 4-3, but in my head I’m still a 4.  Alright, maybe like a 3.5 right now.  And that’s my own personal problem, and not indicative of something everyone goes through, and it doesn’t warrant chastising USAC.  Yet anyway.

If I toiled through all next season as a 3 with the same sense of futility, I’d start to open fire on the system.  But that won’t happen.  Sooner or later I will settle in and start getting out of races what I am looking for, which is…racing.  It sure as hell has been a hard road getting there though.

I could have sat in 4s and already been there.  I could downgrade right into that tomorrow if I wanted to.  But for all the reasons I discussed when I upgraded, I can’t do that.  And I’ve put too much into what I’m doing right now to do that.  When I get there, it will be worth it.  I race about a half dozen more times this season, and any one of those could be the catalyst I’m looking for.  That’s what keeps me going.

One thought on “Checking In: The Upgrade Progress Report

  1. I know what you're coming from. Skill starts with confidence. Before you do something, you have to believe you can do it. I know that's my limiter in cross (and probably in other, more important areas of my life). Do I believe that my tires are gonna hold if I take that corner a little faster? Do I believe I can get up that steep section without falling over? Do I believe I can step off the bike just one stride before the barrier? Sometimes I do. Usually I don't. It sucks. It's humiliating, because it's clearly not this hard for most people. But there it is.

    I don't have any easy answers. Maybe I'll get better, maybe I won't. I know I have a max level and, well, maybe mid-pack in a Cat 4 race is it. I'm going to keep trying, though. It's all about the racing. Going shoulder-to-shoulder through the barriers, nailing the remount and getting the line on the next corner is pretty exciting, even when you're racing for 40th place.

    And hey, it's not like I have this problem in everything. If we staged by something like ability to write and optimize complex SQL queries, I'd be FRONT ROW EVERY WEEK. Probably right next to Reuter, who would then kick my ass anyway.

    Life ain't fair.


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