I should have written this two seasons ago, but here we are. Having just wrapped my second season in Cat 4 cyclocross, after downgrading from seven seasons in Cat 3, I had some thoughts I wanted to get down. Mostly reflections on why I was so stupid to have toiled in Cat 3 long after Cat 5 was created.
In 2010, I upgraded to Cat 3 because at the time I didn’t think racing beginners was fair (4 contained a huge spectrum of experience), and because I enjoyed getting punched in the face every weekend. It’s all well chronicled here on this blog.
But in 2013, a beginner Cat 5 field was created by USAC, and at that point I should have moved back into 4. But for reasons completely unknown, I stayed in 3 for four more years, getting progressively beat down even further as my life had thoroughly changed at that point – I now had a one year old, I was riding really none of the long rides I used to, I was too stupid to look around and realize I could actually be trying to have a good time racing bikes.
In 2017 I downgraded to 4, and the racing didn’t get easier. But I found myself actually competing with small groups of riders. The races were no longer decided before they even began. And while the results weren’t consistently that much better, I did end up having my best result of all time. Which ironically didn’t happen on paper because I was recorded as a different rider in a scoring error, but whatever. I know what I did.
Routinely I find myself still not doing great, but doing better than I’d expect in terms of results – but more than that, I can actually see the light. I can see how, if I only put in the time, there is a real path to doing much better than this someone who only rides, maybe, once a week. Where in 3 improvement that felt unattainable, in 4 that feels very realistic.
At odds with that though, is time. After two and a half years of black belt training, twice a week every single week, the bandwidth just doesn’t feel like it’s there to put in the work. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself. The truth is though, the time is there. But now that I’ve found it, it needs to be used – in an awesome plot twist – for not riding.
This past summer, I had to spend a lot of time off the bike recovering from some kind of neck issue I have, which seems to be very much aggravated by riding bikes. Sometimes a long or abusive ride doesn’t bother my neck at all. But sometimes, it ends up locking up one side of my neck so badly that it becomes all-consuming, persistently painful, desperately irritating. The only thing that seems to have consistently helped it – through two separate physical therapists, analgesics, at-home care, I think there was an MRI in there – is just not riding a bike.
And the more I considered that coming into this new year of 2019, the more frustrating it became. This thing I love to do, that I’ve done my entire life, has now become something that just hurts me, and has become something I’m almost afraid to do now. It’s really out of hand. I won’t commit to anything now, and even bailed out of this month’s indoor time trial a week after registering because I was too afraid of training.
That doesn’t feel acceptable, so I’ve resolved to try something different. I’m going to invest myself in getting whole body stronger, and stay away from bikes for a while. I don’t know if the answer to that is weeks or months or what, but I’ve joined our local Orangetheory. The workouts there are a mix of rowing, floor exercises, and running, and the level of effort feels like a race, which makes me feel like I have to show up. I’ll be doing this 2x a week, indefinitely.
My hope is that by developing all of these muscle groups I never touch, hopefully in time they can compensate for whatever inadequacies that make my neck problem so bad. I don’t even know if this is really going to solve things, but medicine has no answer for me, and watching everyone else ride just keeps circling my mind back to “why me – what about me makes that not possible”. So I’m grasping at “well, because you’re nothing from the legs up”.
So I doubt this blog will talk much about bikes for the near future. But hang in there, because I still own a lot of them, and at least one of them stares me down every day. In the meantime, if anyone has a guess as to how long I should expect to work out consistently before I’m meaningfully stronger, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m guessing it’s like months.