Please note: This blog post has been updated to reflect current event names.
Sometime before or during 2016 I noticed that I was tired. Burnt out. Frustrated. Things seemed to either be out of control or stagnant. After frostbite in February and sitting still for one month, I had a chance to take a step back and re-evaluate what was happening. I had, let’s say, too much time on my hands. Don’t judge me for watching the whole season of The Great British Baking show (tasty stuff). But, during that time I was exposed to the reality of what direction I was heading in. Not paying attention. Making mistakes. Some with unacceptable consequences. Frostbite was one. The other things I could change. The way I treated myself and who I let into my life needed to shift. I knew that a break would happen soon. A chance to breathe. After the forced rest, I came back with a cleaner mind. I knew there was still a long way to go, but a light had been lit under my butt.
I decided to keep 2016 going with the events and people that would be both physically and mentally good for me. Mid South. TransIowa. Unbound Gravel. Chequamegon 100. Salsa RideCamp. RadTour. That is the 2016 season. Nothing more. I was signed up for at least a handful of other events. Deciding not to go wasn’t easy. That is a DNS. Worse than a DNF. Didn’t even start. Coming to terms was a cathartic process. I had to give myself time and space to really enjoy the events that I went to this year.
Finish line…photo courtesy of Glenn Charles…
The personal side of 2016 is also crucial to my bike riding life. They are very intertwined. I scaled back on things that were toxic. Late nights and dead end relationships, garbage food, and toxic drinking. I also work daily to battle depression. I have written about it lightly before, and I don’t feel the need to explain deeper. It is something I have learned is a part of me, and I am getting stronger every day. Just like working out a muscle, my brain needs to be “swole” and “flexy” as the kids say. Enough sleep, eating delicious snacks, maintaining awesome relationships, cleaning my bikes, my room, and leaving time for me. Those are some of the workouts that I make my “self” do. They aren’t anything to write home about, but they are challenging. Working on it feels good.
The next step would be getting my physical fitness back. Lelan Dains from Unbound was coaching me at the start of 2016. He was a huge part of me even staying on a bike after February. We aren’t currently working together, but he is a resource and a friend that I can reach out to. After leaving structured coaching, I started personal training. I needed to focus more on just me, less on the bike. What did I want to do? Core stuff? Cardio? Talk? We did it.
That lasted most of the summer. It forced me to get out of bed when I didn’t want to. I rode my bike for commuting and camping. The weekends that I would have been leaving town (racing?), I rode my bike to the camp fire. Breathing was easy. I would smile during these rides. Coast. Take pictures of crap. Pedal soft. But I was missing the rush. That curiosity. Can I crush that hill? Did I bring the right amount of snacks? How many stupid push-ups can I do? I wanted to push my body again. So, at the beginning of September, I went back to Crossfit. I had been a 5-days a week Crossfitter after I quit the rowing team in 2009. I used this style of workout to reset my mind. These people know I ride bikes, but just how much…. not yet.
When the decision to head out to Jay Petervary’s race crossed my mind, it was a bit perplexing to those around me. For this reason, I don’t tell many people around me my plans. Once I make up my mind, I feel ready to share. Just like the self-talk during a race, I have to amp myself up before the race too. I have never been to Idaho. The date fits perfectly into my schedule. It has challenges that will be brand spanking new to me.
I have competed in Tuscobia the last three winters. With all of my heart, I love that race. What Tuscobia has taught me is something I will keep by my side during this race and many to come. I would never consider driving all the way to Idaho if I didn’t have that previous winter racing experience.
Being in the Midwest (and being in Iowa specifically), we aren’t exposed to as many extreme sports. We don’t have super tall mountains or anything big to swim in, but it gets pretty dang cold. I can’t see myself pedaling down the Tuscobia State Trail any time soon. 75 miles of straight, flat ground. Idaho seems much more appealing. For obvious reasons. Yellowstone. Mountains. Yup. My mind was made up. Go test yourself in Idaho. Figure out what that race is all about. Take pictures. Eat the right snacks. Telling my friends and family cements my plans for me. They hold me to my word. They ask me how my planning and training are going. Family and friend stuff, ya know.
How much do I ride my bike? Lots. Not too much, but a whole lot. I commute every day, in every kind of weather. I have done that for the last seven years. That has really helped my mind get over most conditions and embrace it. Iowa City has a surprisingly huge community of fast riders. They switch their road rides to gravel in the fall, and I jump in. I have a choice of three rides that I can easily attend each week. Typically, they are no more than three hours long, and they get me out of my comfort zone real quick. With that being said, most of my training is done alone. I will load up my bike with all of the gear at least twice a month and do a longish training ride. This gives me time to fiddle around with the placement of gear and me. Being able to access my gear is more important than having it.
Let’s talk about the gear for a little bit. I have spent the last four years gathering gear and practicing how to use it in Iowa. I have never used my winter gear during a race. I would like to think that the hours spent learning about, practicing with, and actually using my gear are just like the miles I spent riding. Gear practice is about not getting frostbite or lost. It’s bringing the right food and drink. I have tailored my bike and kit to me. You would probably be lost on my bike. Those hours pay off greatly. If my race turns out to be 30+ hours long, I better put in the practice to reflect that.
There is no great formula to prepare for these kinds of rides. This is what works for me. Putting the focus on myself ensures that the logistical parts of the race happen. Making it to the start on time, with the right gear, in the right place won’t happen if my head is wandering other places. I am looking for my limit. Unbound Gravel firmly planted that seed in my head. Being able to go beyond and reach into the unknown. It is scary, frightening even, to trust yourself. To know that the training and passion will guide you. The best part, though, and my personal favorite, is knowing that I don’t know. I screw things up, get lost, and break things. I am constantly evolving, learning, laughing, falling, and getting back up again. Just take a deep breath and pedal, pedal, pedal.
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I live, work, and play in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa may not have epic mountains or vast skylines, but it boasts hundreds of miles of gravel. That is where I found my true calling. In 2012 I attempted my first Trans-Iowa, got lost, and was instantly hooked. I have been there every year since. I am constantly looking for that next adventure to keep me teetering on the line between insanity and clarity. Bring it on! [url="https://andreafromiowa.wordpress.com/"]andreafromiowa.wordpress.com[/url].