1 lesson from cyclocross nationals: choose the process over expectations

The life lesson from cyclocross nationals is to be good to yourself every day, and you have value and worth because you do the work, not because of your results.

Here are six things I learned about expectations from one race:

  1. Readjusting my attitude to be more positive is a daily activity. 
  2. Likewise, learning new breathing patterns requires daily practice. 
  3. The process of training is everything. 
  4. I love cyclocross.
  5. Get the vaccinations. Please. 
  6. The people in the cyclocross community are amazing.

I’m blaming not learning my lessons on expectations directly on COVID. 

My race at cyclocross nationals in Wheaton, IL, on Dec. 9 was a disaster. 

My bike worked. 

But that was about it. 

There’s a lot under the hood for this particular race, so indulge me while I dig a little. 

The lesson about expectations and self-pressure was that they got the best of me.

And what I learned may help you in your adventures and challenges.

If you don’t want to read this long post, the lessons are all at the end.

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The cyclocross life lesson: expectations do not meet with reality

For the past year, I worked a lot on keeping racing fun and remembering the harsh lesson of expectations. 

Besides asthma and broken bones, I have always had a challenge keeping bike racing – or whatever competition I’m in – fun, without giant self-pressure to get results. 

Despite those efforts at positivity, and despite COVID derailing my training and preparation and still making it hard to breathe normally, I still started thinking about the possibilities of a top 20 finish.

Yeah, I know. 

It wasn’t going to happen. 

I should have worn a parka

I got to the venue Tuesday to do the non-championship 50 plus race. 

It was 15 degrees and a little windy but dressed in eight layers, I had a great time on the course.

It was a hugely fun and challenging flowy, loopy, and lots of climbing kind of course that I love. 

I literally froze in the race, and I could not get warm. 

I shivered the whole way home to Milwaukee. 

In the yellow and feeling funny during cyclocross

On the Thursday of the race, I had that bad feeling..

My HRV was in the yellow the past two days, my lungs felt really tight, and I was tired. 

It wasn’t overtraining; my legs felt awesome.

Anxiety was through the roof, and I couldn’t focus on anything (I nearly missed my start time despite having it written down everywhere). 

And at the start, I felt like I wasn’t in my body.  

I couldn’t breathe well, I just felt weird. 

The lesson about expectations was not learned.

Needless to say, there was no engine in the engine room. 

My brain and emotions shut everything down. 

I did two laps, trying to jump-start the engine. 

But I realized, during a particularly tricky part of the course, that I was so tense that I was going to make a big mistake and crash hard. 

I DNF’d. 

Just not enough progress to keep my shit together during cyclocross nationals

Maybe I shouldn’t have even started. 

Maybe I should have pulled the plug on the season after COVID. 

That would be have been “smarter.” 

Smarter is not something I’m usually very good at. 

I am, though, good at “stubborn.”  

Throughout the year, I spent a lot of time practicing breathing, a lot of time mentally focusing on having fun throughout the year, and a lot of time readjusting my attitude. 

I did well with those and made a lot of progress over the year. 

I’m pleased about that.

But when a really big stressor came up, one that ticked off all the boxes when it came to my past challenges, I just wasn’t mentally and emotionally prepared to just have fun.

Even calling nationals “just a race” didn’t work. 

Even a slick fun course in relatively warm weather didn’t help. 

It’s all good now – mostly

I’m all good now. 

I felt pretty down and disconnected for a few days after the race. 

It helped to work the pits for the amazing Sonnemann kids on Saturday. 

And it was good to try and disrupt a protest targeting a trans woman during Sunday’s elite race. 

Those took my head out of my ass. 

If you’ve come this far in reading, you can see there is a lot of complexity in my simple little head!

So what were my lessons about expectations? 

  1. Readjusting my attitude to be more positive is a daily activity. Every day is a matter of looking at life with gratitude and hope. It’s not easy, and I fail miserably some days. But every day is a new opportunity. The lessons of expectations is to keep them simple and miminal.
  2. Likewise, learning new breathing patterns requires daily practice. When I thought I was ready, nationals came and revealed that I wasn’t. There is still work to do. So every day, when I walk Joy the Downward Dog, I’m practicing breathing techniques. 
  3. The process of training is everything. I wrote a post about outcome goals and promptly ignored everything I said in it. Every day in training we have the opportunity to challenge ourselves, accomplish something, and get our proverbial heads out of our proverbial asses. 
  4. I love cyclocross, the community, the stupidity of riding perfectly nice, pretty expensive bikes on grass, in mud, running with them over barriers and up hills. But cross is full intensity right off the bat, and that may keep triggering asthma problems. I have to accept that, do what I can to change it, and make good decisions for my mental health!
  5. Get the fucking vaccinations. Really, most of the people dying right now are not vaccinated. I know some people don’t believe in it, I know they think the shots might be dangerous. Do it anyway. COVID, even with two vaccinations, sucks. After six weeks, I’m still having trouble fully breathing. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without the vaccinations. 
  6. The people in the cyclocross community are amazing. I truly loved doing the announcing at the Wisconsin races, getting to know the Chicago community better, and meeting some awesome people I would normally have not met, like the Sonnemanns. And the way the community stuck up for the trans woman at nationals was inspiring. 

Keep calm and keep breathing 

So what are my goals for 2022? 

I don’t know yet. 

Except this: every day I’m going to choose to be positive in the face of a world of negativity and pessimism. This is not naivety or “pollyanneishness.” 

I’m going to work to be good to myself every day; I’m not working toward some mythical amazing day when I suddenly have value and worth because I placed in the top 20 at nationals. 

I’m going to have some great adventures in 2022. 

I’m already planning a couple of bike trips and tours and gravel races. 

And yes, I’ll do some cyclocross races next fall! 

Truly, thank you for reading. 

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