A disclaimer before I start this post… I have never been a super-pro athlete at any point. I’ve trained like one, been on teams with some, and been lucky enough to be surrounded by plenty, but at my best, I was always *almost* there: never quite willing or able to give it the last extra percentage points to get to truly elite status as an athlete. But still. The hours were there, and the desire to be a part of it all… that was definitely there.
Maybe that’s because I came to sport late—20—and, in the last 10 years (gulp) always had school, full time jobs, more part time jobs, and, in the last four years, a partner who is ~elite~ and jobs that would mean absolutely no chance to race (like managing a pro team), and so, whatever dreams I secretly harbored of pro status were put on the back-burner.
And I don’t miss it. I don’t miss worrying about what I was eating (which ended up being the wrong things, anyway). I don’t miss worrying about my training (there was waaaaay too much of it). I don’t miss the pre-race freaking out (at all). I really don’t miss never feeling like I was doing enough (I was). My self worth was heavily wrapped up in how my training was going, how much I was cramming in, and, weirdly to a lesser extent, what my results were. I always loved *being* a serious athlete, just not really the racing so much. More, the post-race feels. And I had some really great results in triathlon, if not on the road or cyclocross course (respectable, yes. Pro status? Hell, no.).
That said… There are moments when I really do miss that lifestyle, and that laser-focus. We travel a lot with juniors, coaching and with Peter’s teammates. They’re some of the raddest human beings ever. I work with and talk to young girls who are just getting into cycling, or are already shred girls. And their potential is absolutely limitless. It’s hard not to be a little envious.
We were shooting some Shred Girls photos and some team promo stuff for Trek Canada today, and I realized that the one heckle I do remember from the year I stopped racing seriously had come true. “Too bad you can’t race as well as you write.” I mean, ouch. But also, fair point. And so, I stopped racing, and started writing more. I’ve had great success with writing—I get to call it my job, and that’s amazing. Still, that teensy little voice in my head is wondering if I quit too soon.
Comparing the photos of Soren absolutely ripping up the pump track and my own, slower and lower attempts, were basically a “what I think I’m doing/what I’m actually doing” meme.
And looking at them, I had a moment of serious reckoning, as well as some serious self pity. Sure, I was never a mountain biker or a jumper or BMXer. But why couldn’t I just jump on the track and do that? (Right, that is wildly unrealistic.) Why did I look so serious in the couple photos that Peter snapped of me, while Soren looked calm and psyched? (I blame the photographer and my own resting bitch face…. sort of.)
Later today, we had gone back out for another round of photos, and even when I was done clicking, Soren kept shredding on the pump track. And what hit me is that I so rarely have those moments of pure play on the bike anymore. Maybe that’s why I stopped wanting to be competitive, too. When I graduated and there was no more Rutgers Cyclocross to rely on for playtime and group rides, training became a chore for me. And now that I live and travel with elite athletes, it’s still a chore even when I have people to ‘play’ with, because their skill and strength so far exceeds my own that riding in a group is more of a slugfest for me than it is a fun time.
What I miss about those days, I suppose, is the sense of purpose and the sense of play that seamlessly meshed together. When I was playing with my friends, we were training for races. It wasn’t unstructured play that didn’t have an end goal in mind, it was part of my daily schedule and something I needed to spend time on. Being able to have that combination of play and productivity was the sweet spot for me: it kept every part of me motivated.
Now, I have to figure out what makes me feel like I’m both being productive while playing. Because I realized today—and this last weekend, watching the team race at Tremblant—that I desperately miss that feeling. Do I want to go pro, or join another team? Not really, if I’m being honest. And I’ll be the first to say that this time around, Ironman training, while it’s going well, hasn’t held the same allure that it did the first time. So I’m still not sure what that looks like for me right now.
I think really honing my bike skills is going to be the next big project to tackle for me, since it hits productivity as I work with juniors, women and young girls, but it also hits the sweet spot of adding a bit of play, especially since my good friends and charming husband are pretty much skills experts. And it has the added productive bonus of making riding with the crew of amazing cyclists I’m surrounded by a wee bit less intimidating.
And with that said, screw it, I’m going to go play on the pump track.