Friday, March 30, 2012

Man with a (2012) Plan

"The goal is the journey" was one of the guiding philosophies of my Augustana Track and Cross Country coach (and English Professor) Paul Olsen. Ols has been one of the most influential figures in my life, but I had embraced this particular philosophy for a couple years even b.c. [Before Coach Ols]. Focusing on the journey is one way to practice the Buddhist concept of mindfulness. In Buddhism mindfulness is part of the Noble Eightfold path that leads to enlightenment. The Roman poet, Horace, was also thinking along these same lines when he penned the Latin phrase: carpe diem. To swing the literary pendulum all the way to the other side, pulp western novelist Louis L'Amour once wrote: “The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast, and you miss all you are traveling for.” 'Ols and Buddha, Horace and L'Amour- these guys are all on to something here.

The goal is the journey is both a life philosophy and by association, a racing philosophy. Being mindful, seizing the day and savoring the journey are all excellent prescriptions for living.  They should all work just as well for racing, but as I have been discovering the life journey frequently trumps the racing journey. I only rarely workout in the evenings anymore since that is generally family time.  I skip lots of mid-day workouts to meet the demands of my job.  Granted, these are all important journey things. I get that, and I'm ok with that. When it comes to training and racing at this stage in my life I've found that I need to have racing goals (and the bigger, the better). In a way, this runs contrary to the philosophy of the goal is the journey. If you're truly focused on the journey, on the day-to-day, then having a big goal or a big race shouldn't matter that much. What I've found is that if I don't have that big goal race looming, I tend to just give in to all the competing time pressures and workout irregularly or not at all. Someday I will be content with that state of affairs- probably when I stop racing competitively and just train for the sheer enjoyment of it. Another facet of these internal tensions is that I realistically don't have that many years left where I can compete well overall in races.  I can compete well within a given age group for the rest of my life, but there is definitely a point where it is harder and harder to compete well overall. This is due partially to age, but also to shifting priorities towards my kid's activities and away from my own. Triathlon training -in particular, long course training- can be a very selfish endeavor for anyone, let alone a parent. My 2011 preseason post also covered some of these same musings.

So after that lengthy preamble, I have two big race announcements for my 2012 journey. At the beginning of last year I had grand visions of an Xterra-focused year culminating in the Xterra World Champs in Maui.  I had a blast at the Xterra West Championship in Las Vegas and later in the year took second at the Xterra Wilds in Peoria, but with the birth of our daughter in June I couldn't really justify all the travel to Xterra races or the cost of a Maui trip.  The Maui Xterra World Championship is still at the top of my bucket list, but a great alternative recently presented itself and I chose to follow Horace's advice and seize it.  Last year, the International Triathlon Union (ITU) hosted their own off-road triathlon world championship in Spain. This world championship was organized in part to help better the chances for off-road triathlon to become a future Olympic event. Some last-minute, behind-the-scenes wrangling is bringing this world championship to Pelham, Alabama on May 16th and I'm gonna be there in the mix! My past race results were good enough to qualify me to race for Team USA.  The race will be a long drive, but at least I don't need to pay for a plane ticket and outrageous bike fees.

This announcement was made really late (like February).  I had been out of the pool for about 5 months and took pretty much all of Dec/Jan off to work on a bathroom remodeling project.  Needless to say, I won't be in peak form for Worlds, but I'm making good progress from week to week.  Part of my new training strategy is to bike commute to work 2 or 3 times a week.  The ride is 40 miles roundtrip and since I have to drive it anyway it is not cutting into family time as much as driving to work and then sticking around to workout in the evening.  Not ideal, but at least it is some regular mileage.  The Pelham course is a true MOUNTAIN bike course and so I decided to swap bikes around in an effort to be safer -and hopefully faster- on this technical, rocky course. I do all my mountain and cyclocross racing for the Bloomington Cycle and Fitness Team and the shop helped me with a good deal on a new Specialized Epic 29er.  The Epic is the best full-suspension design out there for XC racing.

New Specialized Epic 29er from Bloomington Cycle and Fitness

I'm counting on the big wheels and rear suspension (my old bike was a hardtail) to help get me through the Blood Rock section of the Pelham trails!

My second big race announcement for 2012 will actually occur at the beginning of 2013!  I've been doing more and more cyclocross racing in the fall.  While I am not nearly as good at cross as triathlon, I really enjoy it and it has been helping the cycling leg of my triathlon races.  2012/13 is an absolutely huge year for cyclocross in the Midwest with two premier events: U.S. Nationals in Madison in January, 2013.  A week or so later the UCI Cyclocross World Championships leave European soil for the FIRST TIME EVER and will be held in Louisville, Kentucky!  This is a huge deal and officially acknowledges the tremendous growth of cyclocross in the US over the past 5 years. 
Now, the only thing I will be doing for the big UCI World Championship is spectating, heckling and drinking, BUT earlier in the week there are a series of World Championship races for old (Masters) guys.  As of now, my plan is to throw my hat in the ring for both Nationals and the Masters World Champs.  The way the Masters World Champs works is that there will be a series of preliminary races early in the week.  The best 80 riders from these prelim heats get to race in the official Masters World Championship race. Performance under pressure.  I love it!  I don't know if I am good enough to make that top 80 cut or not.  My season plan is to stop tri training mid-season and just focus on cycling all fall/winter.  I've never focused just on cycling in my career, so I know I've got room to improve.

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