The Thanksgiving CX Report:

November 27, 2006 · Print This Article

By Anna “Trees” Milkowski

Focus is essential in bike racing. It’s how we set goals and pursue them, and how we balance training, travel, and racing with working full-time, raising kids, being a student, and managing the rest of life, with all its predictabilities and unpredictabilities. For many of us, focus involves tradeoffs and periods of blindness to some of the things that demand our attention: times when calls to relatives, errands, non-urgent projects at work or school, time with friends, and house projects get ignored and delayed, with the expectation that there will be a balloon of time at some point to catch up. We are all masters of life triage, and without focus, we would be lost. But sometimes, focus results in a nearsightedness that doesn’t necessarily fuel the racing, or much else.

When I flew to Portland last weekend for the USGP races, the trip felt like the final leg of the decathlon of a long pre-vacation stretch that had run me ragged. On Friday, I took an exam and jumped on the plane for the cross-country flight, beginning a weekend played out in a haze of fatigue and misplaced perspective. I raced mediocrely both days, but what’s more, I came closer to the bratty and spoiled athlete than ever before: the athlete who is tough on herself, demanding of others, selfish, and who most importantly, fails to see the joy in what she is doing (though I did quite like the epic mud on Sunday). Thanksgiving could not have come at a better time, offering a chance to sleep and take stock. At risk of sounding cliché, thanks for:

Health: There is nothing like being injured or ill to remind me how much racing means to me. As hardy as we seem, our health is fickle. If we could always be fueled by that energizing gratitude and jubilance of a return to health and competition, how much better off would we be?

Community: Most of us exist in a host of worlds, but typically the more involved we become with racing, the more racing becomes our community. It’s a question of time in that racing consumes time previously dedicated to other things, and one of perspective, that the more goal-oriented we become, the more we come to feel that what’s most dear to us is best understood by our companions in bike racing. I flew across the country to be greeted at the airport by a most jovial crew of Alex, Mike, and Tim, all there purely for love of sport. They extend themselves for us to no end. At races, our festive Velo Bella tent belays the unity of purpose in team. We are welcomed into host homes, helped by our “competitors”, advised by teammates, cheered by family and friends, supported by sponsors, invited to share the knowledge we’ve acquired, and bolstered by the interest and admiration of grass-roots athletes. In the age of Bowling Alone, of lives lived on the Internet, how lucky are we?

Sponsors: Sponsors come in many forms, and athletes writing race reports sometimes balk at making plugs. But what if a plug is sincere? Few of us could afford to race at this level were it not for the sponsorship we receive. This year I’m racing on the best equipment, no ifs, ands, or buts: Kona bikes, SRAM drive train, Easton wheels and fork, Sella San Marco saddles, Crankbrothers pedals, Chris King headsets, and Vanderkitten and Patagonia clothing. How can you beat that? It is stuff, but it’s also a measure of confidence in you, a trust that you will deliver and that you will represent with poise.

After a week of sleeping and de-caffeinating, of allowing myself to feel tired finally, I returned to New England yesterday for round 5 of the New England Verge Series. I drove up with a dear friend with whom I used to always carpool to races and had regrettably slipped out of touch. I hadn’t raced in New England since the middle of October – far too long ago for this hometown racer who draws a huge amount of strength from the local scene. This year I’ve done a lot of racing across the country, representing but also doing a fair amount of anonymous racing. Here I was on my former coach Tom Stevens’s deluxe course, in a race sponsored by my first and still-beloved cycling team, with family and friends there to cheer. Teammates Stephanie and Melanie were there in the blue and pink, racing with typical zeal. My legs seemed to have stayed home on the day, but the race featured an unexpected reward: someone told me I had raced the whole race smiling.

Thanks to all, for everything including bearing with me. Let’s have a fantastic rest of the cross season!


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