The Fine Line – Learning to Love the Off-Season
This season, we’ll be following a few racers who have some interesting stories to share. From a freshly-minted elite racer to a newly declared master, we have a wide variety of racers we’ll be hearing from. We’ll catch up with them intermittently as the season wanes on, and hopefully we’ll be able to chart their progress towards their individual goals. Cyclocross Magazine is a community effort, and we’re inspired by the great stories from all of our amazing contributors and columnists. David Sterry, a racer who started to take cyclocross seriously this past season in Portland, Oregon, is checking in with us about his off-season.
by Dave Sterry
The off-season. I’ll admit it’s a little silly that I’m just now sitting down to write about it, seeing how it’s almost over. For some of you, I’m sure there wasn’t much of off-season at all, especially if you race on the road. But for me, there was a serious break from racing, or even really thinking much about racing at all. I know that this is not the case for everyone; a lot of you probably live and breathe bikes all year long, and normally I do too. But this year I made a decision to take my time away from racing as seriously as I take racing. And by that, I mean I barely rode all winter, except to get to and from work. You know what? It was glorious.
I decided this year that I wouldn’t spend a chunk of the winter and early spring worrying about whether or not I was riding enough base miles. Instead, I’d do all the other activities I love so much but don’t have time to do during the cyclocross season. So what exactly did I do? A whole lot of bouldering, for one. I’ve been climbing for years now and I find it to be a wonderfully social way to work out and relieve stress. It’s hard to worry about that mistake you made at work when you’re hanging on to the tiniest lip of a hold, figuring out what your next move is. Plus, it’s a great upper body and core workout, which is something lots of us cyclists don’t get much of. I also spent a lot of time seeing my friends and family. I slept in on the weekends and sat around the house drinking coffee as well as watching shows on Netflix, and I loved every second of it. I’m a real lazy bastard at heart.
To serious riders this probably seems silly. Shouldn’t I be riding base miles? Or at least working out on the trainer in the garage? Or spending my money buying upgrades? To which I happily reply, “No sir / madam.” Here’s why: I love racing ’cross and all that it entails. But in truth, it is something I pursue in my free time after work and the other things in my life. If I spend all year worrying about it, or forcing myself to ride through Portland’s wet winter, the things I love about riding will rapidly be overpowered by the fact that I’m not enjoying riding. It’s about having fun, right? Riding shouldn’t be a chore, it should be a blast!
So I decided to just try and enjoy being on my bike with my friends. Luckily, this happened when I went out to Bend over Memorial Day weekend with some teammates. Up until then I had been riding sporadically at best. Sure, I rode the Rhonde PDX (one word report: “ouch”) and checked out some other MTB trails, but I wasn’t too motivated to ride. I had a few minor crashes and just generally felt “blah” about racing or riding. I was enjoying my time off from riding, but out in Bend, barreling down the Whoops Trail on Sunday, something happened. Everything came together perfectly. I felt fast again, like I knew what I was doing. The whole thing felt almost effortless, flying through bank corners and over table tops. Everything just “clicked.” I had one of those rare and magical moments when everything worked perfectly. My sense of time changed and it seemed like I could’ve rode like that forever. Just the day before, I’d felt sluggish and timid. I felt afraid to really charge into the corners and I took a lot of bad lines. I couldn’t tell you what changed the next day; maybe it was because the whole trip was so relaxed and we were all just riding to have fun. But after riding that Sunday, the idea of riding was fun again. I couldn’t stop smiling as we raced around the trails at Peterson Ridge, me trying to keep up with my faster teammates. When I got back from that trip, I was excited about racing Short Track on Monday nights; I even signed up for a six hour MTB relay in June.
The truth is, for me, without a serious break from thinking about riding, that never would have happened. The whole weekend would have felt stressful. I guess the moral here – if you could even call it that – is that in order to really enjoy something, sometimes you need to step away from it. When you come back, you remember why you loved it in the first place. Like listening to an album you listened to too many times a few years ago, or talking with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. And so it is for me and riding. Maybe it took a winter of rock climbing, Netflix-watching, a whole lot of sleeping, and if I’m honest, probably a bit too much drinking, to make me want to ride again. Did all that make me a stronger rider? Doubtful. Common training logic would say I’ve made a grave mistake. But I don’t care. After all, what is the point of training if you don’t enjoy the damn sport? So I gave myself one goal for the whole of summer – enjoy riding. I figure if I’m enjoying what I’m doing, then the passion to race and improve flows naturally out of that enjoyment, which is something that doesn’t happen when you force yourself to ride. And on that note, I’m off to go boulder … but don’t worry, I’m riding over there.
Have you subscribed yet? You're missing out if not. Get all-original content and your cyclocross fix throughout the year with a subscription and Issue 23 back copy, with features on Lars van der Haar, Jonathan Page, Elle Anderson and more!