On a rainy, Belgian-like day in Minneapolis, I sat down to ponder the major life change I made this summer, Roanoke GO Cross, age and wisdom. A lot to ponder, I know!
On Going Full-time
I did not have a full-time, go-to-the-office job this summer.
I did media work for the Amy D. Foundation and started Triple C LLC to manage both my team and coaching business. I was busy, but I was able to do all my work from home. I had the flexibility to train as a full-time athlete, but I lacked a full-time paycheck and benefits.
I thought it would be easy and wonderful and I would love every day of this “full-time athlete” gig. Surprisingly, I found it a very difficult change.
Part of the struggle was that I really dislike change. Good or bad change is a big disrupter to my happy homeostasis. As a type-A overachiever, not having a steady paycheck was also unnerving.
Full-time training was also profoundly isolating. I failed to calculate how much my coworkers were part of my everyday life. My corporate office job provided ready casual friendships. In Belgium, I had colleagues as well. There was never a time that there were not several other racers in Oudenaarde with whom I could share a coffee or spin.
Suddenly, I was home, but without my normal “home schedule.” I was spending hours on the bike alone with only my thoughts to keep me company.
To solve my isolation problem, I forced myself to schedule at least one off-the-bike social event a week. In time, I strengthened some friendships and built a rhythm to my days.
In Belgium, it’s easy to be a bike racer. When you meet someone on rides, within a few moments, the rider invariably asks, “Are you a professional?”
Although the truth is, “Not exactly,” it was wonderfully easy to live in a place where professional cycling is understood. There are aspiring professional cyclists everywhere. Likewise, most Belgians have at least a passing understanding of “veldrijden” (cyclocross). In many cases, I explain that I am in Belgium for veldrijden, and they say, “Sanne Cant” with a smile.
It was odd to go back home and try to explain the size and scale of European Cyclocross. How many times have I said, “Cyclocross in Belgium is like professional football in the U.S.”
In prior summers, it was easy to just be a project manager with a crazy side hobby. It was easy to avoid the awkwardness of explaining cyclocross to others. This year, my central identity was one no one understood. How interesting to have culture shock and have to re-identify who you are at home!
For me, full-time athlete status is a temporary thing. It’s the right move as I wrap up my cyclocross career and work towards a coaching/directing career. Even knowing that this isn’t long term, and I’m not chasing a professional contract, my relationship with riding has still changed.
When I wake up in the morning, my workouts are my number one focus and priority. The second riding becomes your number one purpose in life, everything changes. Even if you are not making money at it (or relatively little), it still becomes your job.
While I don’t expect myself to start winning UCI races, I expect myself to have my best possible performance on the day. Having a corporate career allowed cycling to remain the slightest bit recreational—even though I was oh-so-serious. It gave me the smallest “out,” a reason not to take myself too seriously.
There is an increased amount of dispassionate professionalism to my training and racing. In training, my attitude has become much more “get ‘er done,” do the workout and go home. I rarely ride extra (or at least not ridiculously so) and have learned to love rest days!
Ironically, my relationship with the sport is healthier now. With cycling as the main part of my day and writing, coaching, and friendships for “recreation,” bike racing has become what I do, not who I am.
Roanoke and Heat
Like last year, I chose to make Roanoke GO Cross my season opener. I did this with some trepidation. I have been fondly referred to as “the penguin” for my complete lack of heat tolerance.
However, I enjoy the Roanoke course that goes up and down a slight hill. Likewise, last year, I did well racing over Labor Day weekend and then skipping the weekend before Jingle and Trek. Thus, I selected Roanoke despite the inevitable heat and humidity.
I take heat management seriously. On race day, I used preload, warmed up on the road (rather than the trainer), took a cold shower in my kit post warm-up, arrived at the start with an ice sock and raced with a bottle of ice water (as much for pouring over my head as for drinking). Can you tell that the heat worries me?
The answer was, umm, not so much.
After being slightly delayed by the Lap 1 pile up, I had some strong early laps. However, my lap times slowed dramatically in the race’s second half. Looking at my data afterward, my heart rate went up, up, up during the race while my power went down and down.
The chart was an ugly picture of cardiac drift. I overheated despite my exhaustive measures. At the end of the day though, 13th wasn’t too bad for the penguin!
Despite a lack of rain, mud, and snow, the trip to Roanoke was a worthwhile one. The only way to get used to racing again is to race! I blew the cobwebs out.
With GO Cross as the opener (immediately preceding an important C1), the vibe at the venue was low key and happy. It felt like a homecoming to see friends I last saw in February. Everyone also shared some excited nerves. It’s been a long season of prep. We all hope that our summer training transformed us into better riders, and worry: what if it didn’t?
With Age Comes Wisdom
I sometimes have the “opportunity” to be reminded of my ever-increasing age.
Roanoke weekend, I had a chance encounter with a peer who was shocked to realize I am 41 years old. Yup, I am basically ancient.
In Roanoke, I also had the opportunity to meet CXHairs Devo’s Libbey Sheldon. At racing age 54, Libbey’s a hero of mine for being older than me and still ripping it—and being a Master’s World Champion. How about Libbey’s 11th place in the UCI field on Day 1?!
I also happened to see Libbey cooling off in the showers post-preride, presumably using the shower to stay cool as I had. Coincidence, or with age comes wisdom? I know that warming up on the trainer on a hot day is something I used to do.
I feel pressure to retire, what with my coach Helen retiring and having a baby too!
Sometimes it seems sensible to “grow up.” Yet, I did have that 12-year corporate career, so perhaps I have already been there, done that.
I find myself in a unique place: in my 40s and getting faster. You see, we all grow up at different rates. I had to revise some elements of my athletic life before I could develop as a rider.
At 40, I made an opportunity for myself by going to Belgium. It was one very large leap of faith to board that plane to Europe two years ago. However, that one risk created a snowball effect of positive change. Ultimately, I built a support network on the other side of the pond, and that’s changed my racing life.
The super neat trick of being overtrained and under-supported is that when you fix these things, you will improve. I’m grateful to Helen for correctly periodizing training and rest. The summer is the hardest I have ever trained … and yet I recovered.
If you missed the memo and assumed me to be thirty-something, please recalibrate. I am proof that there remains much you can do with your life after age 40.
People in my life were a bit puzzled when I took a “bye week” on the Rochester weekend, racing neither there, nor at home.
Part of that wisdom of age is knowing that I am in for a long haul. My last race will be on February 23rd. That’s nearly a 6-month season. I aim to be thoughtful about how I spend my fitness, money, and energy over the duration.
Over the coming two weeks, I look forward to hopping in the car for my two “local” UCI races: Jingle Cross and Trek Cup.
If you see me in my Triple C Racing kit, stop over and say “Hi!”