“Stay loose. Just stay loose, kid.” It was his patent phrase. He’d use it with me on the field, when I would take a test and was stressed beyond my small brain’s capacities, or when I’d call home from New York, close to jumping off the WTC as my first real job that I had to ‘work at’…well it scared me and wasn’t confident that I’d be able to succeed.
“Stay loose, kid.”
He was a baseball player. A good one in high school and got sucked into the Yankees and Washington Senators training farms after high school right before getting sucked into Army Green to go defend us from tyranny of the evil North Koreans and their diabolical plans to attack…Alaska. Which in reality amounted to him and his buds going skiing, shooting elk and tending the officer’s club in that desolate outpost. Hilarious. Anyways, he had a phenomenal throwing arm and taught me the secrets of his ‘fork ball’ and all kinds of change up stuff that I’d practice over and over and over again. I sucked, beaned batters all the time to the horror of their parents who’d come to home plate…their child sprawled on the ground, bell rung and crying….to dust off and escort them to first base to take their freebie. So he stuck me in the hot corner most of the years he coached me instead of his hope for me to strike out batters. Again, hilarious.
But alas, it was always “stay loose”. Lessons he learned form coaches about how to keep the elbow, shoulder, wrist…and mind…loose. It rings continually through my ears and I see it as he would mouth it to me in silence across the field for only me to see to ensure I’m in the game. No where else.
Cyclocross is as I keep saying…hard. Anything you want to do well at is hard, right? Else, why bother. This past weekend at Interlocken for Boulder Racing’s 2nd race in its 4 part series I’d run ino those feelings again. Honestly, it is a course that I loath. Lots of dudes relish it…thrive on the all grass course which in all reality is beautiful. But for me, it’s been a write-off course as I’d performed so badly there over the years. The grass and elevation changes working me over and over and over into a vegetative pulp.
Sunday would be different, however. The weather conditions changed everything with snow and bitter cold temps. That variable and Boulder Racing’s modifications to the course made an absolute ‘cross playground. A twisty, flowy faster and more technical affair with off cambers, twists speed straights and recovery sections. INFINITELY more balanced in my opinion. Frozen grass has never felt so good.
Warm up was difficult with my head popping and crackling with sinus-infected blood-booger hell and legs that were heavy and would not come around. I seemed to roll just OK in warm up but the bike and 32 p.s.i. Typhoons seem to roll me around the course with confidence. So I had that going for me… I’d try my best but was still all mentally bound up. I got to the car to change clothes before the race and broke a zipper on a jacket and instantaneously had this pissy black raincloud over my head. Brandon came over to help and for about 10 seconds I proceeded to spit venom, with him giving me a simple smirk to tell me I am being a retard and to chill out. Stay loose…
The start needed to be a drag race as we launched a 100 meters into a sharp left…all of us gunning for this pathway followed by another tight left to get us into a barriered run up. I got clear with team mates Timmy Faia and Brian Hludinski and into the apex and that’s when we heard the horror behind us. Someone mussed up and cased a sidewalk lip in the hole shot chaos wreaking havoc. A group of us were safe and clear thankfully. I told Timmy to punch it when I heard the mele and to go get a gap. My legs were still not able to come around and feel fresh as Dennis Farrell and Jeff Wardell bridged to me by the end of the 1st lap and I simply sat on into those machines floated away to go in pursuit of Timmy but it was never to be for them. By the first lap, it was all Tim all day. Off the front…a 45 minute time trial straight through to the finish. Arms up. Good on ya Timmy. That’s 3 in a row for BCS.
The race for me was less of a race, and more of a maddening torture training test. Trying to push out watts that were not able to get pulled out, but I hung. My team mates Von and Brian worked with me through the race until I needed to collect and conserve. Essentially it was a game of bridge and drop a dude/get bridged to, then get dropped! Back and forth it went like this for the race staying level headed and trying to get the best ride possible in for the day. The last few laps were dodgy as all get up due to lapped rider scenarios where new guys were not sure what to do and not clear lines for race leaders (so sorry dudes I sort of had to muscle a bit!). But alas, 4 of us in the top 10 with me taking 10th. Honestly, I can not complain even though I’m in that zone of knowing what I need to do to push ahead and hold positions and race more conservatively. We all know what we need to do, right?
But back to staying loose. The ‘cross season is a long one. Patience is so key and mentally flailing is the disease that will send athletes off the rail. Staying loose simply means…relax, trust, work, stay focused on the big picture. Stay focused on the belief that if you can put the work in, the right things will build upon themselves and materialize. I’m in love with this concept. This hope that forms not by simply having the feeling of it, but the pushing that goes on to create hope and opportunities. It’s not the other way around because hope on its own is a strategy for suckers. The game is how you never lose sight. Keep the mind loose, the legs more so.
Stay loose and come back weekend after weekend, ‘crossers. Personal victories await you: a race with every corner smooth; a race where you emerge from mid to front of the pack; a race with no mechanicals; a race where you feel earned accomplishment.
(All racing photos by the now famous Mr. SixDegreesToSlush)