PSA: It’s OK to Not Be the Same Athlete You Were
A few thoughts on my athlete identity, how it’s changed, and where I am now — and possibly how you can learn from my weird line of thinking! I started writing this from the Lone Gull Coffeehouse in Gloucester at 10AM on Sunday morning:
My race — ahem, first cyclocross race in 4 years, and the only option for me is jumping into the UCI field — and it’s taking every fiber of my resolve to not get in the car and start the long drive back to Ontario so I can be home tonight instead of having to do the rest stop shuffle overnight in the van. The weather is gorgeous, I love Stage Fort Park, I’m excited to see people I haven’t seen in ages… But I have zero desire to actually race today.
And I’m starting to realize that that’s OK. It’s been a busy travel-heavy week, and I’m tired. (It is ALWAYS a busy travel-heavy week, let’s be honest here.)
So, two weeks out, I’m coming back to this post. I raced. It went about as well as I had any right to hope it would: I didn’t get pulled, I finished and didn’t embarrass myself. My overall strength + aerobic fitness helped keep me in the race, while my lack of cyclocross-specific practice in the last four years put me way back in the field. I wasn’t disappointed by the result — I was psyched that I had a hard workout, and super stoked to hang out with some of the Real Life Shred Girls I’ve featured over on Shred-Girls.com in the last couple months.
I did NOT have the desire to sign up for another cyclocross race, though. (Never say never, but it wasn’t a ‘that was so fun, I can’t wait to do that again!’ vibe at the finish for me.)
A few years ago, cyclocross was my world. I’ve never been a fantastic cyclocross racer, but I’ve always loved it and considered it my ‘main’ sport. That just isn’t true anymore. I had to come to terms with that on the drive home, and to admit to myself that just maybe somewhere in the back of my mind, I had secretly expected to hit the start line, feel amazing, and actually do really well in the race. That… was not how it happened.
The same thing happened the next week when I jumped into the Howling Coyote Gravel Grinder, an 80km race with a TON of climbing. It was hard, it was cold, it was hilly, and — I realized halfway through — it was one of the longest rides I had done in about six months. Again, my endurance running fitness saved me and I ended up doing decently, but it wasn’t pretty.
That’s OK though. I’m not the same athlete I was when I was racing for Rutgers Cycling, and cyclocross was my main focus.
I’m not the same athlete I was a year ago when we were training for Ironman.
I’m in a great place for what I want to be doing now: Getting better and stronger for running longer distance races with tons of elevation. But I don’t have that top-end, I don’t have a ton of sprint power on the bike.
But I have it in my head that I should be improving and growing as an athlete… But still magically able to hold on to every type of fitness that I’ve ever had.
I hear the same from a lot of people — there’s this weird concept amongst athletes that if you’ve done it once, you can do it again. (The only person I find that to be true for is Katie Compton at US cyclocross Nationals for the last 14 years… and even she struggles with ups and downs throughout the season.)
I’m not the same athlete who even wants to race every single weekend. I want to be out running trails for purely fun and exploration, not stressing over a time or if I can make it to the port-a-potty before the start!
So here’s my fall mid-cyclocross-season PSA for all of you: It’s OK if you’re not racing at the same level/performing in the same way/interested in the same sports or styles of riding or running that you were a year ago or a decade ago. We have to stop hanging on to these weird expectations that we have of ourselves. That doesn’t mean you should give up, or that you can’t regain that fitness or speed. It just means that where you were may not be the same as where you are, and the sooner you (I) can realize that, the sooner you (I) can start putting a rational, reasonable plan in place to actually get to that spot… If that’s still where you want to go.
If you want to learn more about athlete identity, I *highly* recommend checking out our podcast with Simon Marshall about using sports psych in real life!