Friday, December 14, 2012

Crash Course in Pro Cycling

It's almost Christmas and this year, the holidays are different--my friends and family won't be getting homemade paper mache ornaments or origami crane mobiles because I can afford to buy real gifts that they might actually like. Well, I should say I could have afforded to buy them real gifts--but I spent all my money on couture throw pillows for my couch. So, scratch that--homemade gifts for all! Commercialism is so evil anyway. *scoff*

Anyway, you may be thinking, "Did you win the lottery? I thought you were a pro cyclist, making hundreds of thousands of dollars every ten years." And yes, technically, I am a pro cyclist until December 31, 2012, but I decided to not resign for 2013 so now in the off season, I went back to work (which is as a contractor, designing really cool shit for companies needing eLearning--so if you are also employed and have any training needs, I can have my people, my company, call your people). But I digress, as usual, because I'm the queen of SUBTLE product placement.  

So, I know you must have so many questions right now, and there will be a Q&A session after I provide my tips on how to crash and burn in your cycling career-- no, it's my crash course on being a pro cycling.

Ok. Let's start with the Q&A instead. I will be writing both the questions and the answers because I'm not above self-publication...or interviews with myself, conducted by myself.

Q&A with Jennifer Wheeler
1. Being a pro cyclist is the dream. What's it going to be like living the nightmare?
I'm sure I'll have other dreams and then live them. Hopefully, those will involve my new LL Bean boyfriend.

2. No offense, but you kind of sucked the last few months you were cycling. Do you really think anyone will care that you're leaving?
C'mon, results are so passe when it comes to popularity--they just get you in the game. It's like once you get a date with the prom queen, you're just in. You don't have to maintain that relationship. (I kid! I kid! Relax! I'll address the declining performance in the crash course below.)
Who needs results with a face like this?

3. I heard if your team owner, Linda Jackson, beats you in a Gran Fondo, you're automatically off the team. Is this what really happened?
This rumor is true and she is the most fit "recreational rider" I've ever met... but for the record she never beat me in a Gran Fondo...because I never entered one with her. They're dangerous races, only for the brave, and I'd go basically for the snacks.

4. Is it true that you're getting yoked and trying to become a CrossFit Games competitor?
I am not "trying" to get yoked but yes, I have taken the braces off my arms (I was always trying to keep them in a state of atrophy while cycling to get "smaller") and as a result, immediately put on 10 pounds...of pure ASSAULT muscle...and fat... I now go to GNC and ask, "What supplements do you have that are illegal?" because I don't have to worry anymore if I accidentally ate too many poppyseeds or if I took Sudafed or something else highly sophisticated to enhance my performance. But really, the guys at Xplore Crossfit know my crash and burn mentality and try to tame my "Put me in coach!" attitude--oh yeah and the fact that I can't do a pull-up, double under, or any of the other required moves tames my willingness to compete.
My CrossFit Dreams...

5. What will you miss the most?
Probably my career status on Facebook. It looks cool to say "Professional Cyclist" ...way more so than "Instructional Designer."

Crash Course in Professional Cycling
Ok. The above was mostly lies, except for the LL Bean Boyfriend part. To summarize, here are a few tips for you if you want to crash and burn in cycling or be a winter hero and a summer zero, or any combination of the above.

1. Discover cycling, become obsessed, and make it the only focus of your life--and get one of those "Cycling is Life. The rest is just details." t-shirts.
After I won my first local race, I lost focus of everything important in my life besides cycling. My love life consisted of going on 4-5 hour night rides in the rain with my boyfriend at the time or yelling at my other boyfriend because a route's terrain was not conducive for my prescribed wattage for my intervals. Note, these are both "ex" boyfriends. I also got lectures at work for losing focus. I gave up everything to "pursue the dream," sold my belongings, and fit everything into my tiny GTI so that I could move place to place, depending on the weather. This may seem like a good idea in theory, but ultimately, I felt pretty lonely and got tired of living out of a suitcase. It's about balance. If not, your self worth is all tied up in your performance, and sometimes your physical performance consists of variables you can't control. Balance helps you feel like your existence may still be important even if you have a bad result--but let's be honest, it probably isn't.

2. Sell everything and become a gypsy.
This theory might be good if you're ignorant to the pleasures a clean house and having your own belongings and space can bring. But if you at one time had your own apartment, bed, and belongings, living on couches or in dirty bike rooms because it's all you can afford with your new salary, really loses its novelty after a month or so of training. It was great to feel independent and know that I could just pack up and go at anytime, but I had my best results when I had a home and a support system, somewhere and someone to come home after weeks on the road. I didn't realize at the time (or times...multiple times) that much of my happiness was due to my relationship, friends, and surroundings and quickly sabotaged this as it didn't fit into the scheme of cycling and my constant pursuit of excitement and adrenaline. I'm not eating Bon-Bons here--just acknowledging some harsh realities for myself.

I'm not saying that you need to be in a relationship or live with someone to be happy--I'm just saying that's important that you ground yourself somewhere so you can escape the cycling chatter and recover well. I would look forward to hotel rooms because of the nice beds--that's odd. If I were to do it all over again, I would take some time to save up money and find a good apartment to go to as my homebase...or move in with my 32...hmm... no, probably not.

But I will say the best part of being a gypsy was meeting awesome people all the time and developing really good friends...
Tucson Bestie sporting the Gnar!

Living with my teammate, Jo

3. HTFU and enter the hardest, most technical races you possibly can and hope your skills catch up.
I medaled at track nationals in 2009 after racing 2 months (BRAG ALERT!). I remember feeling like I was going to shit myself the first time warming up on that track. Two years later I'm in Europe, racing Flanders and World Cups in the rain on tiny roads with a peleton of 100+  of the best women cyclists.  (I should add, "not safely.: Ironically, I did better when I didn't have any room to move or make choices.)

Throughout my short career, I've learned a lot about skills--not scuba diving corners, how to avoid clipping pedals, how to ride handsfree, corner in the rain, etc. But I had to get up to speed really quickly, and I'd still rate myself as a "C-level" handler. Although I think it was good that I was aggressive, perhaps a more gentle immersion into the sport could have prevented some of my recklessness. Luckily, most of my crashes involved only myself (kind of like tripping over your own feet while walking and looking back to blame it on the invisible crack in the sidewalk).

Even so, I always asked for tips, and was open to suggestions. Don't be a douche. Know your skill level and don't be defensive if someone offers you advice. Another good tip is to not ride too close to really famous people. When I would see Marianne Vos make her way through the peleton, I gave her 4 feet--I did not want to be that person who took down the World Champion (now Olympic Gold medalist).

How I spent much of my career--in the hospital!

4. Train super hard starting in October. You won't burn out because you're different than everyone else.
Hmm...I thought because I got good so quickly that I must be some sort of X-man. I still think I have some super powers, but not on the bike.
I set my best power numbers in November and January. I fucking won team camp at the beginning of February. (Yeah! Yeah! Raise the roof!) Ok, I was second--but that's like first alternate to first, so there's a first place in there. I smashed Europe (well, at least for my first time out there) and then when I came home in April, I was shit. I had to take a lot of time off and that really screwed my team over. Luckily, we had a huge amount of talent, but not being able to pedal my bike destroyed me mentally. I would line up for a race and not know what my body would do that day. Can I attack and recover? What pace should I go? My performance was not consistent and I couldn't trust myself. That's a hard place to be in.

What's worst is that I worked so hard and probably set too high of expectations for myself for 2012 (Go hard or go home--no fear). I think for an experienced high-end athlete, my training plan wasn't super ridiculous--I've seen a lot of women do way more--but I just wasn't recovering properly--mentally or physically. And because I was so new to the sport, my body wasn't mentally or physically used to the volume of racing and training that I was doing. This is hard to track though, as my numbers were ok. I think this type of "knowing what works for your body" comes with more experience. Beginner over achievers tend to just think they need to harden up and push through any signs of fatigue. My advice would be to be undertrained rather than overtrained.

5. Write blogs all day instead of work.
Yeah, with that. I need to wrap this up, B. Hopefully, I provided some insight or helpful advice to beginners (because really when it comes down to it, I was just a beginner in a pro cyclist costume). And I can stop getting Facebook messages (messages means 1 to 2 here--I'm not that cool) that say WTF?!!!  I'll still be blogging here and there about slow-cooker recipes, throw pillows, knitting projects, babies, and whatever else 30-something, domestic women write about. It's fun playing grown up.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for their support and publicity, and, of course, to Team TIBCO for giving me the opportunity. It's been real and who knows maybe when I'm older and richer...

But now it's time for more gratuitous self-promotion...perhaps the last time for a while (like 1-2 months).
I cancelled my annual membership to Who's Who after appearing in this ad in Bicycling magazine.