I should have known these would be coming, but they snuck up on me regardless. Before I take you through the inevitable come-down at the end of a successful season, I want to send you to a couple of cool sites out there in the blogosphere. The first is Multisport Maps, which is, full disclosure, run by a friend of mine, Brian Burns. The site isn't up and fully running yet, as Brian is still in the development stage, but you can get a sense of where he's going. Essentially, he's trying to solve a problem we've all experienced: ever go somewhere for a few days and wish you knew some great running/riding routes, or where the closest pool was located? Multisport Maps is out to fix that problem, and Brian spent all summer driving the roads of Vermont, figuring out roads you'd want to spend a few hours on...and which you'd want to avoid. Check out his blog that tracks the progress of his work, and look for the site to be up on the web in earnest next spring.
Cyclocross, some of you know, is one of my abiding passions. In fact, my best friend Jesse Dukes once remarked: "I think triathlon is your wife, and cyclocross is your girlfriend." He's about right. Nothing can really compare with the pain and beauty of cross, the combination of power and skill it demands. One of the perks is that, unlike the 4-9 hours of a 1/2 to full iron, you know exactly how long you're going to hurt. Most people out there have heard about Pure Sweet Hell, but you might not have heard of Cyclofile, which is a kind of hybrid videoblog/dvd store. At their site (www.cyclofile.com) you can see the well-edited videos the guys shoot each week at the big 'cross races throughout the country. Their signature seems to be quirky music choices to accompany the short films: you'll get Van Halen, but you'll also get David Bowie's Let's Dance, which makes me think that there's someone with real taste at the helm at Cyclofile. You can also purchase their eponymous dvd, which tracks the 2006 'Cross season, a la their two previous films Transitions and Transitions 2
O.K. cool things aside, I want to talk about something inevitable: the valley you'll go through at the end of a long, fun, mostly successful triathlon season. I spent most of the past two weeks on a general, post-worlds high, which was further buoyed by an inspiring weekend at a teaching conference in New York City. Then came a few days off from school, and I was back in Portland, seeing old friends and helping my mom cook for Thanksgiving. The friend parade continued through Friday night, which brought my 10th high school reunion. I probably should have known better, as I had an important cross race the next day, but the temptation to see friends from years past was too strong. I made it to the race the following morning, but I wasn't feeling that great. I rode the course a few times and decided to call it a day. I drove back to Maine feeling guilty and, or course, a little sick. This phenomenon is something I've noticed in myself and other athletes: a tendency to train hard and, perhaps, play a bit too hard sometimes. It brings up all sorts of questions for me, the most pressing of which is Why? Here's the best I can do for an answer. Athletes crave stimulation. You can hear that proved in any one of a thousand quotes from successful athletes. The one that comes to me is Lance Armstrong's answer to a reporter who asked him, once, what pleasure he got out of all that suffering on his bike. He said "I didn't do it for pleasure. I did it for pain." I find myself saying things like this all the time, usually in response to questions about Cyclocross, but it's certainly applicable to the training and racing associated with Triathlon. It's not that we like pain, I think, it's that we like to feel deeply. I won't go into the further implications of this thought (you could get into all sorts of psycho-babble about it), but I do think it's true. The holidays are a time when we get to see those that we love, and those are certainly high points. But all high points come with a corresponding drop, and the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a month when athletes are recovering from their long seasons. Our training volumes drop, and we look for something to fill that void. I'm not counseling against seeing your friends and family, but I'm issuing a warning to be careful with yourselves over the next month. As penance for missing the race on Saturday, I went out for a longer run this morning. I ran 13.1, with the help of my new Garmin Forerunner (see an earlier post), and I pushed it a little bit. It became one of those runs that happen from time to time, when the time you have left loses its importance, and you're just running, trying to keep in tune with your rhythm and pace. My watch beeped at me when I'd reached my goal distance: 1:27:28, not bad for a training day. But that didn't matter to me. The run, as they always do, gave me some time to reflect on the decisions I made Friday night, and how I could alter those decisions in the future. And this afternoon, the sunlight all over everything as the sun begins to fall back below the horizon, I don't feel pleasure, but I'm enjoying the warm tightness in my legs that, for the moment, is quieting all the gloomy doubts of the up-and-down holiday season.
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