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I’ll start with a confession: I love bad weather.
This is not a common bike racer statement, but allow me to elaborate. This is about freedom.
You see, it isn’t only physical ability that predicts an elite competitor’s success. To sustain excellence year after year, a bit of mental command and control is required as well. You could distill the professional competitor’s job description to “dominance” –dominance of opponents, obviously, but also a dominance of daily circumstances. There really is a true performance benefit from regulating diet, sleep and specific daily exertion (you know – those training plan things).
It becomes easy – perhaps too easy – to judge a day’s success by how well it went according to the plan. Routine is a wonderful tool, but there is a trickily thin distinction between a constructive habit and a superstitious entrapment. Some days, my urge to get it right just seems like an awful lot of responsibility. I mean, goodness, I’m trying to be perfect every day!
Until… it snows.
When the drifts mound up and cover the double yellow lines, suddenly I am guiltlessly powerless. What a colossal relief. It is clearly not my fault the plan changed – I literally have no choice but to alter my patterns.
So, maybe I train indoors or I take a day to go trail running in the storm. As I walk around town, I am required to be more alert on familiar streets, vigilant for ice underfoot or an overhead ambush from a releasing tree branch. I use the bus to get around town instead of my commuter bike – and the forced daily variety is actually quite refreshing.
It isn’t just in bike world where the quest for control has gotten out of hand. In normal modern society, we are surrounded by heaters, air conditioners and windshields. Industrial agriculture and refrigerated shipping. Noise canceling headphones and mirrored sunglasses. Weed-free lawns, agricultural pesticides and genetically modified foods. Painkillers, stimulants and quick muscle bulking supplements. Same-day shipping and international video conferences. To a large extent, I feel like societal progress is evaluated by the ability to bend time and environment to our preference –and we have become quite good at it.
For that reason, I see it as a gift when nature takes the upper hand.
We still can’t control snow, thunderstorms, hail or wind. Yet for all of our whining when we return from getting caught in a storm on a training ride, I think that we all know that there is a secret thrill too – the adrenaline rush of having been confronted by something so powerful, having been temporarily rendered completely helpless, and having survived.
Storms are unapologetically blunt: As a human, I am imperfect. Thank goodness someone else said it. If I can’t be perfect anyhow, then I may as well play. Take a risk. Connect. Part of the reason I think that we love our sport is that it allows us to experience nature on an extreme and intimate level. Somewhere out there, we can still find awe. So, my Aussie friends – enjoy the snow (or torrential downpours)!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mara was a swimmer before she was a cyclist. She swam competitively from the age of nine all the way through her senior year of college. A seasonal sport at Whiteman College, swimming left Mara with more time on her hands than she was accustomed to, so she turned to cycling. Her talent was immediately apparent. She won the collegiate national title (Division II) in the women’s road race at the end of her first season.
Mara turned pro with Webcor. She flourished on the States-based squad, winning the U.S Elite National Championships road title in her second year as a professional. The win, accompanied by consistent podiums achieved throughout the season, saw Mara move across to HTC-Highroad. Since then, she’s ridden for Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12, Diadora Pasta Zara, Exergy Twenty16 and UnitedHealthCare. She joins Wiggle Honda for the 2015 season.
She became the first American to win the Giro Donne (now called Giro Rosa), riding for the U.S National Team in 2010. She repeated the feat three years later.
Of course, Mara is much more than the bike. She’s an avid yoga practitioner and certified instructor. She is a board member of both the City of Boulder Environmental Advisory Board and the Daily Camera Editorial Advisory Board. She’s a staunch proponent of bike commuting and a very proud new homeowner in the city of Boulder.
And now she’s an Ella columnist, too.