“Heck YEAH! This is going to be my year!” thought every athlete waking up on January 1, 2020.
Nobody knew that in a matter of two and a half months all of our life plans would be put on hold as a global pandemic rapidly took over the world. Everything shut down, including my motivation to train for specific events because, well, there weren’t any! Race schedules were indefinitely postponed or canceled as the world tried to figure out what our next steps should be.
I found myself in a constant state of maintenance. I was diligent about my home strength workouts and meeting most of my training rides, but I will admit that I performed my workouts at maybe 60% intensity. After a good chat with my coach about adaptability and shifting expectations, I was reminded that part of event specific training is adversity training. This is essentially training to be adaptable on the fly when faced with a less than ideal situation. I changed my attitude to focus on the short-term plan, rather than the long-term plan. I looked ahead about two weeks at a time and took the fluctuating times with stride. This shift in attitude helped me remember why I love riding mountain bikes and helped me find success in the few events that I was able to (safely) participate in.
Photo Credit: Andrew Santoro
We adjusted my training program to maintain a steady state of fitness and avoid burnout, with the primary goal of just getting outside to ride my bike as often as possible. This included weekend and day trips to the mountains, skills work, long and short gravel rides, and ultimately just riding for fun. It was a gentle reminder that riding bikes is about more than just racing. It’s a way to clear my mind, but simultaneously work through challenging ideas and questions. It’s a safe way to connect with people in person and have that social contact that humans crave. It’s a way to interact with nature from a different perspective. It’s a way to challenge your body physically and mentally. It’s a way to experience joy and to find some footing in life.
Photo Credit: Lauren Breza
When the time came to actually get between the tape, I was ready enough. I would say that I wasn’t necessarily in tip-top race shape, but I was ready enough. And in 2020, good enough was good enough. In general, there was about a two to three weeks’ notice if a race was given the green light, and that was my cue to buckle down on race prep. I prepared a race weekend “go bag” – okay, it was more like several go bags and storage tubs – that contained my UnTapped nutrition (hello Salted Raspberry UnTapped and Raspberry Waffles, I’m looking at you) and all of my riding gear. Having all of my gear in one place and ready to go made race weekend prep easy so I could focus on the trails ahead of me. I also didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself to perform a certain way, I was just excited to ride my bike hard and enjoy camaraderie with my race friends.
Being relaxed during race weekends ended up paying off; I found myself on the podium in every race. At the end of the short season, I accumulated enough points to win the pro women’s category in the Eastern States Cup series. It was a pleasant surprise and a good reminder that you can accomplish a lot with a strong, but relaxed, headspace. Yes, fitness matters. Yes, skill matters. Yes, strength matters. But none of those things matter if you aren’t in the game mentally. I attribute my success in 2020 to developing mental endurance and being able to adapt to uncertainty. We train our muscles all the time, but 2020 was a year for training our minds. Here’s to entering 2021 with a refreshed perspective and a helluvalot of motivation! Also let’s try this one more time, “Heck YEAH! This is going to be my year!”
Lauren Breza is a soil ecologist and adventure advocate. She currently balances the rigors of working towards her PhD in the Natural Resources and Earth System Sciences program at the University of New Hampshire, along with demands of competing at the elite level on the enduro circuit. She is also become a voice in promoting cycling advocacy, women in cycling, women in STEM, and sustainable farming practices.