Cyclists and the Art of the Life/Work Balance

By: Molly Hurford Jun 17

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We learn in basic high school physics that two objects cannot exist in the same space at the same time. So what happens when life and work start to occupy the same space? The universe hasn’t imploded yet, but I’m starting to think more and more about it, though not in such quantum mechanic-style terms.

Lately, it’s been becoming more and more difficult for me to decide at what point I’m relaxing, and at what point I’m working. Case in point: I was at the Tour of Somerville on Memorial Day. I was there first and foremost to race, but also to watch the races, to come up with some good column material, to potentially do some interviews, and to definitely set up some interviews. Also, to hang out with some good friends, though some of them were included in that list of interviewees. Among topics discussed after the race once we’d settled down at dinner were my work, the state of cyclocross, and my book. So is that a workday? It didn’t feel like it, exactly, but nor did it feel like being “off.”

There was a moment after the race when someone was bemoaning the lack of coverage of the crit. Someone else suggested that I could have covered it, if I hadn’t been preoccupied. He was entirely right, of course, and it made me wonder: should I have covered it? For whom? Was I on the clock? Then, it occurred to me: I’m never punched out, really.

The problem, then, is this: do I ever get a day off at a cycling event? I’m not a pro cyclist, but when I race, it’s usually fodder for writing, and occasionally a teensy bit of extra cash in my pocket. So racing is work. But it’s also fun. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t. The point, though, is that even when I’m at a race with no real work goals (read: I’m not actually tasked with writing a race report), it still is work. And it’s inescapable.

Pro cyclists have it just as bad, if not worse. Amateurs around them are there for a day of fun and friendly (OK, sometimes not-so-friendly) competition. They laugh, joke, goof off, and generally have a good time. The pros are there to work, the asphalt is their office space, and the boss isn’t going to come through with that end of the year bonus if their performance is lacking. That said, pro cyclists are racers because they love racing, not because they are forced to be. Unlike working in middle management (sorry, middle managers!) you don’t just fall into bike racing. You give everything to be a pro, and if you’re lucky, you get a little something in return. This isn’t a job you do for the big paycheck. So for pro cyclists, they’re in the same boat as I am: their life/work balance is all out of whack, because there’s no separation of the two.

Things get even more out of joint when doing the balancing act of an elite amateur racer, or a pro without a good contract. Not only are you working a “regular job,” but you leave the office (or coffeeshop, bar, grocery store, whatever) for the second job, that of a bike racer. That’s an even harder balancing act, because with two jobs, one of which is more passion-oriented than the other, it leaves little time for anything else, which means that the cycling job then becomes the “regular life” part as well.

This goes for mechanics or any bike-oriented job as well: if you’re a mechanic and out riding on a new bike, you aren’t just riding for fun, you’re constantly aware of what’s happening with the bike, and you’re constantly thinking about how to sell it to people. Same for reps, dealers and any number of bike-related jobs. When your passion is your business, it’s both the greatest and hardest thing in the world.

It seems like a lot of people I talk to, especially those who work in the bike industry at any level, have the same problem: we don’t know where the workday stops and the “regular life” begins, because for us, there isn’t much of a difference. Since I work from home, my schedule is weird. I write a lot, edit a lot, and ride a lot. Generally, the writing and editing outweigh the riding, but then again, so do the paychecks from said writing and riding.

As a freelance worker, like so many in the cycling world (pro racers included), time is money. Or, more correctly, work is money. Maybe this is just because after last tax season I’m being way more careful about recording expenses, but I’m noticing that things I used to count as being simply fun, I’m starting to realize that they count as work expenses. It’s a bit crude, but it is a good way of telling when I’m on the job and when I’m not: if it can be counted as a business expense, I’m at work. If it can’t, I’m not. Of course, does it count as non-work if I’m out with friends for a drink and end up recording a few quick interview questions?

So how do you cope when your relaxation and your job are one and the same? Do we ever officially turn off from work? I postulate that for cyclists, we’re never truly off the job. But for someone who’s probably grossly out of balance as far and life and work goes, I feel pretty darn good about it.

 

In The Pro MTB Scene

By: Molly Hurford May 27

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In the pro MTB scene, the US has the big names: Georgia Gould, Katie Compton, and while she isn’t racing for the US, let’s face it, we’ve got Katerina Nash. The list goes on. These racers consistently finish in the top ten at World Cup races, and land on the podium pretty frequently as well. In the last World Cup, Gould was fourth. And if you didn’t catch on, all of those big names happen to be women. The top US man in the same World Cup race? Somewhere in the low teens. Yet somehow, the women continue to be paid less than the men, and paid less attention, no matter how deserving they are.


While cycling is growing across the board in the US, it seems to be growing fastest among its most ignored demographic: the ladies. After this weekend, I can say with anecdotal certainty that this is a fact. I’ve been staying on a houseboat that boasts multiple-time endurance MTB world champion Rebecca Rusch, pro downhiller Katie Holden, and MTBer Susan Robinson. To say that my talents pale in comparison to theirs is an insult to the shade of pale. These women shred. And lucky for me, they don’t seem to mind me tagging along for this stop on Rebecca’s Gold Rusch Tour.

Gold Rusch is Rebecca Rusch’s brainchild, and combined with Specialized and a bunch of her other awesome sponsors, they’re into their second successful year of MTB promotion. The tour, as Rebecca explained to me, has two main purposes. The first is to get more women into mountain biking overall. To that end, they run clinics for women at these events, and let me tell you: when the first clinic ran yesterday and over thirty women of every shape, size and skill set showed up, the looks on the pros faces were incredible. They were stunned! I was surprised, but not quite as surprised. After all, I’ve been witnessing the growth of women’s cyclocross in the beginner ranks on the East Coast for the past two years, and I know how the scene is changing.


The second part of the tour, and the part I find most exciting, is that Rebecca makes a point of inviting women in the cycling media to tag along, providing housing and transportation, which explains why I’m writing this from a houseboat. As she puts it, none of us are making much money doing this, so if she can help out and get us to these events, that’s great for women in cycling and cycling in general. I love her for this, as both a racer and a journalist. She has a great point, one that I don’t think most people ever think of. The cycling journalism industry is, for the most part, a boy’s club. And that does women a disservice, since the tendency is to spend more time covering the men’s fields and maybe overlooking the women’s field just a teensy bit. Case in point, the World Cup MTB races.

With so much talent and so much dedication in the women’s MTB scene in the US, isn’t it time they got a little bit more credit? I’ve heard it time and time again about women’s racing: people don’t watch it because it’s boring. Well, if you saw Katie Holden bombing a downhill ahead of you on the trail, I’m betting you would stop to take a look.


In the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about women’s racing and the way it works. I’ve been approached by a lot of women at the highest level in our sport asking if I have any ideas for teams they could ride for next year. Every time a woman asks me that, I’m a little sad. It’s great when I can offer suggestions, but more often than not, I have to admit that the pickings are slim, and if it’s money and a real contract you’re after, you’re going to have to wait in a very long line. The odds of a woman making it as strictly a cyclist are slim to none, emphasis on the none. Pretty much every lady I know works a job to fund a pro career. Even Katie Compton coaches. Mo Bruno Roy does massage, Nicole Duke cuts hair. Yet somehow, it’s our women who are making huge waves in the global world of pro cycling, not the men. Hmm…

But back to DirtFest. I’ve learned a lot about Rebecca in our close quarters as houseboat buddies. For one thing, she cooks a mean stir fry! But for another, despite being World Champion and having a very, very full plate during MTB season, she’s also a firefighter. This lady couldn’t be more badass if she tried. What’s amazing to me is that Rebecca is already set as an athlete. She has a name, a brand, and serious cred as a solid racer. So she doesn’t really need to be pushing for women’s cycling to be coming up in the world. She does it because she truly thinks it’s important, and I couldn’t agree more.

Of course, women’s cycling has always been special; the camaraderie in women’s cycling is unlike anything I’ve ever known. And Gold Rusch is brilliant for one major reason, in my book: mountain biking is an awesome way to introduce any level of cyclist to competitive cycling (second only to cyclocross, but I’m a wee bit biased.) This is because you aren’t racing in a pack like you would on the road, and because most people who already own a bike own a cruiser capable of at least sampling trails, it’s a good “in” for cyclists. It’s especially great because the scene is low key, and as someone who raced road, track and triathlon, I can say it’s a lot less intimidating and the people are a little nicer. There’s a steep learning curve with mountain biking, admittedly, but I’ve noticed that women in general are more comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, and really trying to learn. This is especially true when offered a women-only clinic where no question is a bad one.


I guess the point of this article, and the Gold Rusch tour, is three-fold, but it all boils down to improving the lives of every woman cyclist, from the beginner to the seasoned pro. 1) Introduce MTBing to beginner women; 2) Allow female members of the cycling media the chance to travel and attend some of the big shows; and 3) Point out to the world that there are major names in women’s cycling in the US, and try to build recognition of the pros that spend their lives training, racing and passing on knowledge. I don’t know that Rebecca would call herself a feminist, but I would certainly say that she’s blazing a new path for women pro cyclists. The overarching goal, though, is simple: increase awareness of women’s cycling. Because if we do that, who knows? Maybe someday we’ll see equal pay, equal recognition and equal opportunities for women in every type of cycling.

Time for me to disembark the houseboat and go ride.

 

Seven Days to Inner Peace...Or Whatever.

By: Molly Hurford May 8

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This past week, I decided to do something a bit different with my training. I'd been feeling a bit of cycling fatigue: all of those long, long hours on the bike that I'd mentioned in my last column were starting to wear on me, and frankly, I needed a break from the saddle. So rather than continue with another long week of riding, or give up altogether and take a rest week, I decided to spend some time working on core and flexibility. Sure, I could have hit the gym, or popped in an exercise video. But the chance to test something out and write an article while doing it was too good to pass up, and so I ended up taking advantage of a beginner special at Bikram Yoga in Northampton, Massachusetts. Unlimited 90-minute classes for a week, in a room heated to 105 degrees with a humidifier running the whole time. And since I was still riding, it's not exactly as if it was a rest week. More of an adventure week with deep breathing and a whole lot of sweating.


I'm not the kind of person who's into yoga for the spiritual benefits, if I'm being honest. I'm more about the flexibility and core aspects, so the whole proper breathing/clearing your mind thing really isn't my style. Bikram, however, is a weird combination of the two styles: it's hard -- there's a lot of balance and stretching involved, and the heat ensures that your body is always working -- but it's also very gently flowing, and even I was starting to get on board with the whole "focusing inward" jazz. Still, for me, there were several main benefits, none of which were spiritual.

1. Heat training! Learning to breathe deeply in a room that's 40% humidity and 105 degrees hot is going to be sort of awesome in helping me survive mid-summer races that normally beat me up. It's been making breathing on rides a lot easier too, which I credit to the deep breathing during class, and the fact that no matter how hard a pose is, you're supposed to breathe only through your nose.

2. Flexibility increase: my knees feel a million times better, and my posture got better after just a couple of days. When I'm riding, my back isn't as stiff as it was before, which is a nice bonus.

3. Core/balance: I recently started mountain biking, which is in itself an article for another day. When I started doing yoga and working on the balance poses, I found myself getting through turns faster and correcting to avoid crashes with much more ease than before. I think at least part of this is because I'm learning better balance and control.

4. Sweating all the bad stuff out! There's nothing like working up a good sweat, and this class is awesome. Every time I finish class and rinse off, I feel about a thousand times cleaner and more energized. Sure, I'm also wicked dehydrated, but that just means I drink a whole lot more water. So my system feels a lot cleaner, toxins feel removed, blah blah blah, yoga-speak.

Anyway, don't take my word for it! My yoga instructor for the past week, Audrey Liley, was awesome enough to sit down and answer a few questions for me, since my yoga knowledge isn't exactly all that stellar. I just know that flexible, I ain't.

My first question was, what the heck is Bikram yoga? I didn't realize that it was named after a guy, and I certainly didn't realize that it was a relatively recent development. Audrey told me, "Bikram yoga is a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercise that was developed by Bikram Choudhury. He created this series by putting together the 26 and two that work the entire body in each 90 minute class. The series is the safest way for everyone, no matter the age, fitness level, ability level, size, et cetera, to heal the body inside and out."


Of course, more importantly, I wanted to know if she thought a cyclist would get any benefits from the class. I knew it felt good for me, but I wasn't sure if that was just an individual thing. "There are endless ways that a cyclist could benefit from this yoga. First, the cardiovascular benefits from they yoga. In this class you work your heart and lungs so that they function together as efficiently as possible. Second, yoga opens the joints to allow for smoother movement. Third, this yoga helps to improve focus and concentration.. on and on!"

As a triathlete, I admit that one of Audrey's tips for a first timer really stuck out to me. After all, I spent my first two years of racing wearing a sport bikini rather than a skinsuit or bibs and a jersey, so for me, the class didn't feel too strange. For cyclists used to piling on the layers, especially since winter is just now winding down, it might be a bit daunting, walking into hot yoga for the first time and seeing the state of dress (or undress) that most people are in. But if you do decide to give it a shot, Audrey has a couple of suggestions: "Hydrate well before class. Wear the least amount of clothing you are comfortable wearing. Take as many classes as you can in the first week of practice."

Good thing they offer the beginner special. Audrey is completely right: taking classes every day for that week was extremely helpful, and incredibly gratifying. I found myself making small improvements daily, which was really exciting for me.

Of course, almost more important than her tips for taking class were her recovery tips: "The best recovery post-yoga is water and maybe a nap after the first few classes, although many people feel really re-energized after class. Electrolyte replacement is also recommended."

During every class, I felt like I needed a nap about halfway through. But by the time the class was over, I was usually the first one bouncing off my mat and out of the hot room, excited to get moving on the rest of my day. It definitely woke me up in a way that a hard bike ride never does. That said, usually it woke me up so I wanted to go for a ride and wear myself out, so I was exhausted by the end of the day anyway. The only down side to Bikram is that, while it's great for balance and flexibility, it's not really a huge workout in the way a more fitness-oriented yoga class tends to be. But that's actually perfect with my riding schedule. It's an addition, not a substitution, so it doesn't wear you out for riding later.

My last question for Audrey was about how a super competitive type-A personality cyclist should approach yoga. I know I had a problem with it because, no matter how easy they told me to take it, I still wanted to "beat" the person next to me and "win" each posture. I'm embarrassed to admit how excited I was when the instructors would point out how well I did a move, and how bummed I'd be when they suggested corrections.

Audrey actually laughed about that, and said, "Most people who are drawn to Bikram yoga are super type-a and pretty competitive."

She then explained how they manage to calm it down for those people: "Luckily the words we use and the intensity of the practice generally takes some of that edge off the competitive nature, but that feeling is very normal. I suggest that everyone practice the class like it is their first time, no matter if they have practiced this yoga for years. Bikram himself is a very intense person who started yoga at the age of 5, but also did competitive weight lifting until he suffered a severe knee injury. He left weight lifting and focused on yoga to heal this knee."

Whoa. A weight-lifting yogi? This guy might be my hero.

So moral of the story: if you're looking for a new supplement to spice up your routine, check out a hot yoga, or specifically, a Bikram yoga, class. It might be kind of cool. (Pun intended.)

 

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