Some musings on novelty

“All we really know about the future is that it will be different. And all we fear is that it will be the same.”

It’s the search for different that drives me, and when I realise I’m chasing something I’ve already achieved, it’s very difficult for me to stay motivated. That makes being an athlete really hard. Success in sport is defined by repetition of the right things, until they’re honed and perfect. So it’s up to me to work hard to inject novelty into my life as a cyclist, because my desire for success is balanced by the search for fresh experiences.
My novelty has come in a few ways this year. A new coach was a start. The same training goals were written in a new language that took some learning. That novelty created enough stimulation that I came into this season feeling very happy with my training. The amount of work that everyone I compete against puts in over the winter is so huge that it’s daunting, but finding a way to achieve that has been satisfying. When it came to race season, I found novelty in the way I normally do: finding new races, or skipping stale ones in order to keep my head where it needs to be. Not racing in California in April was novelty by omission, and I loved it. Racing the Carson City Offroad was new too, but the main novelty this year was two new World Cups: Vallnord in Andorra, and Lenzerheide in Switzerland.

I had my Mum for company in Andorra, and greatly enjoyed her perspective on a place neither of us had been. We’ve both been to plenty of mountain towns in plenty of mountain ranges, but never the Pyrenees, and never speaking Catalan. It was new and fresh, and gave the weekend a purpose beyond the race. I dove into the race head first, and came out floundering. I found that the novelty of being at the back of a world cup had thoroughly worn off after last year. I needed more than that. Having felt excellent form this year – in May in Utah and Grand Junction offroad – I knew I could race very well. So although Andorra was fascinating and rewarding, it wasn’t the race I needed. That would be Lenzerheide.

But again, I found that I couldn’t put together what I wanted to do on the racecourse, and instead left feeling frustrated with myself for not figuring it out. It seemed like I was missing so many pieces of the puzzle compared to last year, that I was almost numb to being able to analyse the race and say what was absent. My overarching feeling going into the race was trepidation, and the feeling I had on the other side was of missed opportunity. Not sure what to make of that?

When the puzzle is laid out in front of you and you can’t make out which pieces go where, I’ve found it’s best to start again. So that’s how I’m approaching the next half of my mountain bike season. Over is the “international” season, and now begins the Colorado season. I have some excellent races coming up that will perfectly blend the familiarity and friendly atmosphere of my Colorado community with the novelty and fresh perspective I need to stay happy with how I spend my days. First up are a few weeks of hard training, where I’d love to prioritise some adventure and long miles, over structure and monotony. I think this will help me remove myself from the small details I seem to be getting sucked into, and instead see the big picture of just getting fitter, and enjoying doing so.

Then we have the late summer races in Colorado. Starting on August 12th, I’ll be racing the Steamboat Stinger, and then go straight into the six-day Breck Epic on August 13th. I’ll frame this with a great local race, the King of the Rockies in Winter Park on August 19th. I’ve never raced eight days in a row before, and thus the three races I’ve done become something new, and a chance to take something bigger from each event.

I’ve never been good at sticking to something when I’m not enjoying it, even if there’s a worthy goal at the end. So seeking a new way of doing something, or even a new perspective on the same problem, has kept me going through plenty of challenges in the past. This one will be no different.