I’m starting to realize that “offseason” is a bit of a misnomer. Any sort of season ought to be four months, minimum, or if March through September is in season, then offseason ought to be October through February, the end of February. But here I am at the very beginning of February, stressed out about a race next week and with a thousand or so miles in my legs this year already. And yet I will keep telling people that my season is “roughly March through September or so.”
I look at my race schedule. 2 races in February. 3 in October.
It’s possible to see it as a fault of many things — this heightened excitement for gravel and all too many races to race in too little time — my insistence on living in a place I can ride bikes year round — a constant small voice telling me I am not and will never be doing “enough” — and admittedly a fundamental desire, to get outside and go places.
That isn’t to say I didn’t take some time off. It snowed. I figured out how to skate ski, even if it took five trips in which nothing I did could be classified as “skiing”, a lot of uphill wipeouts and a mild tantrum in which I insisted the sport was for old rich people. It’s fun now, a mere two hours of it wreck my shoulders and hamstrings and give me a hint of that same satisfaction I get from efforts on the bike.
In January, I went to Paris, without a bike, to see my sister. I can’t recall the last time I went to an airport without a bike, without a bike box and a firm resolve to tell check-in that the large bike-shaped box with me is not in fact, a bike. It was pleasant. We took the train to small towns, ate a different cheese almost daily, talked about clothes and men and the state of things. I thought about riding and didn’t, ate brioche and watched rain clouds roll in over the Seine. The immense guilt that washed over me now and then, for not riding, even a little bit, was drowned out by sights and sounds unfamiliar.
February is one of the best months. February I get to satisfy that coursing urge that lies beneath the quiet months. February I get to ride far and I get to ride slow, which is nearly as nice as riding far and fast, especially when slow, after a few months of laziness, feels pretty fast.
I rode from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. 3 days, 130 miles, 170 miles, 140 miles. It wasn’t supposed to be quite that far (there are more direct ways about it), but I needed some dirt and I needed one of those days. Those days being the ones you wake up and throw a leg over the bike in pitch dark, lights charged, and head out not knowing if you’ll finish. Admitting halfway you are in fact, going to finish, but in the dark. Doing one singular thing, pedaling, traveling, for an entire day and then some. All the intricacies of daily life fold themselves up neatly and wait for you to finish, a distillation of existence into a singular purpose, if only for a day.
Every year I find myself having to teach my body to struggle again. There’s a resistance that accumulates after some time of not pushing, and I have to tell it goodbye. I have to break it, chip it away, breathe hard and then breathe harder, tell myself I only have to reach the next tree and then I can sit up, reach the next tree and tell myself just kidding, next tree. I pedal home. I don’t have the energy left to title my ride.
The Morning Rides, the Afternoon Rides, the Evening Rides build up, and eventually my body welcomes the push. The cravings to ride more, fight more, worsen. Normalcy returns, in the strangest sense.
I keep being told we’re having a mild winter up here in the mountains, and I am grateful. There are still roads that are clear and they make any riding seem wonderful by virtue of not being indoor riding.
Tomorrow I pack a bag and dust the literal cobwebs off my bike box, for the first small race of the season. It won’t make a difference, win or lose, and I know I will show up tired, tapering is not for February. Yet any excuse to beat myself up is welcome now. Constant humblings are a crucial part of the first few months of training, and I know I can count on those more disciplined than me to deliver them. I will show up tired and leave exhausted, spent, having hollowed out a slightly bigger space for the Suffering.
I suppose, if it is anything, offseason is a state of mind. Offseason is showing up ready to lose and knowing that losses stack up to wins. Tired legs eventually become strong tired legs, which at some distant point in time become strong legs that refuse to be tired. Offseason is hunger, low and rumbling, for a state in which all else melts away, there is body and bike and trail ahead and heart rate and breathing force all else out of mind. Offseason is carving, methodically, a capacity to work.
Amity Rockwell is a competitive gravel cyclist and contributing writer to the SILCA blog. After her 2019 Dirty Kanza win, she's sharing her offseason regime. Stay tuned as she continues to share her journey with us as she prepares for the 2020 racing season.
SILCA first met Amity at the 2019 Dirty Kanza, pre-race. She ran over to the SILCA van and bought the SPEED CAPSULE TT. Right after she won Kanza, she came back to our van to thank us!
At that moment, we felt like our stories were forever intertwined. Way to go Amity, you inspire us and we are looking forward to continuing the story!