Those instructions included taking a decent chunk of time off the bike that could be filled with enriching experiences on the other side of the fence. So, I stepped aside from goals related to personal bests, podiums and pursuing world domination and instead sought the rewards associated with helping team mates survive their own races by riding with them, handing up bottles in feed zones, missioning out to remote places to cheer them on mid race and dishing out general advice about things I have learned (inevitably, the hard way).
It was a huge amount of fun. Surprising several hundred people with rowdy hollering* in the middle of the forest on their second ascent of Grinder during Taupo's Huka was only usurped by passing guys on Blue Mountains while riding one handed and pushing my team mate with the other during Tour de Whitemans. I'm not sure the phrase "chicked" does it justice if you get dropped on a climb by a chick who's pushing another chick.
The last couple of months have reassured me that there are plenty of people out there who get themselves into a right mess every weekend in the name of sport. Many of them I call friends. I guess you only need to change the parameters of those you surround yourself with to become one of the norm. MTB racers are definitely my clan.
I also realised that handing up bottles is not nearly as straightforward as I might once have imagined from the racer's cockpit. There are a myriad of challenges to negotiate including getting to the right place, getting there on time, getting to the next place on time before your rider, being able to identify your rider among a lot of other people who look remarkably similar, not missing your rider when they come through early, not panicking when they come through late, not to mention the brief interlude during which you try to both have a meaningful discussion about how the race is going with some gentle reminders about sticking to the pre-determined nutrition plan, which rapidly spirals down to nodding and grunting that is often misinterpreted as successful communication from either side. I have way more respect for my support crew as a result. That job ain't easy.
Taking all those lessons on board and saddling up for 2015, I was super motivated to pretty much kick ass. Coach's carefully crafted summer racing programme looked to be the perfect preparation for badass form in February and March. A dash of road stage races combined with a soupcon of punchy cross-country events was the recipe for success. One thing I have learned over the last 3 years is that as soon as something looks perfect be prepared for something out of left field. Needless to say...
During a frivolous foray on some dusty trails while preparing for this weekend's NZ MTB Cup, I decided to take an unplanned inspection of the exit of a corner with an over-the-bars excursion and a super close up of the opposite bank. I remember thinking, "Arse!" while I watched my left hand change size then colour in the Emergency Department, while being distracted by a friend who joked that the reason I didn't "get the back end down" was because I didn't have enough bum to counterbalance it. The level of giggling only increased when the attending staff nurse informed us that the On-Call Plastic Surgeon was on her way. Butt implants. Heaven forbid.
Which brings me to a close. We are deep amidst the season for people throwing the towel in on their New Year's resolutions. By now, there are plenty of reasons stacking up not to continue working towards crushing that goal you set (like why would you uncomfortably sweat it out in the garage in the middle of summer with your arm in a cast when you could just sit on the couch and eat ice cream with your good hand and bore everyone with epic stories about the 2015 summer season that never was?). I implore you to reconsider taking the easy way out. Be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods. But remember, being stubborn alone won't cut it.