Sunday, August 10, 2008

Flight or Fight

"The fight-or-flight response, also called the fright, fight or flight response, hyperarousal or the acute stress response, was first described by Walter Cannon in 1915.[1][2] His theory states that animals react to threats with a general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system, priming the animal for fighting or fleeing. This response was later recognized as the first stage of a general adaptation syndrome that regulates stress responses among vertebrates and other organisms."

(photo taken from Roehampton University's site)

Why the interest in flight or fight? Lately races have really been stressing me out, and Cale sent me an article about how time off during the winter is key to de-stressing from cyclocross the fall previous to the racing year: read it here. Here's a quote from it that grabbed me:

"How could cross lead to burnout? Every time you go to a race or do an anaerobic workout there is a certain amount of physical and psychological stress created. This stress causes the body’s many systems to work overtime, especially the endocrine and sympathetic nervous systems which prepare the body for fight or flight.

Together they get the body ready to face an artificial “crisis” such as a race or hard workout. These systems can handle only so many crises in a short period of time before they are exhausted. Some liken this to having just a few “matches” to burn in a season. Once they are all used up with races and very hard workouts extensive rest is needed to create more matches."

So enough quotes. How does this pertain to me? (And more importantly, what excuses can I derive for myself from it?) I've been getting really stressed out for races, even when I know it doesn't matter how I do or what happens in them. It seems to happen no matter what I do, and leave me feeling pretty helpless to control my emotions. There are two instances that come to mind, which are races I have not blogged about. They're not my most shining moments.

A) For the Whitnal Park race (a few weeks ago), I couldn't eat much the night before, and the morning of, I couldn't eat anything. My mouth was SUPER dry, but when I tried drinking some Accelerade it nearly made me toss my cookies. I ate one Gu packet over the course of about a minute, feeling nauseous the entire time. I dragged my sorry self to the race, wanting nothing more than to go home and forget about it. Right before the race, I went in the bathrooms and cried (What is this, senior prom?), so badly did I not want to be there. Long story short, I picked myself up and got to the start line. During the race I was having trouble with my shifting, which was making me furious. I wasn't feeling good and was angry about that, too. With only five more laps to go (over half way through) I quit. I was toward the front of the pack, not feeling it, and decided to just quit. I held up my hand, let the pack go around me, picked up my race gear where I had left it and left the race without staying to watch who won it. It felt so good to have quit, and so good to be able to cut the stress and just leave.

So for this story, we see me miserable and wanting to flee, or furiously mad and cussing loudly (oh yes) at things that make me angry.

On another note, I had planned to do five Superweek races. This was the second. I was a bit of a mess for the first one at Cedarburg (it wasn't as bad as Whitnal Park, though) but I was planning on just barreling through them all. I thought that if I did a bunch of them, they would have to get easier and less stressful. Racers who have been at it for years get over it, right? I thought I just needed some practice. Whitnal convinced me to just leave it be, though. I didn't want to see what a third race would bring.)

B) Two weeks ago, there was a Keirin at the track. A Keirin race is one led by a... pace scooter, would you say? Kenosha's got a beautiful one, and these races are few and far between, so it's exciting when they come around. That and this was the first women's Keirin all year. It's very rare that anyone but the Cat 1-2-3 men get a crack at it. Add to that a big purse, and I was excited for it.

I drew the 5th position and we all lined up. I had a really good holder that was ready to give me a good push at the start. At the start, however, the woman in sixth position, shall we call her Imelda March, cut down in front of everyone for the spot she wanted. Everyone teetered and tried not to crash into her and each other, because we had all been catapulted by our holders right into her path. (You can tell this made me angry, because two weeks later I'm still calling her out rather than being a bigger person). So I was stuck between two people until the girl on top started drifting down, forcing me to fall back. I wound up in the last position, which is a terrible position, obviously. Two laps to go, I tried to get up and around people, but everyone had that idea and soon I had about six people wide that I had to try to get around on the corners. I wound up getting second to last, and on the cool down lap I was seething. As I was slowing, I was literally snarling. My teeth were barred. I wanted to throw and kick things, but managed to contain it to a pouty helmet throw on a chair.

This race I would definitely chalk up to a 'fight' reaction. I'm not trying to excuse my behavior, because it certainly was bad. And I could have acted better. But usually I'm not so aggressive, and it's troubling. It's like PMS (sorry fellas). The feelings feel real, but the reasons for the reaction just aren't there.

So now it's time to look up stress busters. I feel strange doing so, because my life is going pretty darn smoothly. I don't have many worries outside of races, so it seems like I should be able to recover from those stresses. The other puzzling thing is that I used to do every sport when I was a kid (up through high school)- swimming, flag football, volleyball, track, softball, basketball, cross country. That's a lot of races and meets right there. Sure I would get nervous, but it never bothered me this much.

For whatever reason, though, the race stress seems to be building up. Each race is worse than the last. Not being able to eat, an incredibly dry mouth, wanting to cry (?!). I've talked about it to a few people, and they say "Relax, it's not a big race anyway. It doesn't matter." It's frustrating because I know it doesn't matter how I do, and I'm ok with however I finish. There's an excuse for everything, right? ;) But I can't 'just relax'. Trust me, I would if I could.

The plan for now is to not race until cyclocross season. I'll keep doing the 12 hr races, because they don't turn me into a nervous wreck, but everything else is out. No more track (Thank goodness. I never liked you (the racing, not the people) anyway!) or even fun races. The team is going to try to put on some unofficial CX races for training this fall on Wednesdays, and I'm going to abstain. I'll go to them and practice barriers (a goal this season) on the side, but I won't race.

It feels good to have that much of a plan, but I need to work on a plan for de-stressing, lest I wind up snapping and streaking around screaming on some hapless CX course. It could happen. In fact, it's so likely, I think I'll start worrying about it now. *stress*stress*stress*


Racerveza said...

Two words of encouragement: a) you've already had, by any measure, a terrific season. Don't let a little burnout tarnish that. B) one of the coolest things about cycling is that you can have equal amounts of fun with or without a number pinned to your jersey. This time of year is especially enjoyable, so just go out and play on yer bikes.

tosacrosser said...

I'll second Denny's response although I am quite sure that someone of his stature would never let a little thing like nerves get in his way :^)

I on the other have suffered exactly the same fate as you. I have, as have you, quit races for the same reasons. It is particularly difficult in road racing where if your head isn't in the game, you'll end up off the back and your race is done anyway. At least with cross and with mtb, if your race doesn't turn out as well, you can usually stay in the race until the end.

Take it easy for awhile, it's been a long season. You will know when it is time to race again because leading up to race day you'll be excited and pumped up for it. Start line and morning of jitters may still affect you but those go away when the gun goes off if you were excited to race in the first place.

See you on the course...