Stretching… A Non-Conformist Guide

March 8th, 2016 by Marie Dershem
My Athletic Mentors coach extraordinaire, Terry Ritter, will laugh when he sees that I am writing a post about stretching. When he first started coaching me, he asked me about my stretching routine. I informed him that – not only do I not have a stretching routine… I am the world’s worst stretcher. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not telling others not to stretch… I am injury prone and likely not as good an athlete as I could be because of my stubborn neglect of my tight muscles. It is one of my goals to develop a routine of stretching. But, this post isn’t actually about that kind of stretching. This post is about stretching yourself out of your comfort zone. It is about doing what you haven’t done before… or what you think you can’t do (or can’t do well)… it is about taking chances and learning and growing and becoming not only a better athlete, but also a stronger person. The first weekend in June last season, on a bit of a whim and with some encouragement from a friend and fellow cyclist, I decided to race the Tour of Galena in Galena, Illinois. This race involved 4 stages…. Friday night circuit race of 30 miles and about 3600 feet of climbing, Saturday morning time trial with several hundred feet of climbing in just 6 miles, a Saturday evening road race of 67 miles and about 4800 feet of climbing, and a Sunday Criterium, 60 minutes long.ugh hill climb (2) I have never raced four races in three days. I have never climbed that much in back-to-back races… actually in ANY races. I didn’t know any riders except the one who encouraged me to go. I had no idea how steep/long the climbs would be. This set of races was well outside of my comfort zone. It was time to stretch. Why? Because I want to be better. I want to experience more. I want to race strong women. I want to push myself. I want to grow as a cyclist. I want to be a part of growing women’s cycling in the Midwest. I decided to go and race the first three races and come home before the Criterium on Sunday. Why? Well, my two sons had soccer games I didn’t want to miss. And, I had been gone for a few days earlier in the week, so I really should be home. And, (the truth behind the other truths) I DON”T LIKE CRITS. There. I said it. OKAY? I DON’T LIKE CRITS. They are fast and cornery and strategic and unpredictable and… and… and… When I signed up for the races, though, I decided to enter the Omnium (for which all 4 races must be completed). I told my husband I was signing up for it because I was 99% sure that by the time the Crit rolled around, I would be out of the running for prize money and wouldn’t have to worry about it… but having the option is never a bad thing. It was $15 more than just doing the three races. So, believing with every bone in my body that I would be skipping the criterium, I signed up for the Omnium… and I felt the stretch. So, I packed up the car early Friday morning to drive to Galena and race that evening. Racing Friday late-afternoon, Saturday morning, and Saturday late-afternoon left me dehydrated, exhausted, and ready to go home. But, when I looked at the Omnium standings at 9pm Saturday night, I found myself in fifth place (out of almost 20 strong women). I had raced as hard as I could, climbed to the best of my ability, and pushed through the toughest races I’ve ever done. I was definitely happy to be top 5 among a strong field of racers who I had come to respect greatly through racing with them. criterium-map (1)But, the crit. NO. NOT THE CRIT. My friend, who had encouraged me to come in the first place, took a great stance. She said, “You know, it is going to be a great learning experience.” The course was very tough (as my coach said, it was the shape of a banana), the racers even tougher. The only thing I had to lose was… was… um… nothing. But, what I had to gain? Practice cornering in the hardest corners, holding really fast wheels (especially through corners), multiple opportunities to practice lining up for sprints due to mid-race sprints and primes, positioning throughout, reading the field, picking a good wheel to follow (and ones not to follow). My friend never said, “You should stay.” Instead, she reminded me of all I have to gain by staying (stretch). My coach, Terry, with utmost respect for my family life and other priorities also encouraged me to stay. My husband… “If you want to stay, I’ve got the home front.” Do you see how no one said I should? No one said I was crazy if I didn’t? No one said I need the practice (which is obvious). Rather, they all allowed me to stretch… to come to my own decision that I would be a better rider and racer if I stay. So, I stayed. And, everything that they said came true. I practiced hard corners, followed good lines, hopped on experienced wheels, and practiced positioning. It was the fasted criterium I have ever raced with the largest field I have ever raced with. It was a huge stretch. And, it was good. I ended up sixth in the Omnium, which felt great. But, more importantly, I stretched myself far outside of my comfort zone… with crazy climbing, 4 races in less than72 hours, and the much dreaded criterium. I now will enter races with better awareness of my own capacity, with better ability to push myself, with more confidence in reading the field, with better cornering ability, with better understanding of positioning, and stronger all around because I stretched. I stretched hard. I stretched well. Now, I need to work on my flexibility, right Terry? 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