Thursday, April 2, 2015

Conjuring the Indicative - Pan Am Continental Championships

The Team USA Super Suit certainly aided in braving the thin air at the Pan Am Continental Championships in Cota, Colombia. The climbs seemed steeper than the descents.
Photo Credit: Maximiliano Blanco, Shimano Latin America -

Last weekend I spent about 80 exciting, merengon-fueled hours in Cota, Colombia with the US National MTB Team.  Our 20-rider crew flew to Bogotá, Colombia to compete in the 2015 Pan Am Continental Championships, a major championship event for the Americas, held every spring, typically in Central or South America.  This was my second consecutive year attending Pan Ams.  Last year took place in Barbacena, Brazil.  

Team USA's new customary nutrition supplement: merengon! Scientifically proven to lessen the effects of high altitude! There were at least 20 roadside Merengon dispensaries between the race venue and the hotel. 

The Continental Championships is a bit of a wild card event.  It takes place early in the race season and typically holds lower importance for the North Americans, who are just getting things started. For those racers who live in more southerly latitudes, the race comes at the end of their summer, and they are typically more peaked.

Ripping through the start-loop.  I need to tighten up that start! Photo Credit: Maximiliano Blanco, Shimano Latin America -

Last year Pan Ams were in Brazil, and I pleased myself with a 5th place finish. The Colombian version would prove to be a much different beast. With a starting elevation of 8,500' and seven times around a frenetic ~4km race track full of extremely steep, punchy climbs, most of us lowlanders had to adapt our race strategies to perform within the effects of Boyle's law.  Adapt I did (or so I think) and finished a respectable 12th.  Definitely not great, but not terrible either...decent enough for me given the early point in the season, not to mention the challenging environment!

This place is deceivingly high elevation!  At 8,500' I am used to experiencing more arid environments, and colder temperatures!  Here the air even felt thick with car exhaust (maybe that was just the clogged roadways), and the temperature was a comfortable 70 degrees during the day.

At 8,500', there is approximately 26% LESS oxygen available compared to my sea-level home in Bellingham, WA.  Consequently, overall performance at this elevation is typically reduced by some noticeable percentage, no matter who you are.  Those who are more adapted (live/sleep at altitude, altitude training, anomalously high hemoglobin, etc.) can perform closer to their maximum. Lowlanders, on the other hand, must be wise about going into the "red-zone" for extended periods of time, otherwise the performance reductions may be proportionate (or worse!) to the reduced oxygen levels!  If you go too hard for too long, you blow up, and recovery simply won't come.  Since my engine spends 99% of its time performing at elevations with at least 90% of sea-level oxygen, I did my best to go fast, yet avoid a meltdown.

#LocalLine - met up with some kids from Cota on the way home from training.  They invited us to hit their carpeted dirt jumps.  I'm not sure if they thought we were ridiculous or genuinely interesting - but they were definitely excited to have us check out their "rampas".  It was a memorable encounter to say the least.  They chased after us on their bikes as we left, dragging their feet to slow down (no brakes).

For me, the trip to Colombia had a lot of positivity packed into it.  Regardless of its short duration, lots of time spent in a hotel room, and a fairly unremarkable result, what I took away was a great sense of refreshing affirmation that I feel will last me through the rest of the season.  I was there!  That is, affirmation for continuing to grow in this craft of bicycle racing, and all that it entails. Maybe it's because I spent the last seven years balancing this pursuit with a completely separate full-time career, and am just now enjoying the situation of being a "full time" cyclist.  It is now my "work".  Now that I'm "all-in", I have an even greater appreciation for the privilege of being free to enjoy a balanced lifestyle, or in another sense, the "payoff" of a hard-working, balanced lifestyle.  It was my passion for cycling that motivated me to put good fortunes to work (supportive family & friends, good education, good job) and design a financial and lifestyle situation that could afford me the freedom to always have "work" be as deliberate, inspired and fulfilling as possible.  From another angle, I decided years ago that if I had anything to do with it, I would integrate the things I was passionate about into my everyday life, and avoid the situation of looking back at this phase in my life with any regret...with any sense of "but if only I would have gone for it...what might have been..."

Content Cow

I had a funny realization about all this musing as I was trying to remember how to speak Spanish.  I was rooting around online to see if I could refresh my memory on conjugations, and came across a TED Talk about language.  This one in particular was Phuc Tran's, "Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive".  He talked about how harnessing one's use of the indicative and the subjunctive mood [in the English, anyway] can be used as a "lens through which to experience the world."   The indicative mood is used to express factual information - it is objective and certain.  The subjunctive mood is used to express everything except for certainty - it is subjective and about possibilities.  Mr. Tran explained how the subjunctive allows for creativity, but can leave us "mired in regret". On the other hand, it takes real courage to embrace the indicative, "do or do not!".

So there it was.  Cycling as a "career" for me had originated positively from a subjunctive mood - Should I do this?...I could achieve this...I might have done that - and eventually it went through enough life-processing and emerged on the other side with a strong indicative mood - I am...This is.  I feel fortunate that now the worst the subjunctive mood I will experience is thinking about what I might have done differently during or in preparation for a given race.  As an athlete, such things can be vexing, especially when you place high expectations on yourself, as I've experienced.  But luckily the negative tendency of the subjunctive can be countered by the positive realization of the indicative - that this is what I am doing, that I love what I do, that I belong here.

Photo Credit: Maximiliano Blanco, Shimano Latin America -


  1. Good onya spencer. Great to see you realize your dreams and goals and now accomplish.
    I lived in bogata from 1963 to 1969.

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