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Spending the day packing for Beijing. We’ve got a flight out on Air China at midnight, which gives me the entire day to attend to all the junk I’ve been shoving aside when I’m too tired from training.

I’m also trying to embrace the digital life, which means I’ve got to stop printing stuff like this and keeping it around. So I thought I’d preserve it here:

“Someday, in years to come, you’ll be wrestling with the great temptation, or trembling under the great sorrow, of your life. But the real struggle is here, now, in these quiet weeks. Now it is being decided whether, in the day of your supreme sorrow or temptation, you shall miserably fail or gloriously conquer. Character cannot be made except by a steady, long-continued process.”

–Phillips Brooks

Admittedly, I had no idea who Phillips Brooks was when I printed it out. I think our sports psych, Wendy Borlabi sent it in one of her emails to keep us on track. Obviously, it spoke to me.

Upon further investigation, Brooks was not only a great scholar and theologian, he wrote “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” (which happens to be one of my favorite Christmas carols). His legacy lives on in educational and service organizations, where the development of kindness, character, service and a love of learning are core values.

The center for volunteer organizations at Harvard University is named after him. I also learned there’s a cool little independent school in Menlo Park, CA called the Phillips Brooks School, which is super hip and embodies the way of living he brought to the world.

Check it out! The Phillips Brooks School.

The Answer is . . .

I’m working on posts about the Cali World Cup specifically, the current World Cup season broadly, the road to London, what I’m doing, who I’m doing it with, what my role is, how I got here, etc. etc. etc.

But yesterday was a really long travel day.

We were up at 7am, left the hotel at 11am, on a plane at 3:30pm, another plane at 6pm and landed in LAX around midnight with about half the 22 pieces of luggage we traveled with in hand.

Everyone was in good spirits, but tired from a week of racing, eating, sleeping, traveling to the velodrome and back again, with precious few of us knowing the language.

(Fortunately, every Columbian I met was kind enough to let me stumble through my high school knowledge of Spanish while they practiced English!)

So before I get back to sharing my unique perspective on the above, I want to pass along something a friend sent me while I was in Cali:

The Meaning of Life.


Giving Thanks & Praise

I am one lucky human being.

I’ve been given the chance to pursue a sport I love training for and competing in to the highest level I’m capable of. It’s an unconventional pursuit. I won’t receive a diploma when I’m done. And best I can tell, there won’t be a huge financial reward at the end.

There are days when I ask myself, ‘how did I get here?’ And there are days I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I should to be doing, right now.

For that, I have a few people to thank:

My husband, Lath

My husband, Lath. I married a man who’s crazy enough to think this is a good idea. Without his support, I couldn’t be here. We met while I was juggling a demanding full-time job, random out-of-comp USADA testing and training. We both knew together we could accomplish great things. The irony being that, for the moment, we’re often apart.

But he’s never wavered in his support. I can’t begin to explain its’ depth and breadth, because that would be way too personal here. I know for a fact he’s the biggest piece of the puzzle for me.

My mom & dad. I grew up in a small town where sports were what we did. From the time I can remember, we were either out back playing, or my folks were carting us off to swim meets, ball games or golf matches.

Dad (left), Number 44

My dad was an accomplished athlete himself. He played football and basketball in the Air Force, then at Mansfield Teacher’s College after the service. My mom loved to swim and spent her summers teaching kids to swim at the Valley Hunt Club in Lewis Run, PA.

Together, the two of them loved to play, teach and enjoyed exposing their kids to everything. My mom’s a gifted pianist and music teacher, who’s filled with enough passion, drive, heart and emotion to fuel a small revolution. My dad is the logic behind the madness. He was a math teacher, a hunter, a gardener, respected coach and strategist who knows how to stay the course and get things done.

Between the two of them, they’ve personally touched the lives of thousands, most of whom were our coaches, friends and teammates.

In a small town, you don’t have to specialize in one sport as you do in large cities or suburbs, so we did it all: swimming, diving, synchronized swimming, tennis, wrestling, baseball, football, track and field, golf, basketball, skiing . . . you name it. I never once got tired or bored, and came away with a wide skill set & plenty of game.

Not only am I blessed to have grown up in a house where playing sports and being active was just what we did, somehow the union of these two great people crafted a girl who’s rhythmically coordinated, fast-twitch faceted, compulsive enough to take risks, calculating enough to work the numbers and who clearly inherited her mother’s thighs.

Mom (far right) and her siblings, Chataqua Lake

Because of my sister Karen, I learned how to be a tomboy. She was the only person–girl or guy–daring or talented enough to do a gainer off the diving board. And she swam the butterfly. Karen was also an accomplished basketball player. She had a real command of the game by age twelve, was a natural-born leader and good student, which made her the perfect point guard.

She’s 4 years older than me and I idolized her.

I followed her around like a puppy and did everything she did. She played point guard. I played point guard. She threw javelin. I threw javelin. She taught me how to do a proper lay-up, and I still plant my left foot, extend with the right and follow-through to the basket.

Karen became more of a girly-girl as we got older while I held onto our athletic roots. But I always had someone to play 3X’s with and look up to. She led the way, and has encouraged me through competitive sport as an adult. For that I’m truly grateful.

My brother TJ is 4 days shy of 1 year older than me, and best I recall made me pay for being born well into our teens. TJ was also an exceptional athlete. He, too, possessed a mean butterfly and was a master of the cannonball and jackknife in the greatest splash contest at the Memorial Recreation Center.

By the time he was 15, TJ had invested that magic number of years (7-10) in the sport of wrestling and won a Pennsylvania State Championship title. For those unfamiliar with wrestling, Pennsylvania ranks up there with Iowa in taking rural farm kids and turning them into little mortal combat machines.

Growing up, TJ was a lot like this:

TJ, after a day in school

You never knew when he was going to strike, then you had to act quick and decide if this was a fight, flight or play dead situation. Sometimes he had back-up (The Burdick Boys) so you had no choice but to take Craig–Don’s younger lightweight brother–for your teammate and pray for the best.

One minute I’d be watching Happy Days, the next, I’d be dragged into a full-on, tag-team, death match on the living room floor. TJ would pile drive me into the carpet, my face smashed into Play-Doh stains from earlier times. I’d end up screaming, hair matted and brush-burned. Eventually, he’d climb onto the piano bench channeling Macho King Randy Savage before executing his final move.

But I regress.

My first coach used to call me a fighter. I was so green to bike racing, I didn’t know it was a compliment at the time.

Now I get it.

And I have my brother to thank for that.

__________

I could go on for miles about the many amazing people I know and have met who have it in their hearts to help aspiring competitive cyclists, but this is a good place to start and end for now.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, enjoy the feast!

–Liz

Coming Clean

While at the Pan Am Games, I lost track of how many times I was asked “What sport are you with?”

It’s standard elevator talk. But the reaction of surprise was so consistent when I said,  “I’m an athlete, a track cyclist,” I felt it was time to get something out in the open.

I’m not a young woman.

I’m not a coach for the US Team, nor am I a soigneur, a press officer or logistics coordinator. There are people far more capable of doing those things than I am.

I’m an athlete. I compete for the United States, at the elite level, on the track.

And I’m 42 years old.

The reason I bring this up is because, well . . . 1/ I don’t look or think like a 20 year old. And 2/ I’m tired of tucking my tail in about it.

I started this blog as a line extension, if you will; to the one I started for Bicycling.com titled Livin’ the Dream.

I stopped writing that blog because the politics of being me in the sport of cycling became unbearable.

For two years, I lived two lives: one I could write about for a publication that promotes cycling in all its’ glory and one I couldn’t, because no female would enter this sport if they knew.

Then I stopped riding bikes. And I stopped writing this blog. And I stopped writing all together. And I kind of stopped communicating in any sort of meaningful way to the outside world or hanging out with people who had anything to do with bikes–which is just about everyone I know.

It’s very hard when something you love so much that you’re willing to give up everything safe and familiar and consistent to pursue it–this love–turns on you.

But the opposite of love isn’t hate, right? Didn’t that Nobel Peace Prize winner guy say the opposite of love is indifference?

I’d like to paraphrase the great Garrett Morris here and say, ‘Cycling . . . been berra, berra good . . . to me.’

At the very core, I love riding my bike. So I shuffled my way back. Some things are just worth fighting for.

Back to the original topic: I can see the confusion in people’s eyes when I tell them I’m an athlete. Eventually I get around to telling them my age.

Their eyes grow wide when I say I race for the US.

It gets even more fun when I tell them I just returned from the Pan Am Games, where my partner and I set a new American Record in the Team Sprint.

When I say I’m a sprinter, they give me a head-to-toe body scan. Then comes the smile and nod.

They’re usually the ones who ask if I’m going to London.

I tell them we’re going to do our best.

No matter how vexing!

Got this ‘thought of the week’ from Dr. Wendy Borlabi, the USOC Sports Psychologist assigned to work with the US Sprint Program.

“Each Warrior wants to leave the mark of his will, his signature, on important acts he touches.

This is not the voice of ego but of the human spirit, rising up and declaring that it has something to contribute to the solution of the hardest problems, no matter how vexing!”

–Pat Riley

It feels fitting. Some days I feel like a warrior. Today I felt like a wounded warrior after two hard weeks of training.

Somebody called me a pioneer once, which I found both flattering and laughable. Pioneers are people like Joan Benoit and Fannie Blankers-Koen. If a woman racing bikes in the year 2011 is considered a pioneer, the feminist movement stalled when it got to the sport of cycling.

But it does have me thinking about what solution I’m working towards.

Is it doing my part to move the US women’s sprint program forward? I’m working hard to qualify a spot for the World Championships and Olympic Games. I know  my experience is an asset to a young program.

Some days, I think it may be just reminding people it’s never too late to dream or try something new.

Hmmm? Leg speed or OTB strength . . . photo by Sandra Geroux

As an athlete I have it easy. My problem is to figure out how to get myself, my bike and my partner up to max speed from a stand still as quick as possible.

Lately, I’ve been hitting 60-62kph in 19.6 to 20.2 seconds, depending on the track and training phase. As (wo)man 1 in the Team Sprint, I want to accelerate all the way through the line at the end of the first lap so my (wo)man 2 gets a slingshot effect in the exchange.

Blistering speed at the end of lap 1 translates into a faster first half of lap 2. The goal of (wo)man 2 is to carry or improve on that speed  to the finish.

Throw on a 90.6 (47×14) and get off the line quick at the (potential) cost of valuable kph in the last 60-80 meters. Or ride a 92.6 (48×14) and — while you may reach higher top end — the gear could slow you down out of the gate, adding 1-2/10ths to your first 125meters.

Then there’s the relationship between your gear and your partner’s . . .

In training, the puzzle is finding the right equation of big gear work, little gear work, explosive short efforts, longer efforts, weights, time on the road and equally important, time away from training to recover.

The US women need to go faster and get there quicker. The best women in the world are covering the first lap in just under 19 seconds. The next tier comes in between 19.0 and 19.5.

I did a 19.6 standing lap at the Pan Am Games, which was a HUGE personal best. But going 250 meters in 19.4 to 19.7 seconds consistently would be better.

I know enough about elite sport to realize I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have something to contribute.

And I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was important.

Adjusting chain tension, dialing in the gear. photo by Sandra Geroux

All in a name…

There seems to be some confusion as to what my name is, so I’ve decided to set the record straight.

My first name is Liz. My last name is Carlson. My former last name is now my middle name, which makes me Liz Reap Carlson. It’s officially Elizabeth Reap Carlson, but nobody calls me Elizabeth.

Me & my girl, Rube at her modeling debut in Runner's World magazine

I’ve been keeping Reap around as a bit of a transitional thing…something to help folks who knew me before I got married find me. I also want them to know that I did, in fact, get married. I found a man who’s as good, if not better company than my dog, and snatched him up faster than you can say, ‘yes!’

Even my Grandma, who’s now seated at the right hand of the Father, called me Lizzy. Or Lilly . . . or Lilly Bell when she felt spry. I can’t remember if she was the one who called me Petunia Pig, or if that was my uncle or one of my parents’ weird friends.

Either way, Gram only called me Elizabeth when I was being scolded or at church. Or scolded at church.

I never hyphenated, only married late . . . well after establishing a career as a writer / editor / photographer. Then I became a cyclist, and kept Reap around as a safety net, in case I needed to make desperate phone calls to former colleagues looking for a job.

The last thing I wanted them to say was, “Liz Who?”

But I think we’re past that. Anyone who knows me by now has figured out I married a guy who comes from a long line of ship builders. And anyone who doesn’t know me will hopefully figure that out.

So I hereby proclaim, the woman (myself) heretofore known as Liz Reap Carlson is now Liz Carlson, both personally and professionally.

But I’m not militant. I’ll answer to both. Some people call me LizReap as if it’s one word anyways.

And when the realtor who owns LizCarlson.com closes shop, I hope she’ll sell that prime web estate at a good price—or just pass the url on to me—seeing as how we’re practically related.

One of my athletes forwarded me the video of our bronze medal ride in the Team Sprint, so here it is. Thanks, Todd!

I knew the crowd was going to be out of their minds, but nothing like this. The stadium was so loud, it was nearly impossible to hear the countdown. You train to respond to the beeps and not look at the clock. You want to go on instinct.

Having to watch the numbers, then process them and react accordingly can add valuable tenths to your time.

A lot happened in a short time, as you can see here. We false started, though at the time I thought it was Mexico, not knowing the language! We came back pretty well, and came away with plenty to learn from.

On the plus side, we posted two 500’s under 35 seconds at the Pan Am Games. We rode a 34.7 in qualifying. Our previous best together was 36.0, so that’s quite an improvement!

The Team Sprint is still a relatively new event for women. It’s been contested domestically for a number of years, but was only added to the UCI World Championship schedule in 2007.

I rode in the start position (man 1) at the 2007 Los Angeles World Cup with US Team member Jennie Reed, but we never raced it again after that. Her focus was on the individual events; the Match Sprint and Keirin.

Cristin Walker & I rode together twice last World Cup season, and depending on rosters may have the chance to see how far we’ve come this year.

On the whole, we (the US Team) are just now starting to see the benefits of having a dedicated coach and consistent training program: quicker times, a better understanding of the event and more bodies to work with.

This is the first time the US has had a women’s sprint program with enough depth to work on this event. And really–with Team Sprint being an Olympic event–the first time it has been a priority for female sprinters in the US.

Pretty cool, eh? I’m psyched to be here. I think I can say with confidence that our 34.7 is the quickest time ridden by American women to date. I’m sure we’re going to go faster, but we’re waiting to hear from USAC HQ if we’ve established a new American record.

Beyond not coming out with the win, I don’t see any negatives . . . only room for improvement!

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