It usually begins around the first week of January, as soon as driven legs have given their bodies and minds a minute to relax. For many, there has to be a focus or a plan. This is how they operate. This is how they are wired. For me, I'm good with the discipline of fitness and set to task on that promptly in the new year, but the mind tends to lag behind. Agendas are fluid to me and don't always need to be buttoned up. This is as much an asset as a detriment sometimes.

"What's your racing plan this year?" That's the golden question, the one we all ask each other in the cycling circles. It's the playbook for the season...which races, where we're training, when we're riding outside, yatta, yatta. It's a fantastic club to be a part of. You can feed off the energies of each other and that adds to the excitement of what's to come.

It's been tougher for me to sort out a plan this year. I checked boxes last year and want some newer experiences. I also want to push myself a little more in places, because I'm a type B and take my time getting serious about anything.

February came and went, still no real racing plan materializing. Then March rolled around and I was still very undeclared in my racing whims. I had some notions...ok, my racing spirit isn't broken...but loose, at best. I'm happy to report that I've "welded a framework" together, but it's been a process and feels strangely lugged.

I was in the Atlanta area this past week (work stuffs) and with the glorious sunny 70 degree weather, didn't miss my chance to get outside and hike some trails. And that's where it hit me! Subtly mixed in with the hardwood trees were some flowering trees with delicate purple buds busting open, dancing in the warm sunshine. A dead ringer for the trees that I would see around Hillsboro, IL.  Trees that were the ambassadors of Spring, an assurance that Winter was a thing of the past and a signal for cyclists to lose their trainer skewer.

Hillsboro-Roubaix was a road race in southwestern Illinois that kicked Spring into gear for many of us Chicagoans. A perfectly hilly course with a stiff turn up near the end leading into a full throttle churn over cobblestones (brick). It was a gem to all that raced it. Longer than our local crits, some elevation to remind you how flat Chicago is and an awkward prayer (sponsored by a church) to send us all off into battle...mental gold. The organizers announced last year that 2015 would be the last edition of HR. Participation was continuing to dwindle and, as such, they just couldn't afford to put on the race.  Most were in disbelief right up until the end, including myself.

I, personally, have unfinished business with Hillsboro. 2012: a hidden pothole lurking under muddy water sunk my battleship; 2013: couldn't attend; 2014: piled up from a fatigued rider near the final stampede; 2015: delayed start>poor nutrition>bonked hard 15 miles in. So, in that regard, the fact of this being no more leaves a gapping hole. And perhaps is the reason for my hardship in drafting a race plan. My mind is like a ship without a compass....

All things said, there are other sufferfests to pull me along. Gravel events have blown up in popularity and I suspect have contributed for the drop off in road races. I'll pause to confess my adoration for the rough roads. I don't want them to replace the longer smooth road events, but I'm only one registration slot. It's tough for established, older events to compete with the fun new shiny thing. As well, road racing is head-head competition and has its clear winners. Everyone wins in gravel because it's more racer against the terrain. Similar to triathlons, but let's avoid that snobbery....

In summary, I miss the blooms of Spring, full of promise and awakening. Change is ever present in life. My eyes and mind will need to look for new cues, but, amen, my memory of flowering trees and rolling hills is still vibrant....

~Jen Groen