I started racing because I wanted a challenge. I thought I could take my endurance rides to the field and compete. I was humbled faster than I thought I could race. The longer I race my bike, the more I realize how it transfers to Life.
1. If you give up, someone else wins.
As soon as you back off, your competition will blow past you. There have been numerous occasions where I was neck-and-neck with another athlete, only to give in to the painful burning in my legs. As soon as I sought relief, two wheels spun by. And my legs would still hurt as they disappeared in the distance. Most races this past season, I listened to my legs instead of my heart. Or hell, maybe it was the fact that my heart wasn’t in it.
More than once, I lined up at the start, already given up, as I looked at my competition. Unceasing self-doubt plagued my thoughts before the whistle blew.
Outside of cycling, I’ve given up on projects and people alike, convincing myself it wasn’t going to work, only to be proven wrong by someone else.
2. There will always be someone better than you.
No matter how much you train or study, someone will outdo you. And that’s okay. You don’t grow if you’re not challenged. Knowing this doesn’t mean you stop trying because one day you will beat that person.
Then you will find someone better than you again. And again.
I remember passing cyclists during organized rides before I started racing. I thought I was super fast. Surely, I could race with the speed I was going I thought. Then I started racing and more often than not, someone was always passing me. I train plenty and there will always be a faster woman than me.
3. It’s okay to ask for help.
When I was younger, I thought it showed a sign of weakness if I asked for help, so I never did. I learned a lot alone, but it was probably more efficient to ask someone who knew what they were doing.
When I started racing, again, I was figuring it all out alone. I couldn’t find resources nor did I know what to even research. Racing was entirely new to me. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
I created my own training plan my first year and luckily, it was enough to beat my competition. My first season as a Cat 3 was tough. I knew it would be. I thought I could replicate my training from the season prior, but it was a mistake. Undertrained and frustrated, I only landed on the podium twice out of the whole season.
I finally asked a friend to look over my plan. I knew if I didn’t change something, I’d get the same results. He ripped my plan to shreds, but that’s what I paid him for. I don’t have enough money for a coach, but I could pay for a consultation.
As amateur as I felt asking for help, I realized I didn’t know as much as I thought, and it was worth getting a different pair of eyes on it.
I’ve asked for help in other areas of my life as well. I’ve asked for career advice, life advice, and love advice. Most people are grateful to be asked and will typically help if they can.
4. We all pretend to have it figured out.
When I line up for a race, I try to look like I know what I’m doing. I joke around out of anxiety. Truth be told, I have no plan. I assume the rest of the women do, especially if there are team members. I joke more.
I remember Guanella Pass Hill Climb. A sizable group shot off from the front. I assumed they’d be racing like that the whole time up the mountain and there was no way I could keep up. I pulled off from the group. Once at the top, at a measly 7th or so place, one of my competitors told me her team’s plan: “we wanted to hold a high pace for the first five minutes to drop as many women as we could. We didn’t know if it’d work or not.”
Other times, I’ll chat with winners and they’ll admit they weren’t expecting a win.
We like to look like we know what we’re doing. Social media is the worst (or best?) for this: people post their best sides; their “I-know-what-I’m-doing” pose. Rare is it to see vulnerable posts that reveal how lost we all are. We don’t want people to know that we’re 30 years old and haven’t a clue where to go. Oh, is that just me?
I think we fear being vulnerable because of all the stereotypes that come with that title. Vulnerable in society means weak, easily manipulated, less-than. No one wants to be perceived as that. We want to feel like we belong. And that means pretending we know what we’re doing.
5. Pain is temporary.
Whether it be physical or mental, pain isn’t forever. I know there have been numerous occasions where my legs and lungs were burning. I assumed it’d go on like this the whole race, longer than the race, so I gave up. I pulled back for relief. I couldn’t hack it.
I forgot that the pain was temporary. It wasn’t going to last forever. It’d eventually subside. When I get tattoos, I breathe through it. That sharp mini stab against my skin. I remember to relax my body and remind myself it’s temporary. I forget the pain at my next tattoo session.
When I had my first serious break-up, I didn’t think life could get much worse. I cried and swore off men at the ripe age of 16. I remember the sting in my chest whenever I had to drive by his parents’ house, flipping the bird as I zoomed past. I never thought I’d love again.
I loved and broke again and again and again. Each time growing harder, swearing off dating, convincing myself I only needed me; that I’d never break my own heart. Then another beard would walk into my life and the process began again.
When I lost a job because of the owner’s pride, I thought that was the end of my career. I fully believed that status was everything. If I didn’t have a job, I was nothing. After a few sorrowful days, I felt light. I was no longer burdened by a manager’s ego who crushed my will to live. I was no longer in an emotionally abusive and toxic environment. When I thought I couldn’t survive, I flourished. The pain eventually subsided.
When we’re in a moment (or several) of pain, we tell ourselves we’re not going to get through it. We forget all the times we told ourselves that and survived.
6. Attitude & perseverance is everything.
Bad attitudes give bad results. If you believe you’ll fail, you will. If you think a situation will suck, it will. If you tell yourself that so-and-so isn’t a good person, they’ll prove you right because that’s what you’ll look for.
Throughout the race season, I have to remind myself to have fun. I tend to take it too seriously (okay, I take most things too seriously). When I take racing too seriously, I place too much of my self-worth on results. When I tie my self-worth to mid-pack finishes, I get depressed and start thinking less of myself. I don’t want to race at that point and then I start questioning why I race. It’s a shitty spiral.
In the same vein, perseverance will get you to the end. If you cannot persevere, you won’t go far in racing or in life. You need to be able to handle all the bullshit that’s thrown your way. You have to be able to handle it again and again and again. Like Hugh Glass in the Revenant. He kept getting his ass handed to him, and yet, he continued. After getting mauled by a bear, left for dead, shot at, starved, and falling off cliffs, Hugh persevered.
Unless I am physically unable to finish a race, I will always cross the finish line. Death before DNF.
7. Suffering is all part of the game.
You need to learn to suffer because suffering is a part of life. When you can accept that, it’s easier to endure.
You will learn to endure mental anguish and physical pain throughout your life. Whether that is losing a job, losing a loved one, suffering a bodily injury, or racing your bike. Hell, it will even be those tiny, nagging pains – the ones you wake up with in the morning, sore shoulders from hunching over your computer, or low back pain from holding up your gut.
You suffer insanely on the bike. You can’t have a weak mind if you want to race. Your mind will want to give up before your legs if it isn’t trained. Too many times I wanted to give up before the finish line.
I remember my first 40K Time Trial Race. It sucked. As I took off from the starting line I watched the woman in front of me disappear. It was clear I wasn’t gaining on her, which meant my time was slower than hers. I was a solid five miles in before anyone passed me, but when they did, boy was I passed. Mentally, I was over it. I already convinced myself that I came in last. At that point, I just wanted to finish.
My body was wiped too.
My legs felt like they were filled with lead. No matter how hard I pushed on the pedals, nothing came out. It felt like I was maxing out my FTP, but really, I was pushing out half those watts. I crossed the finish line, totally defeated. When I saw my first last place, I cried.
I sulked the whole way back home. Then I became determined to never finish last place again. And when I did finish last another time, I didn’t cry, I didn’t sulk. I’m learning to suffer and accept results as they come.