Bike Racing is just like tackling life

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.”

It worked.

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.

30 things I have accomplished and learned within the 30 years I have lived in haiku

1. Survived brain tumor / brain surgery at eighteen / benign with headaches

2. Airbag crushed my skull / damaged memory, face, eye / somehow still alive

3. Two bachelor degrees / English, Political Science / and using neither

4. Packed two suitcases / moved to Ireland for school / never thought I’d come back

5. Earned master’s degree / thought I’d work for CIA / or live in Dublin

6. Published my poems / in online magazines and / read a few on stage

7. Took my words on stage / and competed in a slam / I lost but I learned

8. Quit soul-sucking job / and backpacked throughout Europe / tried a change of life

9. Self-published a book / I wrote while in Europe / Overcame nothing

10. Found us a townhome / in downtown Littleton and / near the Platte bike path.

11. Married my school crush / in a courtroom with family / kept it intimate

12. Won three bike races / Time Trial, Crit, and Road Race / and always surprised

13. Upgrade to Cat 3 / after first Cat 4 season / miss the podiums

14. Online dating apps / Survived break-ups and dating / those endless heartaches

15. Started a podcast / for women/trans/femme athletes / and it’s been a blast

16. Directed and led / The Vagina Monologues / for four awesome years

17. I’ve traveled the world / from Canada to Japan / Ireland the most

18. First tattoo with mom / and every year afterward / covered my body

19. Took a gondola / bungee-jumped above a lake / surrounded by fog

20. Tied up to a man / and sky-dived from high above / I guided us down

21. Tried sprint triathlon / thought I’d drown in the swim but / killed it on the bike

22. Hiked up 14ers / throughout Colorado and / even 13’ers

23. Jared brought it up / run Colfax Half-Marathon / so I did just that

24. Joined pedal to race / Led Women’s Road Racing team / then became VP

25. Stopped wearing make-up / felt naked and not pretty / remained confident

26. Liked to exercise / I studied to become a / personal trainer

27. Realized I’ve focused / on my status instead of / how fulfilled I am

28. Realized I’m better / off staying alive and I / always have a choice

29. Choosing to put health / before everything else ‘cause / it will take you far

30. Accepting people / won’t like me and that’s on them / I need to let go

Race Anecdotes: Estes Epic

To win a bike race, you first gotta show up.

As we corralled in front of the start line at The Estes Epic, I smiled across to my husband, and told a couple of riders, “good luck.” My legs were heavy and so was my mind. Everyone started as a group – I didn’t know who I was competing against. I assumed I was grouped with the 30-year olds since that was my racing age, although I was technically 29. The 30-something’s were a force to reckon with. I knew I had to get in front of them.

I wanted to add to the small number of women who were competing, especially after heated conversations about women’s bike racing. Maybe I wanted an ego boost because I knew not many women participated in the Estes Epic. It’s a 34-mile course with over 5,000 feet in elevation gain. It’s mostly dudes, as I found out. And after completing it, I understood why women weren’t coming out in droves.

Because I didn’t preview the whole course, I didn’t even know what I signed up for.

As we all pedaled out of the parking lot on to the main street, I told myself to keep steady; to stay on Kristi’s wheel. I didn’t have to get in front of anyone just yet. I could save my energy for the climbs.

The group thinned almost instantly as we hit Fish Creek Road. We had 1,000 feet or so of climbing ahead of us in the first 8.5 miles. I was anxious to get in front of people because I knew they’d catch up once we descended.

I kept pace as we winded through switchbacks, constantly pushing on the flat pedals on my 2011, 26’er Specialized mountain bike. I never expected to start racing on the bike when I first bought it. Originally, it was meant to spend more time with my husband and then I raced it at Battle the Bear. I came in first place and I caught the podium bug. And there I was: 7 miles in, tired but determined when my back wheel slipped on out a dusty rock.

Embarrassed, I pulled over to the side and started letting air out of my tires. Kristi passed me and asked if I got a flat. “No,” I said, “just too much air in them.” Other riders were catching up. I looked like an amateur. Hell, I was an amatuer. There was no pretending I was cool. I kept my head pointing down as I mounted the bike.

I couldn’t push back off with my pedals because of the steep incline, so I dismounted my bike, and walked it to the top. I lost Kristi. The one wheel I didn’t want to lose. I knew it was going to happen eventually because I wasn’t fast downhill. I was too scared. Too intimidated.

I often ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” when I don’t feel excited about a race. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll reconsider racing. Several times throughout the season, I just didn’t want to race. Part of me felt ashamed for not having that drive to race, to beat the other women, to land on that top step. The other part of me was nearly relieved I wasn’t racing, and then ashamed because I was relieved.

As I pedaled, I focused on the lines in the dirt and looked for pink, handwritten route signs. The course flattened out enough to catch my breath and give my legs a second to refresh. Often, I’d catch myself looking up at the sky and through the trees – enjoying nature, unlike road races. Maybe that’s why I was enjoying mountain biking so much – being away from cars and pavement.

In the road racing world, there’s an insurmountable pressure to constantly be racing; to earn upgrade points; to be training every waking moment; to be better than the day before. I knew I wasn’t the only one who was exhausted from pinning numbers on my back, waking up before our families, and driving ourselves to far-away races, to warm-up alone, race alone, and drive back home alone.

Mountain bike races were different. People didn’t seem as high strung and I was drawn to it.

I turned the corner and there were several riders walking their bikes up the shale-covered hill. As I swung my leg over my saddle and started walking, I noticed how loose the shale was. It felt like I had rollerskates strapped to my feet as I tiptoed through layers of shale, waiting to give way and wash us all down the mountain.

My heart raced as I quickly tiptoed up higher and higher along the 14% grade hill. I felt an unyielding pressure to be cycling up it, but as I looked ahead and behind me, everyone was off their bike. They were no different than me. There was no shame in walking your bike. Everyone did it.

I wanted to ride over the obstacles, but I didn’t have the skill. I didn’t know how to conquer them. I was too scared to try. Even though dirt is more forgiving than cement, I imagined slamming my face against broken rocks, breaking my neck, and wrapping my body around a tree trunk. I pictured myself paralyzed after a wreck from tumbling from the top of the hill all the way to the bottom, hitting every rock as I catapulted down. My mind has always been my biggest obstaclebigger than any boulder I’ve faced.

Every section of downhill I encountered, I imagined plummeting to my paralysis. I’d inch up to the lip of the hill and look down. I’d drop my saddle – as if that gave me a new kind of confidence – and level my feet. Tapping the brakes, I’d slowly descend the hill, hoping to make it down alive; constantly reminding myself to trust myself, to trust the bike, and go with the flow. The smaller hills were manageable, but when I reached the 14% grade hill I hiked earlier, I lost all confidence.

I managed to completely freak myself out. I pulled over and out of the way. I wanted to quit. I was exhausted, more mentally than physically  because I was constantly on guard for the next obstacle to roll over or avoid altogether. I didn’t want to walk my bike down because it was just as slow as trying to ride it; but constantly pressing on the brakes rattled the bike and my stiff limbs. Any jolty movement of the bike and my legs and arms tensed up. My fingers started to ache from all the braking. Meanwhile, men flew past me, hauling 30 mph as if there weren’t giant boulders their bikes had to clear. How can they do it? I thought.

They were fearless.

They saw over the rocks, the roots, the branches, the 14% descent.

I’ve never been someone to roll with the flow; to let my bike guide me. As a control freak, I wanted to maneuver around obstacles; I didn’t want my bike to lead me through this. I didn’t trust the bike. I didn’t trust myself.

I didn’t think I was good enough to handle the steep descent mixed with giant rocks. I told myself I couldn’t do it, so I didn’t try riding over it. Instead, I stumbled my way down the rocky descent, watching out for mountain bikers with the gull to ride through it all as if they were biking over a smooth road.

As I made my way through uneven paths, shale, and unmarked trails, I had to force myself to keep going. Even if I wanted to quit, we were too deep in the woods for a SAG wagon. I wanted to give up. I started making silly mistakes. I wouldn’t change gears in time and get stuck. Other times, I wouldn’t lean into a turn, stiff from fatigue.

My eyes glanced down at my Garmin every few minutes, watching the mileage remain unchanged. I wanted it to be over. I wanted to cry – to feel something, other than the numbness filling my body and the achy joints in my fingers from gripping the handlebars too tight. Much like how we can’t let things go in life. Gripping too tightly to ideas, beliefs, people, things, only hurts us. My hands ached from death-gripping the handlebars out of a false sense of security; believing that if I only held on tighter it wouldn’t buck me off the saddle; that if I white-knuckled down the mountain, I’d stay safe. Instead, I latched on to the bike and with every bump, my hands pinched tighter.

I was trying to let go, but my insecurities held on. I knew I wasn’t a mountain biker if I couldn’t handle the descents, I thought.

I was running out of water; I had no more gels. Switchback after switchback of loose, sandy dirt, my brakes squealed as mountain bikers flew past me. With every, “on your left,” my self-worth drained. I attached too much of myself to the results of races. Who was I if I wasn’t first?

I was fucking average and I hated it. Average didn’t land pro contracts; it didn’t encourage other teams to seek your talent; my biggest fan was my mom because of course, she’s my mom. If I wasn’t the best, I wanted nothing.

As I turned the corner in the final stretch of the race, I heard Kyle, the Race Director, announce my name among the sea of cheers. A young man placed my finisher’s medal over my crusty hair and dirty cheeks and told me, “congrats!” My family rushed to my side and wrapped their lively arms around my exhausted body.

In mountain biking and in life, you’re constantly faced with obstacles. You can choose to sit there and wait for the obstacle to move itself or you can roll over it. I was awarded first place because I was the only woman in my category. I was quick to disregard my win, but then Kyle leaned over to me and said, “You have to show up to win.” And if I had anything, I had the willingness to show up.

Race Anecdotes: Darkblade Systems Thunderblade Senior Road State Championship

There we were, the four of us, joking about making it a group ride instead of a race. We asked Shawn if there were any cafes on the Air Force Academy base.

I had two thoughts: where the hell were all the Cat 3’s and I only have to beat three women.

The 3’s had notoriously shown up in small numbers over the past season. As a fresh Cat 3, struggling with internal motivation and realizing what other racers coined “the graveyard,” I was both discouraged that our category size was laughable but also motivated to win.

Truly the only goal I made as a new Cat 3 at the beginning of the season was to win one race. After mid-pack finishes after the other, I thought to myself, “I just have to beat three women.” The thing about courses and racing and racers is that people race to their strengths. Non-climbers didn’t sign up for this race. Hell, two of the women who raced against me admitted they weren’t climbers but they signed up to support the category. Like, how admirable is that?

After my sub-par performance in all the hill climbs over the season, I wouldn’t have called myself a hill climber either. Franky, the day before this race I came in DFL. While I held back in that race to perform better in this race, I still came in last, and I’m sure my holding back didn’t make that much of a difference.

So, there we were, lined up in front of Shawn, the Executive Director of BRAC. We had five 9-mile laps for a total of 45 miles. The four of us, Katie, Nicole, Ashley, and myself agreed we’d ride together as long as we could because truly that was more tactical than dropping each other at the get-go.

Ashley fell from the group first. While I wanted to make it a group no-drop ride, I remembered I came to the race to win, and I knew (at least I told myself) she realized it was nothing personal.

At one point, we caught up to the P-1-2 women who were really treating it like a group ride. We didn’t know if it was best to pass them or hold off in case someone attacked. Our group got bored enough soft pedaling that we ended up passing them.

One of Nicole’s teammates on ALPs shouted at her to not lead the pack. I laughed, knowing full well we were all taking turns at the front. I said something back to that effect. Also, I wanted to let her know she should worry about her own race.

A lap later, the Cat 4/5 women passed us. There were about nine of them in that group. I felt silly being passed by the Cat 4’s as a 3 in the sense that typically that doesn’t happen on these longer courses. But alas, there were only three of us taking turns at the front, which inevitably is harder than a group of nine women taking turns at the front.

I had to remind myself that I could not stay in the front the whole time, even if I was more comfortable there. I had to trust that Nicole and Katie would point out obstacles and people. And they did. We were working together, not against each other. There’s a time and place to be ruthless. Like 500 meters from the finish line or if someone is sucking wheel, refusing to take a pull. Sure, maybe that’s tactical, but it’s also kind of an asshole move. It certainly would have been with just the three of us.

With two laps to go, we lost Katie. It was kind of ironic to have been racing against her a year later on the same course. She was the friendly Cat 3 who I rode with in one of my first road races the season prior as a Cat 4. And then there we were: both Cat 3’s, Racing for the State Champ title. I tried to encourage her to keep pushing just as she had done for me the year before. When I looked back the distance between Nicole and I and Katie had doubled. Nicole asked if we should wait for her. I wanted to but I told Nicole, “I mean, this is a race.”

Again, I had to convince myself that Katie knew it wasn’t personal.

I noticed Nicole was taking shorter and shorter pulls. We were no longer chatting; only breathing. A couple of words between deep breaths and sips of water: “almost there,” we said on more than one occasion.

I saw the 1km sign. Hold back.

Then I saw Alison Powers, Nicole’s team coach. She usually bikes on the sidelines and yells out tips or motivation to her team. I kept the pace the same, waiting for Alison to yell to Nicole. I knew it was coming. I also knew Nicole would listen and do as Alison instructed. That’s how her team operates. I think it’s inspiring how dedicated the team is to Alison and vice versa. Alison knows her shit. And how, almost automatic the team operates. Everything is drilled and dialed in. When you race against ALP, you’re racing against a well-oiled machine.

Who knows what people get when they race against me. As the only Cat 3 on pedal, I don’t get that opportunity to train as a team with tactics. I’m learning as I go. And also, racing against the same people over and over again throughout the season, I picked up on some of their tactics.

I knew Alison was going to give Nicole the cue to sprint to the finish. I was exhausted. I always struggled with the sprint finish – which is where all the racing comes down to. The last 250 meters. I could only hope that Nicole had less gas in her tank than me.

I kept my eyes forward, Alison and Nicole in my peripheral, waiting. I could see the white line up ahead, the orange fencing approaching fast, and there it was:

“SPRINT NICOLE!!”

I could hear Chris up ahead yelling at me: “GO! PETER SAGAN!”

Thoughts flying through my head, all telling me to push, as hard as I could; that I wanted this win. Nicole dropped from peripheral. My lungs were burning, as were my legs. I didn’t dare look back or get cocky and raise my arms in the air.

And just like that, I came in first place. I congratulated Nicole for her finish on a tough course. I also thanked Alison for the cue. We waited for Katie and Ashley and cheered for them as they crossed the line.

We were all friends after that hellish race with those struggles in common. We endured head wind, exhaustion, climbing 3,700 feet, and the same awestruck of the “graveyard.”

Typically, winners will earn upgrade points, but there needs to be a minimum of five racers. I was the State Champ but I didn’t get a single upgrade point. At least I had good company in the grave.

Finding your tribe

‘Tis the season to find a team either for your first time or your 22nd. Applications are opening and recruiting is in full force.

If this is your first time, it’s intimidating. There’s a ton of information, but no real concise way to use it practically. I remember when I decided to join a team, I didn’t know where to start. I went to Google, as most of us do when we don’t know where to start.

Usually, finding and joining a team isn’t as simple as signing up and now you ride for Team Zissou. There are a lot of aspects to consider:

1. Location

The Google search I conducted when I first started out led me to the Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado’s website which listed teams in Colorado. I wanted to find a team near me so I could jump on my bike and ride to meeting spots. Having to drive to team nights, team practices, team-building, etc. could get old fast. Find your city or where you’re willing to drive/bike to meet the team.

2. Clinics

Some teams offer clinics to teach their riders more skills. For example, my team, pedal RACING, has clinics for Road, Mountain, and Cross. They’re all scheduled out so as not to overlap the other disciplines. I’m a Roadie and it was important to me to find a team that offered clinics that covered Time Trials, Race Tactics, Group Riding, Criteriums, and Hill Climbs. Sometimes clinic fees are included in your Membership dues, while other times you have to pay extra. It’s good to find out.

Pedal RACING does both: we have set clinics that are included in your membership fees, but sometimes throughout the season, there is an ask for additional clinics. The group will either ask one of our elite team members to teach us a skill or we’ll all pony up some cash to bring in a professional coach.

3. Cost

Once you’ve picked a team, another important aspect to consider is the cost to join the team as well as finding out where the fees go. Some teams are very expensive and others are super cheap. If you’re interested in a team that has a high membership fee, ask what the fees go toward. For example, my team costs $150 to join. The money goes towards the clinics at the beginning of the racing season, tents, paying team dues, and race support. After 3 races, a team member can request a reimbursement for their races and end up only paying around $30 for their membership fees. Another option is forwarding that reimbursement to dues the following year. Some teams don’t offer this, so ask.

4. Racing Requirements and then some

Every team has a racing requirement – some more strict than others. Most websites will list their racing requirements so give it a looksee. If they don’t have a list of the number (and type) of races you must compete in, just ask them. This may influence your decision depending on your experience. Most people new to racing are intimidated by the race requirement, which is why it’s important to feel comfortable with what team you choose to join.

pedal RACING has a three race minimum. It doesn’t matter in what disciple, but we require our racers to race three times within the year. With the low requirement, I felt comfortable joining pedal back in the day. I knew it was within my ability to race three times.

Teams may also have additional requirements. For instance, pedal RACING also requires our members to volunteer. We believe it’s important to give back to our cycling community – whether that is helping out at our annual Twilight Criterium race, maintaining bike trails, or building bikes for kids. Helping out where and when we can keeps cycling alive and even helps it grow, which, as cyclists, we most certainly want.

5. Do You Fit In?

Go on a ride with the team to see how you jive. The team may look great, but until you ride with them, you won’t know if it makes sense to join them. Some teams take racing much more seriously than other teams. If you’re serious about racing, then those teams more focused on race tactics, strategies, and training will be a better choice. Conversely, if you want to give racing a try because you like a little competition now and then, but you don’t plan on going pro, there are teams that focus on the fun and fitness aspect of racing. And of course, there are teams in between.

There are a lot of other elements to consider when joining a team such as the number of group rides, friendliness and competitiveness of the team, the look of the kit, guidance from other team members, support, and riders at your level.

I took all those factors and made a scale. I looked at the teams in my area and started whittling them down. I rated each team on a scale from 1 (worst) – 10 (best) for each factor I considered important in a team I joined. Then I added up the numbers and chose the team with the highest rank.

I’d love to chat with anyone interested in racing about my team or racing in general. If you have a question, shoot me an email: Women[at]pedalracing[dot]org

Race Anecdotes: Pikes Peak Hill Climb

I thought it was going to be harder than it was…

…to convince Chris to sign-up for the Pikes Peak Gran Fondo while I raced it. I had all my support and reasons why I thought it would benefit him as a mountain biker, but when I casually said, “you should ride the Gran Fondo while I race it,” he replied, “sure.”

I didn’t know what to expect having never done it before. Last year, I was forced to work that weekend and the year before that I was just starting to dip my toes into racing and frankly, did not believe in my ability to race up a 14’er. So this year was it. I was also planning on racing the Senior Road Race State Championship the next day. Go big or go home.

Because both races were based in Colorado Springs, Chris and I found an AirBnB to stay at to shorten our commute time. Even though we were an hour closer to the start line, we still had to wake up before the asscrack of dawn – like 4:00 AM.

As Chris drove us toward the start line, I felt like we were cheating as we were halfway to the top of Pikes Peak when we finally parked the car. The sun still hadn’t risen as we picked up our race tags from the registration tents. Because it was my first year racing, I didn’t know where the actual start line was and I never had time to pre-ride the course so I didn’t know what I was in for.

As I pulled out my trainer, I realized I left my Garmin at the AirBnB. You realize how dependent you are on things when you no longer have access to them. Luckily, I had my watch, but I was still perturbed by not seeing my watts, cadence, and heart rate updating in front of me as I warmed-up.

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The gran fondo participants took off before the racers, so I wished Chris good luck and told him I’d see him later. I joked with him saying, “I’m going to try to catch you.” I didn’t think I actually would since they started nearly an hour before.
The Cat 3’s were called up to the start line. All six of us. I don’t know why I always do this to myself, but I lined up in front. My only strategy was to copy what happened to me at the Guanella Pass Hill Climb: take off at the start line, drop everyone, and you know, hope they don’t catch up.

I’ve learned (the hard way) this season that I’m not the strongest hill climber.

So, I did just that. As soon as the ref whistled  (after what felt like a very long and uncomfortable silence as we waited for him to countdown to 3-2-1..), I shot off, of course, with a couple of other women. Since there were only six of us, I split the group in half. Another thing I seem to do far too frequently is hang out in front of the paceline.

I think it comes down to comfort. I don’t trust riding six inches off the wheel in front of me, unable to see what lies ahead. For some unexplainable reason, I prefer to be in the front, expending more energy than anyone else, but knowing what’s ahead. As soon as I realized I was in the front of the paceline, I tried weaving off the front and slowing down to allow the chicks behind me to go ahead. It wasn’t happening. They slowed down and weaved behind me.

I pulled over even father and slowed even more down. Finally, the two women passed me and I hopped on the back. Well, lucky me, I emptied the tank in the first five minutes believing I could keep a steady pace  while thwarting off the three racers we originally dropped.

I quickly lost the two women who originally broke off with me, so there I was, suffering alone.

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I thought to myself: “if no one else passes me, I’ll get third place.” A recurring thought I had when I was a Cat 4. I wasn’t okay with the thought, but then again, I didn’t feel the urge to try harder either. I knew I had a better chance of doing well in Sunday’s race and also realized I climb at a semi-truck pace.

As I passed the gran fondo participants, I looked at their wincing faces, slowly grinding through their third mile of 12. We hadn’t even passed tree line. If I was suffering, I knew these people were right there with me.

All of a sudden, heavy breathing and shifting gears roared behind me. It was the women’s Cat 1-2 passing me. As they pedaled past me like they were on ebikes, they offered a supportive, “you’re doing great!” “…thanks,” I laughed. I almost felt like they pitied me but as we cycled higher, the more supportive people became. I was inspired myself to breathlessly say, “keep going!” to the cyclists I passed.

So many times during these extra-challenging races (climbs up mountains), I consider quitting, throwing in the towel, and giving up. Too many times these thoughts filter into my conscious, especially when I know I’m in the back, about to be DFL, soloing the shit out of the course. It’s easier to quit to when you’re in the back. Everyone’s already passed you, no one’s going to know. That is, until they see results and next to my name it shows “DNF.”

When I think about seeing those three letters, DNF, next to my name, I look 100 feet ahead of me, and keep pedaling. When I want to quit, like in this race, I focused on the next turn. I look ahead and close the gap between me and the rider up ahead. I don’t let my thoughts pervade my mind. It’s too easy to let them control you when you’re 13,000 feet high, no life, just road and rocks and sky.

Then I saw Chris and instantly felt motivated. Since I joked in the morning about catching up to him, believing it’d never happen, and then actually catching up to him, I figured I wasn’t doing that bad.

In racing, when you find your strengths, you hone in on those races. Which means, this was a climber’s course and if you weren’t already fantastic at it, you were going to struggle against the women who also think they’re climbers. The women I lined up aside (and stupidly in front of) are climbers and I respect the hell outta them to push those watts. Frankly, I respect anyone who takes on any sort of race course, especially if this isn’t your forte.

As my category disappeared into the sky, I wondered what my strength was, because I was struggling this season as a mintly Cat 3. Other than endurance, I didn’t come up with a race-specific strength. So I asked myself, “what do I want to be better at? Where am I losing the race?” (Yes. There was infinite introspective during these 12 miles.) Reflecting back on the season, all the races came down to sucking at climbing and sprint finishes. Right then and there, among the wheezers, gaspers, and moaners, I decided this off-season that’s what I’d focus on.

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As I looked at my watch for mileage, seeing I still had probably a mile left of this horse shit, I looked up and saw a family of unicyclists. Inspired again, I finished the race, un-enthusiastically, assuming and accepting my DFL before the results posted.

I pedaled to the Pikes Peak sign and watched the excitement of cyclists raising their bikes above their heads, in a victory salute, for having pedaled up the second highest paved roads in Colorado. Realizing that some people can’t even handle driving up this with the thin air, gives you more of a sense of accomplishment having ridden it with a bike, powered by two legs and half-a-mind.

An Open Letter to the People Who Want Me Dead

I recently read Phil Gaimon’s post about his near-death experience with a car. It reminded me of a post I wrote a few years ago when I rode the Red Rocks Challenge.

———

Dear Deadbeat,

At the Red Rocks Gran Fondo last Saturday, I realized what’s on the inside of you will come out, eventually. Whether that be sadness, happiness, anger, or fear, we all have things in our lives that inevitably makes us who we are.

Some people have poison within them. Let’s be honest, we probably all have a little. This is a term I learned from Don Miguel Ruiz in “The Four Agreements.” It’s that negativity, hatred, and unhealthy thoughts that cloud your mind. The problem with this poison is that people don’t want it inside them and they think the only way to rid themselves of the poison is to pass it on to others.

The poison that came out of you last Saturday was hatred and it was spray-painted throughout our route.

cars

There are a lot of problems with this message, most notably the misspelling of “you.” That actually bothers me more than the message itself. If you seriously took the time to go to Michaels, to pick your favorite color out of the hundred of spray paint colors (and theirs must be blue), to drive out to this isolated road, in the middle of the night (because cowards don’t do these things in public – for fear of getting caught), hunt down the positive messages the volunteers already spray painted, to have your buddies hold the flashlight over your head so you could see the road as you spray painted, as you laughed and thought you were just the cleverest son of bitch this world has yet to know, and to go find the next positive message to do it all over again – surely, if you spent all this time and your parents’ money to spread your poison, you’d spell “you” right?

Maybe it’s one of those words for you: “Is it u-before-o or o-before-u?” It’s three letters. If you could go out of your way to spread your poison, commit to proper spelling. This isn’t a text message, you’re not restricted to a 140-character limit. You had the entire road and you chose to spray paint, “u.” By this measure, cars should kill “u.” The letter “u” didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just hangs out between “t” and “v.” They’re a happy group of characters. You, you’re not happy.

If I can look past “u” and see the message, you, the degenerate, was conveying, then it is clear that you want cyclists to die, specifically by cars.

If you did your research then you would see a study published by NHTSA that in 2014 726 bicyclists did die and 50,000 bicyclists were injured. If you did the math, which I’m also questioning your math skills, that’s roughly two cyclists that get killed and 142 that are injured every day.

I want you to imagine 144 people in a row and I know it’s probably hard for you to count that high, let alone envision 144 people who have a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, a kid or two, a home, a job, some friends; probably dreams and goals for their future. Do you have that in your thick skull? Do you see them smiling? Do they look happy? What are they wearing? Are they saying anything?

Now I want you to take a truck. Imagine the color, my guess is you’d choose blue. Is it diesel? Does it have a hemi? Does it have 4 tires? 6? What song is playing over the stereo? Imagine it all.

Got all that?

Visualize the 144 people alongside the road and take your blue truck with the music playing in the background and hit every. single. one. of. them. One by one, with your mirror, the front bumper, maybe run over a leg or two. I’m sure you pictured them on their bikes, so make sure you envision destroying their bikes as well. 142 people survived. Blood’s running down their knees, out their noses; squished raspberries clotting around their knees.

2 never stood back up. 2 bodies lay on the pavement motionless while the other 142 people groan and cry. 2 human beings that are no longer considered people, but a ‘body.’ They’ve lost their identity and their life. That’s what you want.

That’s what your misspelled message represents.

You are a sad person. Let go of the poison within you. The human beings, myself included, that rode our bikes on Saturday did nothing to you. I’ve never wished harm upon you or your family. I’ve never tried to hurt you or your family. The only thing I’ve ever done to someone on my bike is inconvenience them because they were forced to slowly and safely pass me on the road. I’m guilty of that.

I’m guilty of riding my bike on the shared roads that my tax dollars also go towards. I’m guilty of flipping off cars that pass me too closely or shout mean things to me as they drive by. But that’s it. I never wished harm upon another person. Even as a driver, I’ve never wished harm upon a cyclist.

And unfortunately for you, dear tagger, not all cyclists are as forgivable. The cyclists may ride out in drones now because you want them off the road.

I hope that your misspelled message isn’t responded to with more violence. Violence begets violence.

My hope is that us cyclists take the higher road, that we keep the rubber side down, and our chins up. You will not deter us.

Real Body Image Talk

Hi. My name is Jessica and I have a problem.

I cannot look at my body without having some sort of criticism. Today, I found some broken blood vessel on my face. It looks like a freckle but up close, it isn’t. I stretched the skin around, inspected it as if I was a scientist, reviewing cells under a microscope. I found the vein. I leaned away from the mirror to see if it was noticeable as it was up close. All I could imagine were varicose veins plaguing my face, like some kind of connect-the-moles game. I started to relive fifth grade again. When the kids made fun of the moles on my face: “Moley! Moley! Moley!” mimicking Austin Powers.

I used to think I had strong, muscular legs. That was until I had a body fat analysis scan that revealed most of my fat is in my legs. Oh, and arms. Now all I see are sausage legs in my cycling kit. I don’t look fast. I look fat. I look like when you stuff a giant pillow into a tiny pillow case – seams and material stretching, pushing maximum density, as it curves into itself.

I am more self-conscious now in shorts knowing full well that there’s more fat than muscles. And I rub the sides of my thighs a lot as if I could rub away cellulite like you do with scuff marks on the floor. Once I scuffed the floor from my bike tires. I tried all different kinds of solutions believing one of them would finally wash away the black rubber streaked across the laminate wood flooring. Finally, I took a butter knife and etched away at the black.

I can’t etch away cellulite.

When I walk, I can feel my inner thighs rubbing together. I know it isn’t muscle because of how much it jiggles. It’s soft and flimsy like silly putty. Only I can’t mold my thighs like a stone statue. And my thighs smash into each other when I sit – doubling in size. I try not to look down when I’m sitting because I know I’ll see a single thigh. One giant, jiggly, fatty thigh.

And I eat another piece of chocolate.

My shirts lay against my stomach just right where I can see the little bump that no matter the number of crunches, planks, or skipped meals, it stays there. I constantly tug at my shirt to hide it, pulling material loose. Using two hands sometimes to stretch the material if it hugs my belly too tight.

I’ll dig my thumbs into my hips trying to find the bone. Then pinching the excess that peeks over my jeans. If no one’s around, I’ll lift my shirt high enough and stare and scrutinize my midsection. Twisting and turning to view every possible angle in a desperate search to find the most flattering. Tightening my stomach, pushing it out, and sucking it in to find the right amount of contraction it’ll take to make it look flat. But it never gets as flat as I want it to. I look down and see that fucking bump every day.

And my gaze travels up. Up to my back where skin folds along my bra strap. Months and months of back strengthening exercises and there’s still back fat leering. Months of attempting to cut portions, match my carb-to-protein ratio, and staring longingly at cookies. Sometimes, I’ll reach behind with a false sense of optimism believing that I’ll be unable to pinch anything.

I call my breasts “orangutan boobs” and now you’re picturing it. A sign of getting older and the effects of gravity. I joke their small size keeps me aero on the bike. Always self-deprecating. Never self-appreciating. I also joke about my “bingo flab,” also known as triceps.

Again with the months of Tricep exercises believing that one day I’ll defy gravity and there won’t be loose skin hanging below my arms. That when I do the first place stance my arms will look strong and mighty, not droopy.

And while I complain about all the physical limitations and imperfections of my body, I never apologize for taking up space. Rarely do I complain to the general public about the size of my thighs or the numerous moles on my face. And when I get really fucking down about my body, I remind myself that at least I have a working one. It takes a single accident to lose it all. With all the activities I do, my flabby stomach drops when I consider what it’d be like to no longer ride my bike, hike, run, stretch, walk, and take care of myself. At that moment my eyes look at the blue sky instead.

Race Anecdotes: WMBAcos Purple Pursuit

“I’m not gonna win, but I may as well try,” I thought to myself after reading Good Guy Tubeless’ contest for a free entry into the Women’s Mountain Biking Association of Colorado Springs. “I never win contests” I said out loud as I tagged my teammate, Stacey, in the comments.

WTf-specific

While the “free entry” posted across my Facebook feed initially piqued my interest, what actually pulled me more into the post was the fact that this was for a women’s mountain bike race. The Purple Pursuit reminded me a lot of the Beti Bike Bash held earlier in the year, but on a smaller scale and located in the springs.

I love seeing events pop-up for the non-male cycling community, especially because there’s a need and a want. Every race I’ve attended (with the exception of female-specific races) it’s a total sausage fest. And while I have always been more of a “tom-boy” and typically have more male friends than WTf (women/trans/femme) friends, I want to see more WTf-friendly races, events, and gatherings. The WTf community needs to know there is space for them and races like The Purple Pursuit start that dialogue in the racing scene.

Paired with companies like Good Guy Tubeless who become allies in this quest for getting more people, especially WTf racing bikes, the community continues to grow.

I wasn’t planning on signing up

Let me preface this by telling you I primarily race road. Before The Purple Pursuit, I tried two mountain bike races. I’m definitely a beginner mountain bike racer. To be perfectly honest, I doubt I would have signed up to race The Purple Pursuit. And that’s important to know if we want to get more women racing their bikes.

Why wouldn’t I have signed up for this great, women-specific mountain bike race? One that offered food, prizes, a solid course, and generous support?

I didn’t want to pay to suck and/or lose. I didn’t know anyone else from my team racing. It was a far drive to the Springs from our house. I didn’t have time to preview the course. And I was burnt out from all my prior racing over the season. Mountain biking takes a completely different set of skills from road, plenty of which I am still completely clueless. I assumed I’d be the less-skilled beginner and it intimidated me.

With a free entry, all those worries fell to the wayside. Saving $45 on an entry justified the 55-mile drive and early wake up, and winning was no longer as important as the experience. Granted, I still wanted to win.

When Hannah of Good Guy Tubeless congratulated me on my win through Facebook messenger, I was shocked. Like I said, I never win anything. She asked for a photo and I had to dig deep to find a good mountain biking picture of me. I found one from my first mountain bike race that was also a free entry for me. It was gifted from my teammate Teena, who unfortunately, crashed in another race and couldn’t compete in Battle of the Bear. She offered it to me for free (saving me $70). Then I was given a “friends and family” discount code to Estes Epic that it felt like I was almost getting paid to race.

See a theme yet?

Lower the cost and barriers to entry for women and they’ll show up. Provide a fun atmosphere and unyielding support and they’ll show up. I guarantee you that I will race more mountain next season because of my experiences this year. I’m going from a “roadie for life” to “I’m a cyclist who races road, mountain, and I dabble in cross.”

The course

Since I signed up for the Beginner category, we had a 6-mile out and back, while the Intermediate and Advanced women had a 13-mile loop.

We started in a dirt parking lot near the stadium. There was a small hill I used to warm-up. The lively announcer caught Chris give me a kiss as were staged under the blow-up banner before the start.

My plan was to jet off at the beginning to get enough distance from the group so I could go slower downhill as I’m still getting used to that. The course was perfect for a beginner race. Nothing technical and no hike-a-bikes. There were tree roots to climb over, sandy sections, and calm downhills. I felt confident and I was hauling. Anytime I looked behind me there wasn’t a rider in sight.

As I passed volunteers, I’d hear “pedal!” and their cowbells. At one point, I found myself at 4.5 miles thinking, “when will I be turning back?” I finally ran into a woman who asked, “are you racing?” “Yeah, I’m a beginner.” Shocked, she told me, “you’re on the wrong course. This is the Intermediate course. You have to go back.” So I did. I went to the previous aid station and the guy didn’t know where I had to go so he told me to go back another aid station. So I did. That man didn’t know either. So I continued to backtrack, hearing my number over the walkies, feeling quite foolish.

I finally returned to the aid station where I was supposed to take a hard right (instead, I went straight). When I showed up, there were new flags and ribbon indicating where we had to go. Unfortunately, they weren’t there when I originally passed. The volunteers smiled and apologized for mistaking me for an intermediate racer and pointing me in the wrong direction.

I remembered this was the first time this race was ever put on so I couldn’t expect everything to go off without any hitch. I also realized that I was gifted an entry, for which I was grateful. I told myself as I flew down a steep double-track that this was all for fun.

Racing doesn’t need to only be focused on winning. I thought about the skills I was teaching myself as I navigated downhill through sandy tracks that pulled my front tire back and forth. It reminded me of cross practice in a sandpit. I looked around the forest and again, I was completely alone. I knew I was no longer in first, but at that point, I didn’t care.

The Awards

Inevitably, I came in third receiving a large rock with a purple plaque and a bike chain glued across as an award. It was original which I absolutely loved. They had decorated with purple balloons instead of a car or trash bins in the background.

My favorite part was the DFL AKA “The Perseverance Award” given to the racer who came in last place. Rarely is anyone stoked to come in last. For me, it’s nearly humiliating and demotivates me. But at The Purple Pursuit, it was celebrated. It was awesome seeing the women’s smiles as their names were called; the crowd cheering even louder.

That’s a way to get women to return to a race. Celebrate everyone.

The Schwag & Prizes

Not only did I receive my rock award, but I also got a glass and coozy simply for signing up. I always wonder how these mountain bike races make money with all the free goods they give away with registration.

As we waited for awards, there was a raffle as well. Spirits were high between the free booze and burgers, brauts, and veggie burgers. Again, believing I never win prizes, my name was called. I won! I chose a hat and gave it to Chris as a prize of his own for persevering through the day. I knew he was ready to go home.

This race became more about supporting organizations like the Women’s Mountain Biking Association of Colorado Springs and new racers. It was about challenging myself and learning new skills. It was about thanking companies like Good Guy Tubeless for gifting new racers like me an entry into a race they probably wouldn’t have done. And if I didn’t race, I would have missed out on meeting two pedal RACING teammates who I hadn’t met before who are total badasses.

Race Anecdotes: Littleton Twilight Criterium

I’m not a fan of crits with its tight turns, repeated 1-mile lap over and over and over again for forty minutes, and the crashing. Now, crits are no more dangerous than any of the other races. I know because the only time I’ve ever been in a crash was in an organized ride, not even a race. Unfortunately, for crits, they haven’t rid themselves of the stigma and I haven’t rid myself of it either.

Regardless, my team, pedal RACING, held our inaugural Twilight Criterium race in August and I couldn’t not be there.

Lining up to any race has my nerves running haywire, but this being my team’s race I felt an extra sense of pressure to perform better than ever.

And I fucked that up.

I didn’t want to race and at one point I was bored enough of hiding in the pack, dodging wind and women who didn’t hold their lines, I figured I’d take risks I normally wouldn’t.

One woman had sprinted off and no one wanted to chase her. After two laps, still feeling pretty energized, I sprinted off the front in an effort to catch her. As soon as I caught up, she thanked me, and I said, “we gotta go ‘cause they’re coming for us.” I said it as if we had a chance to fend off the rest of the pack for another 20 minutes.

The group caught us and there we were again: going in circles like some kind of merry-go-round. With about three laps to go, I was still feeling pretty fresh and strong. I took to the front of the pack.

Here was my thinking and probably why I’m still an amateur racer and not a pro:

I was going to sprint off the front of the group after the last turn before it became a straightaway. I assumed I’d get away for three laps to hopefully take the win.

I didn’t like crits so I had nothing to lose if this spur-of-the-moment strategy didn’t work.

So there I was, front and center of the pack, darting into the 90 degree turn (maybe at 20 mph), women all around, I’m so ready to dash off that I start pedaling before I had straightened my bike and click.

I strike my pedal against the pavement that jettisons me across the road straight toward the metal fencing, which is conveniently where my grandmother is sitting right behind. My family’s watching me fly directly toward them and the whole time this is happening, I’m thinking to myself: “how can I avoid breaking myself and my bike?”

The metal barriers are coming at me 20 mph, I’m fumbling with my handlebars attempting to gain control and turn before becoming one with metal, and at the absolute last moment before my tire and then my body plows into the fencing, I direct my bike left.

I’m still upright, unscathed, heart’s racing, and the pack of women I naively thought I’d leave in my dust are pedaling away.

I have a hundred voices yelling at me from all directions: “keep pedaling!” “Go go go!!” “C’mon McWhirt! You got this!” “Pedal!!!”

I start to pedal furiously again and nothing’s catching, I’m not moving forward. I look down at my chain and see it’s limp between my frame and crankset.

I pullover to set it back and still, people are screaming at me to “GOOO!” With trembling fingers, I manage to get the chain back on and I’m told to get a free lap because of a mechanical. I walk to the pit and am quickly rejected as we had less than 7 laps left.

The only reaction I could muster was a pathetic laugh: at the situation and at myself.

How did I honestly think I could pull-off what I whimlessly thought I could do? I felt like a joke.

Instead of moping, throwing my bike across the road, blaming someone else, or taking a DNF, I hopped back on my bike and started pedaling to finish the last rounds.

I came around the following corner and was directed by policemen, volunteers, and EMTs to stay to the left. Then I saw several women on the ground. I realized: that could have been me. I could have been in that crash. I saw one of the women who was sketchy during the race on the ground as well. I knew she would be involved in a crash based off the numerous times she cut me off through a turn and who knows who else – and it was clearly not a race tactic.

I pedaled passed the carnage and quickly caught up with the 4’s on my team. As they were soft pedaling at that point, I assumed this was the last lap.

Making my way around the turn that had it out for me, I saw the lap counter and there was still another lap to go. I tried giving it my all, to catch up to as many racers as I could, to smile at the people screaming my name and my team, all while trying to keep my shit together.

I crossed the line solo and somehow ended up in 11th out of 16. I assumed I’d come in DFL.

As my buddy, Anna, told me in my podcast, “race to fail.” To fail is to learn and as a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I’ve never been okay with failing. But as an avid learner, I constantly seek experiences that teach me about the world and about myself.

Sure, I tried a few different “tactics,” just to see what I could get away with.

Who knows how the race would have turned out if I didn’t drop my chain. But these things happen. But I did race to fail. I pushed myself. I tried breaking away from the group. I took sketchy turns. I raced out of my comfort zones. I recovered from a near-crash (thanks to mountain biking). And I didn’t eat pavement. And the best part was having all the support from my friends and family.