Grey clouds stretched across the sky as sweat poured down my face. I wished for dry weather. My interval timer lit up green, signifying a 60-second break before my next effort. Then a couple of drops fell on to the screen.
Please don’t rain. Please don’t rain. Please don’t rain. Droplets multiplied with each interval. Halfway through my warm-up, I could no longer decipher between sweat and rain.
I peered across the parking lot full of stationary cyclists. Heads bobbing and faces glistening from sweat and drizzle. Everyone staring at the ground unless a familiar face approached their little five-foot training zone.
I always want to look tough, for whatever egotistical reason. I guess it’s one of those beliefs that if I look the part, maybe I’ll act it. I have this fear of people thinking I’m weak so I assume if I act like I’m not gonna take anyone’s shit, no one will mess with me. I learned that back when I was in elementary school and was constantly ridiculed about the moles on my face. I taught myself that if I confronted the bullies first, they usually backed down. Then I became hard and people left me alone.
I rolled up to the start line, regretting not dressing warmer. They counted down: 5…look at all the fucking rain.
4…god, I hope my legs are ready.
3…just catch the women in front of you.
2…I don’t want to come in last.
Water attacked my face and my legs were already burning before I reached the woman in front of me.
I always wonder if I’m the only one whose legs burn prematurely, who wants to give up five minutes into the race, who hopes for a mechanical so I can blame something else other than my inabilities.
I pushed each pedal until I caught up with her. Water splashed in my face. I broke my aero position to wipe my glasses. The rain smeared away leaving foggy mildew behind. My breaths were no longer smooth. They were quick, short, like I had no air.
Losing my vision is my biggest fear.
This ride tested my mental fortitude of racing and not seeing in front of me. I imagined hitting a pothole, sending it over my handlebars, and breaking my neck. Every time I couldn’t see through my sunglasses, I thought I’d crash.
Between not wanting to come in last and not becoming a paraplegic, I was a ball of anxiety. Slowing way down at turns out of fear of slipping out and crashing, allowed the woman who started after me to catch up. I heard her shift gears, saw her out of the corner of my eye, and I knew I wasn’t doing as well as I’d hoped. We raced alongside each other up the hill, dodging piles of hail, puddles of rain.
“Don’t let her get ahead of you,” I thought. I’d gone too far to let her pass me at the end. I saw the orange cones ahead. I picked up my pace as she slowly drifted behind. I pedaled faster. I heard Stephen from inside the RV shout “go Jessica!” And I crossed the line.
The lady pulled over to tell me she didn’t realize it was the finish line. I’m not sure how you miss it, but that’s neither here nor there. I thanked her for inspiring me to work harder because I was mentally checking out before she caught up to me. “You pushed me harder at the end because I didn’t want you to pass me, so thanks for that.”
While I missed third place by 11 seconds, I learned that you can let fear control you or you can control fear. I realize too often I let fear imprison me. I slow down out of fear. I ease off wheels out of fear. I can’t clip in at the start of the race out of fear.
But fear is a choice. And every time we face fears, there’s one less thing that controls us.