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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: Sunshine Hill Climb

9 miles. 6 miles on paved road. 3 on dirt. 3,000 feet of elevation gain.

I continually try to to convince myself that I’m a hill climber. Sure, I do them. I sickly enjoy the burn in my quads and hammies when I’ve been turning the pedals for miles on end, unable to see the top of the hill, wishing for it to level off, sweat dripping from my nose, my chin, my hair.

But riding hills and racing hills are two very different animals. During a ride, if you’re fatigued, you lay off the watts and cadence to catch your breath and simmer the fire stoking in your legs and lungs. In a race, the moment you pull back is the perfect time for another rider to attack.

I race my bike because it gives me a sense of control. I control the outcome of my race. I send the signals to my body to back off or push harder. It has always felt the opposite when it comes to my life: events out of my control influencing the direction of my life.

But that’s kind of bullshit.

Just like we can choose to push harder or ease off in a race, we can choose what happens in our lives. So many of us blame the world, the economy, friends, family, “god,” for the good and bad, but in reality, it’s only us.

This is what I think about when I’m racing. It’s what I thought about during the Sunshine Hill Climb. Otherwise, I’m counting my pedal strokes. I’m trying to control my breathing. I’m feeling the drop of sweat slide down my forehead, over the tip of my nose, and settle in the dip above my lip. Or it slides into the corner of my eye; the uncomfortable burn that no amount of blinking rids you of the irritation. And of course, during a race, I have a difficult time moving my giant “Terminator” sunglasses to rub my eye, so I blink and blink and my eyes tear up, and then there’s only a slight burn.

The seven of us lined up where the official pointed. I joked, as I always do before a race, for Cassidy to pull us up the hill. As soon as the official blew the whistle, Cassidy took off. I told myself I’d try to keep up with her as long as I could.

I don’t like being uncomfortable.

I stayed on Cassidy’s wheel for about a half mile before my legs started screaming, “no.” Laura was right behind me and when I dropped off, Laura followed Cassidy. I tried keeping Laura insight while also staying ahead of Andie.

As Laura disappeared from sight, Andie was gaining on me.

You should know how the story goes by now: I let my self-defeating thoughts have the best of me. I called myself a loser because I couldn’t keep up with the stronger 3’s. We hit the dirt and they were gone. With every switchback, my confidence shrunk.

“How do they do it?” I thought. Surely, I wasn’t the only one in pain, losing the breakaway.

It’s times like these where you need to stay positive, to break down the race into manageable pieces, to actually trust your training, and most of all, have fucking fun.

I usually forget the most important aspect which is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, why are you doing the thing you’re doing? Life can be taken away from you at any moment so why spend it doing shit you don’t want to do?

So I smiled and cheered on Darrell as I finished the last 1K up the hill. Anna was there to cheer me on at the finish line. I saw my teammates and we shared our racing stories. We descended together and parted ways at the bottom.

It was when I pulled up to Chris waiting for me at the bottom of the hill, lounging under a tree, that I understood why I do this: because I love the challenge. I love knowing I control the outcome. I love the friends I’ve made through racing. I love how much stronger I’ve become because of it. And mostly, I have someone always cheering me on when I can’t muster the stoke myself.

Battle of the Bear: My First Mountain Bike Race

I had given up on the idea of racing a mountain bike after choosing the Guanella Pass Hill Climb over the Beti Bike Bash. The Beti Bike Bash has a race category specific to women who have never raced before. I was all about that because mountain biking intimidated the shit out me. To factor racing in totally freaked me out.

I thought that if I could take on a race with other first-timers, it wouldn’t be as humiliating as opposed to racing another course with experienced athletes. At least if I was going to suck, I’d have the camaraderie with other noobs.

When I saw one of my teammates, Teena, offering her registration to Battle of the Bear, it was hard to pass up. Especially when my husband was also planning to race it. I was originally planning on racing the Senior State Time Trial Championship which was the same day as the Battle of the Bear, so it came down to racing a 40K Time Trial to prove I was better than last year (DFL last year) or racing 16 miles on a mountain bike having absolutely no clue as to how that race would turn out. I opted to throw myself out of my comfort zone (and hopefully not off my bike) in a big way and race my first-ever mountain bike course.

I asked and verified with my teammates the technical difficulty on the course as I’ve never ridden the mountain bike trails in Breckenridge (note: this race was rescheduled and relocated due to a storm on the originally scheduled date). I knew my weaknesses were downhill and weird, technical spots on trails. I certainly wasn’t going to huck myself into a race that would be absolutely above my abilities and therefore, making it completely miserable. I knew I could take some misery, but not 16 miles worth.

When I received the email notification that Teena transferred her registration to me, boy, did the butterflies start whirling around in my belly.

I told Chris we had to preview the course before the race. There was no way I was going into this blindly. Chris, on the other hand, was comfortable with the unknown. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) with road races, I’ll neglect to preview courses. And usually it doesn’t work out in my favor. At the very least, if I was going to give mountain bike racing a try, I sure as shit was going to see what I was getting myself into.

Saturday morning we packed up and drove to Breckenridge (which, in hindsight, we probably should have found a hotel room so we didn’t have to drive so far). On the drive up, it hadn’t quite settled in that I would be hauling ass over trails. I had no idea what the course was like, other than what my teammates promised; which was, “You’ll do great. It’s not techy at all.”

Luckily, the race organizers had the signage up, making it easier to learn the route. Within the first ten minutes, we hit a pitchy climb and it continued. This is where I do well. I can do climbs. There were more climbs and I was feeling good. I kept up with the group although the quads burned a little. (Note: I only have flat pedals on my mountain bike so it’s all quads.) About a mile in I was like, “Sweet. I got this.” And then we hit the downhill, which, as a Roadie, fucks with my head too much. And I know I let it.

And it couldn’t just be a downhill; it had to be a downhill coupled with sand and tight turns, a combination of worst-case scenarios for a roadie. On pavement, you would never see a cyclist take a tight turn with sand sprinkled all over, let alone a pit of sand (unless, of course, they’re racing cross, and they already know it’s there). That’s a straight line to blood, bruises, and broken bikes.  

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So there I am, inching my way down this twisty, turny trail at a snail’s pace. It would have been faster if I just walked it. I wanted to “session” the section so I could figure out the best line or at the very least, get a tiny bit more comfortable with it. But by the time I caught up with the group, they started rolling out. Any confidence I had on the uphills quickly eroded – much like the sand that used to be rocks.

I think Chris realized my anxiety when he saw me death-gripping my handlebars as I traversed the sandy pit of hell. He reared up behind me and reminded me that a lot of racers struggle uphill so that’s where I needed to focus because that was my strength. I needed to “stop fixating on my weaknesses and to race to my strengths.”

We continued previewing the course, my confidence steadily waning. I kept telling myself that this was supposed to be fun. If I wasn’t having fun, why was I doing it?

There was one rocky section toward the end. The group sat at the bottom, watching me descend, which makes anyone nervous. “Don’t stryder. Don’t stryder.” I wanted to put my feet down, but with the pressure from my audience, I kept my feet on the pedals. I knew this part could make or break the race for me.

The last section of the course was like, a bmx park. It’s obvious I don’t mountain bike often. I don’t know the terms. There were berms and it winded back and forth. I could have jumped off a couple hitters, but I tapped my brakes instead.

We rode underneath the official finish line and my nerves were still rattling. Previewing the course made me more nervous about the race, but I was also happy to know what to expect.

My legs felt heavy from the first loop so we decided to stop after one go-around instead of going through it a second time.

After picking up some grub from King Soopers, Chris and I drove all the way back down to Littleton. I didn’t sleep well that night. 

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As we packed the car, Littleton weather was beautiful. Which is why I neglected to bring cold-weather gear. It was a tough lesson when we rolled up to registration, wind gusting, cold rain tapping against my sunglasses, and the hairs on my arms standing at high salute.

I quickly realized how different mountain bike racing is from road racing. Unlike road races, mountain bikers were chatting away, drinking beer, and taking naps. I kept looking at my watch, wondering what time we’d start warming-up.

And there wasn’t much of a warm-up. I think I went up and down the same hill six times before lining up to chat some more. As we grouped together, I checked out everyone’s calves and saw that I was only racing two other women (also, unlike road, they mark your calves for your category and age group).

The ladies joked that all we had to do was finish and we’d place. I didn’t want to place that easily. Like road, I wanted to earn my placement. If I was going to land on the podium, it was because I worked my ass off for it. Because in the road races, I’ve worked my ass off and still ended up in dead fucking last place.

I watched Chris line up ahead of me and as soon as the whistle was blown, he was gone.

My goal was to stay on Kristi’s wheel as long as I could. I knew uphill wouldn’t be an issue. It was the downhill. She’s a strong rider so I had my work cut out for me.

The whistle blew and us seven women shot off. I was on Kristi’s wheel, just like I planned.  We quickly dropped the rest of the women. I wanted to pace myself, but I wanted to stay with Kristi more. We caught up to the men within the first ten minutes of racing. I didn’t think I’d say, “On your left” at all, but I called it out several times as Kristi and I pedaled up the first steep hill.

I shook as I kept speed with Kristi, focusing on her torso, watching her seamlessly weave around rocks and slightly brushing against bushes that lined the trail. She stopped several times from some mechanical problem, apologizing each time I slowed down with her. I was doing well until we reached the twisty, sandy downhill. She was off like the White Rabbit and I was Alice wondering where the hell she went.

Slowly traversing down, trying my damndest to stay loose, Marc and the men we previously passed, caught up to me. I pulled over and told them to go. Marc yelled, “You’ve got this, Jessica! Trust your bike!”

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I knew he was right, but I also knew my back tire was sliding and I hated it. They took off, leaving me in the sandy pit of hell I thoroughly remembered from the day before.

I knew I’d catch up with them on the fire road and told myself so. I tried convincing myself I was fearless, that my bike and I, would be fine. I took the last few turns and saw them on the hill ahead of me.

The fire road was simply an uphill dirt road. I saw the men ahead of me. I took a sip of water and kept pushing my pedals, slowly cutting the distance between us. I caught up to them on a very short yet very steep hill. I didn’t have enough momentum to pedal up so I jumped off the bike and started running up the hill.

Marc and Simon both yelled, “You got this, Jessica!” And I yelled back, “Let’s go, guys! Come on!”

I jumped on Marc’s wheel. “Let me know when you’re ready to pass!” He said. We came to another hill and I took off. We continued leapfrogging through the first lap. They’d drop me on the downhills and I’d pass them going up.

Kristi was long gone but I knew that would happen.

As we pedaled under the main banner, signifying our second lap, seeing my mom and Dean, posing for Kyle’s photo, I told myself I couldn’t keep leapfrogging Marc and the guys. I knew it was messing with everyone’s race. I knew I had to buck up, stay loose, and trust my bike. So I pushed harder on the uphills and loosened my grip on the downhills. I felt like I was flying (really, I wasn’t that much faster than the first lap but our brains like to play tricks).

I tried looking ahead on the trail instead of directly in front of my tire. In a few of the sketchy sandy spots on tight turns, I threw my foot down to help with the turn. I had nothing to prove to anyone and if using my toe to keep me comfortable made me go faster, then so be it, I thought.

Every time I saw a racer ahead of me, I’d take it up a notch and catch up to them.

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My quads screamed. My lungs burned. And my hands shook from adrenaline.

One section was a steep, sandy downhill, with washboards. On the first lap, two dudes yelled at me to let go of the brakes. The second time I rolled around, they yelled at me again. I yelled back saying I was a roadie and to hush it, semi-jokingly, of course.

As I took off, their departing words were, “Sweet tattoos!”

I spent the next five minutes ruminating over those two dudes who found it easy to tell someone how to ride, yet they were standing on the sidelines. It’s always easier said than done.

As I took a second to catch my breath, I looked up at the sky and saw the mountains encircling me. It was clear why mountain biking is preferred by my husband. No cars. Just nature.

And then I was thrown back into the reality of racing when I came upon the rocky downhill section that freaked me out. This time I was ready for it. I lowered my saddle and followed the line clearly taken by all the bikers before me. No one was around but I still felt the pressure to stay on my pedals. And I did just that.

Shaky and exhausted, I shifted up and kept pedaling. My goal was simply to finish unscathed and not totally ashamed of my performance. I crossed the finish line without expectations and a cheering crowd. I kissed my husband, gave Jim his gloves and Kyle his arm warmers, and hugged my mother. We continued to cheer as other racers rolled in. We reminisced on tough sections, sketchy descents, and funny moments. Then Chris offered to get my timing receipt for me.

Chris handed me my race report. I finished first.

I was shocked and excited. No way in hell did I think I could pull off a first place in a mountain bike race when it totally terrified me. But this race was less about my placement and more about the experience. And while I was full of stoke as a climbed up to the top step, I was also regretful that I rarely give myself credit for the road races.

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The mountain bike race was a way to try something new with no pressure or expectations. I didn’t expect anything of myself except to finish. I’ve never patted myself on the back for finishing a road race. If I don’t land on the podium, I feel like a failure. If I come in Dead Fucking Last, I usually sulk and maybe cry behind sunglasses when no one’s looking. I take road racing too seriously and I think it’s because I have these lofty goals of becoming some sponsored racer where I get to travel the world and ride my bike. I’d love that.

And when I’m not excelling, I realize that dream may only ever be a dream.

I applaud myself for my mountain bike racing efforts because I don’t have those same goals with mountain biking as I do with road racing. I’m thankful to have another form of biking that I can just enjoy while also pushing myself. I’ll keep Road where it’s at: serious and my number one passion. Mountain biking will stay as my let-loose sport where I can cheer on teammates while we race along the course; where I can enjoy the beautiful scenery as I pedal and gasp for air; where I can leave for the day without a podium and still be proud of my efforts.

PHP: voluntarily kicking your own ass before the sun comes up

For at least the past year, I was consistently told, demanded, and jokingly harangued to join the pedal RACING men on this unofficial-yet-has-an-official-name ride Tuesday and Friday mornings near Cherry Creek State Park. And for eleven months, I found excuses to avoid it: “Gotta work,” “maybe next time,” and my favorite: “one of these days, I’ll join you.”

I knew it was a sausage fest and the thought of hammering out the watts elbow-to-elbow with testosterone-pumping broski bros didn’t turn me on like it did my male counterparts.

I didn’t see the benefit of waking up at the asscrack of dawn, trying to find the elusive meeting spot, only to potentially make a fool out of myself or crash or hell, maybe both.

Then one of my female pedal RACING teammates swallowed her pride and dropped all apprehension and joined the dudes. After seeing her activity glittered with kudos and Strava bling, I had immediate FOMO. Kinda what social media does to us, right?

All the encouragement and positive comments convinced me that, sure, I can at least give it a try once to see what it’s all about. Not to mention the fact that this season as a Cat 3 has been exceptionally soul-crushing and challenging watching my competitors leave me in the dust as I suck [wind].

From all the mediocre finishes, I was desperately seeking another type of training that’d increase my speed, skills, and maybe confidence. The pedal RACING guys had been telling me the past year how PHP would make me faster and it wasn’t until I saw my female pedal teammate speak highly of this impervious ride-but-actually-it’s-a-race-for-us-newbies that I realized, “shit, if I try to ride [operative word being “try”] this with faster people, maybe I’ll get faster.” Sure, we all have to figure these things out on our own.

So I hardened the fuck up (Rule #5) and on May 22nd, I joined my first PHP ride. The meet-up was on the bridge at Cherry Creek and Holly. I didn’t see a single person when I drove past looking for a parking spot. Am I in the right spot? I frantically thought.

I parked alongside the road and scanned passing cyclists for any hint of a gathering. I applied my chamois cream, buckled my helmet, slid on my shades, and started my Garmin as I attempted to look like I knew what I was doing and where I was going.

I slowly rolled up to the bridge five minutes ‘til and there were two dudes hanging out. Seriously, five minutes before and no one is here? I’m totally at the wrong spot. I finally mustered up the courage to ask one of the guys if this was the meeting spot for PHP. He smiled, “yep.”

And like clockwork, 60 (that’s a rough estimate) cyclists appeared out of nowhere. Just in time to Hammer. I found my teammates who were both shocked and excited to see me finally own up to my word. Then the game plan was laid out for me: “this is just the warm-up before we get to the park.” “Watch out for the potholes. It’s the worst right here.” “You’ll get dropped up the first hill. It happens to everyone. Just wait at the top for the group to come back.” “Oh, the ‘S’ turn. You want to be toward the front because it’s like an accordion. If you’re on the back at the ‘S’ turn, you’ll get dropped. That’s what happened to me.”

Loads of tips were offered as I tried keeping pace during their “warm-up.” Of course I wouldn’t keep up at the first hill. It was race-pace for me. I could only speak a few words before another giant breath.

“The fuck did I get myself into,” I thought, as we made our way down Colorado Blvd.

We rolled into a parking lot just outside of Cherry Creek State Park to reconvene. I was told sometimes they broke into A and B groups. This time they didn’t. A couple of other teammates showed up and we started rolling out as a giant peloton-ish group.

As soon as wheels touched the perimeter of Cherry Creek, it was full gas. I picked a Jersey in front of me and held on. Luckily, drafting kept me on the pace line.

The group rides the Cherry Creek Time Trial course, which I’m quite familiar with, so I knew where the hills were and sections of the road to avoid. As the first Hill was coming up, I kicked it down a gear (high cadence, lower power) and tried to keep up with the quickening pace.

Men flew by me on my left, they flew by on my right, and the rest of us left on the hill, pushed and pulled on our pedals, trying in vain, to reach the top of the hill before the peloton was completely gone. Our heavy and rapid breathing became a choir of novices and determination.

I was dropped.

The peloton was nearly at the bottom of the hill by the time I recovered. My buddy, Zuzana, and I, collected ourselves, and followed the group down the road.

We watched the giant mob grow smaller and smaller and just like that, it was like the group of 50 men were never there.

Too proud to not do the full route, I zoomed around the lollipop loop with a couple of other stragglers. We formed a small group of three as we pedaled up the second Hill (which, on later rides, I would eventually be dropped) desperately seeking the peloton.

We didn’t even know what direction they went, so we guessed. We didn’t know which road to take to get back to our cars either. As we biked back to the entrance of Cherry Creek, we saw several dropped riders, like discarded litter on the side of the road. One man was headed back to the elusive meeting spot where he was also parked, so we jumped on his wheel.

The meeting spot was as bare after the ride as it was before.

As soon as I was back to my car and uploaded my ride to Strava, the kudos, the bling, and the comments poured in. I PR’d segments on the route I didn’t even realize.

I saw the others with whom I started the ride and kudo’d them. It was like I had been initiated into a secret society that anyone who follows them on Strava knows about. My own friends asked what PHP was and I had to tell them I had no idea what it stood for, but… then I’d detail the crazy ride I experienced.

I’ve since started commuting to PHP with a few men from my team. It’s about ten miles from the Littleton meeting spot to the PHP meeting spot. The guys told me it’s also a warm-up to PHP, but by the time we get to the bridge, I’m drenched in sweat, I’ve QOM’d segments, and my glasses are foggy from my warm face. Then PHP commences. I follow that with a ride on Cherry Creek path to work. I end up clocking in about 54 miles by the end of the day.

I’ve only seen a few other women ride at PHP, notably two Cat 2 women from Palmares who seem to be regulars. I could see why this would intimidate anyone who just started racing: you’ve 60 amateur cyclists trying to be like the pros, riding on public roads, 99% are dudes, testosterone is raging, and you’re privy to crashes.

One time I joined a B group actually formed. Some people think the B group is slower, but I work harder in this group because I actually get a turn to pull. It was both a good and bad experience. It was good because it was bad. It taught me how to handle myself and my bike around people who didn’t.

The men didn’t understand how a paceline worked and once they came to the front, they’d take off. The group would break up, there were no longer two lines, and we had to reel them back in. Halfway through the the route, I was sick of no one calling them out and I was concerned for my safety. I finally asked this one older dude, dressed in his green PHP kit (to prove his seriousness and dedication to an elusive bro’s club), if he was part of the paceline because he kept shooting off the front.

He growled back at me, “I’ve been doing this for ten years. Don’t tell me what to do!” Now, 18-year-old Jessica would have opened a bottle of verbal whoopass. 29-year-old Jessica swallowed her pride and bit her tongue hard enough to draw blood. Instead, I told him, “calm down, it’s just a ride.” Another teammate of mine tried to settle him down as well as a Palmares racer rode next to me and very loudly said, “For what it’s worth, you’re fucking right and he’s wrong.”

I tried to not let the dickhead ruin the rest of the ride. But it also made me realize it’s guys like that who turn women off from joining PHP. To men, it seems like it’s all about comparing not just dick sizes, but bikes. I know women can be combative, catty, and of course, competitive. But for a woman to join PHP, it’s much more than riding with the bros. We want to get faster. Stronger. We want to learn skills. And there aren’t many opportunities for a woman to do that in a big group setting. When there are women’s workshops, we’re lucky to hit double digits.

I think the fear is what I worry about each time I go to PHP: being the only one who can’t keep up. Getting in a crash. Not having anyone I know there.

Luckily, I have teammates who care about my wellbeing and are great examples of how to treat others in the peloton. They hold their line, they call their pass, they tell me where I need to go.

Each time I’ve joined PHP, I’ve been able to stay with the group longer, which says something about where my fitness is going. My good cyclist friend, Anna, tells me all the time to ride with guys because it’ll make me faster. And I think I found the guys who will do just that.

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Race Anecdotes: Separating the Women from the Weak

The Koppenberg is one of the Colorado Spring Classics you love to hate. If you race cross or are just damn good on dirt, this race is for you. The course description claims two miles of the 5.5 mile circuit is dirt but it felt like eternity racing over washboard-esque roads, dodging potholes, and slipping through sand. Dirt is not my forte. Frankly, up until the Oz Road Race last year, I did everything in my power to avoid any and all dirt.

I realized that avoiding things that scared me was a waste of time and energy. I also didn’t want to let fear control me. You don’t grow stronger by avoiding the things you fear. I certainly wasn’t going to become a stronger racer by dodging any race with dirt. I knew I wasn’t going to make Top 3 in this race and it tormented me. I have this awful habit of believing that if I’m not first, I’m last. I’m great at not giving myself credit for well, anything. Perfectionism is a silent spirit killer.

The other women lined up next to me, our elbows damn near touching. I was left without room to even lift my leg to clip in. I let the pressure get to me. I couldn’t clip in. I was bumped from behind and the women sprinted away. So not the Cat 4/5 Race I was used to from last year. Doubts flooded my mind before we even got to the dirt 1/4 mile away.

I tried to let go of the fear wrapping around me as I bounced and slid along the gravel road. “Try to hang on” I whispered to myself. “Stay relaxed” I said. All these stupidly positive, yet realistic things I’d say to a teammate who was in the hurt locker.

I lost the main group. I fell behind with other women who were hurting as much as me. I ended up in 11th. I won’t even repeat the shitty things I told myself. Chris already ripped up my “victim” card. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I forced myself to learn from this perceived failure.

1. Train hard if you want to race hard

I decided that I’m not training hard enough to compete on this Cat 3 level. I knew this season was going to be harder, but until you’re in the trenches (almost literally at the Koppenberg), you’ve no clue what the race will be like.

I thought my training was solid. I had a practiced a few intervals. I tested my FTP. I was strength training. I thought it was enough. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

I’m realizing every time I think my workout is too hard and dial it back, I know there’s a woman training harder who I’ll race against later. Every time I skip a workout, there’s a woman extending hers. I’ll race against her as well.

Training is an adaptive process. Continually pushing your body teaches it to adapt to the new stressors placed upon it. So, if you want to change your body, you need to stress it to a new level so it adapts. If you don’t consistently stress it, your body won’t become stronger. Naturally, it also needs rest, but that’s another entry.

During training is where you teach your body to adapt to new stressors. Training your body under the same conditions of a race prepares it to perform under the same stressors when it comes to performing. If I only kept my power output at say, 100 watts, my body wouldn’t know how to perform at 540 watts (what I put out on the 17% grade).

If you want to perform at the highest level possible, you have to create that environment during your training.

2. Eat for performance

I’m a snacker. I love snacks. Snacks can be great, but some of the snacks I’ve been eating lately haven’t been the best (shoutout to Goldfish!) for my performance. What you put in to your body will reflect on the outside. It’s obvious when you look at someone who has a lot of extra fat on their bodies. No judging. That’s just the way it is. If you eat too much, it will become fat. Other health and performance problems are exacerbated when the food you choose is processed crap.

I know by treating my body like a garbage disposal it will perform like the one in our sink. Food’s clogging it up. It doesn’t have enough power to cut through it all and perform to its potential. We’re probably going to have to replace it soon. Unlike garbage disposals, I can’t replace my body. This is the only one I have. I have written about what sugar and processed food does to your body. You can read more here.

If you treat your body like a trashcan, it’s going to perform like one.

3. Learn to suffer

I buckle when it gets too hard. I ease off. It’s the truth. I don’t like to be in pain as much as my tattoos would lead you to believe that I love it. Tattoos are a different kind of pain though. The physical exertion in a race affects your entire body whereas a tattoo is concentrated in one spot. They are both mentally fatiguing though.

Again, learning to suffer comes through training. You have to teach yourself to push on even though you want to stop or back off. I know when my mind tells my legs to ease up is when I need to force them to carry on. Our minds, our thoughts, are strong as hell. Your brain has the power to convince you of anything. If you believe you’re weak, your brain sends that to your body and it reacts appropriately. The same is true when you think you’re strong. Your body will believe it. Just like when you learn anything, it takes practice. It takes review. It takes repetition. You can’t line up in the race and decide right then and there that you can suffer.

It’s an art.

Learn to suffer. I recommend two books if you’re a reader like myself: 1. The Brave Athlete. 2. Thinking Body, Dancing Mind. These two books are helping me learn to suffer in a healthy way and how to be a successful athlete.

4. Work on weaknesses

When you race you learn your weaknesses. As much as I’d prefer others not to know my weaknesses and use them against me, I know these weaknesses aren’t specific to me. A lot of people are working through the same weaknesses: racing on dirt, sprint finishes, climbing, and cornering.

I’m human. I’m not perfect (as much as I dislike thinking this). There are things (okay, a lot of things) I need to work on to improve my performance.

Because of this race, I now know what I need to improve. If I competed in the race and threw in the towel there, I wouldn’t grow. I won’t become stronger by giving up. Instead, I’m focusing my efforts now on sprinting during my training. I know I need to practice putting out high watts on dirt. And I need to get comfortable taking corners full speed.

By working on your known weaknesses you’ll become that much stronger and perform better in your next race.

5. Be gentle yet stern

I’m mostly just as asshole to myself. I apologized to my family for coming out to the race and see me finish 11th. I felt guilty for taking up their time to not land on the podium.

I called myself a “failure,” “weak,” and a “poseur.” What do you think that’s doing to my psyche? Talking down to ourselves like that affects our bodies. If I keep telling myself those shitty things, I’m going to continually perform that way too.

I know I would never speak to a teammate like that. And if someone else came up to as soon as I crossed the finish line to tell me, “Jessica, you’re weak.” I’d tell them to go fuck themselves. So why do I talk to myself like that? As the saying goes, “we’re our biggest critics.” Instead, we should be our biggest fans.

Be stern though. Don’t baby yourself either. Pat yourself on the back but also look at what you could have done better. There will never be a time where you go, “There is nothing I could have done better.” Ever. And if you say that to yourself, you’re in denial. No, that’s not just a river in Egypt.

Give yourself credit for having the guts to go out there in the first place. You’re doing far better than the people on their couches watching Real Housewives of whatever.

6. Get rid of excuses

When I found out who won, the excuses started flying as fast as Kristin Armstrong. “She’s half my age.” “They probably have a Coach.” “They didn’t have to deal with a dying cat last night.” “They have more time to train.” Truly, these were thoughts. And they are all bullshit.

Have you heard the line, “Excuses are like assholes. Everyone has one and they all stink.”? I first heard that in high school. I laughed because visualizing that is gross, but it set in and I’ve been using that line ever since.

I found out that the second place winner doesn’t have a coach, she uses Zwift. I also have Zwift. No excuse to not perform better.

No one has more time in a day than anyone else. We all have 24 hours in a day. What makes the biggest difference is how you use the hours. If I dedicated all my free time to training, I’d probably be stronger, but I don’t.

The honest to bob truth is that I’m just not as strong as the women who won. Boom. My ego shudders to write that.

7. Each setback is a lesson

Knowledge is power.

Applying knowledge is a whole other story.

What separates the women from the weak is having enough self-awareness to realize your short-comings and then doing something about it. You can totally learn your weaknesses and do absolutely nothing about it. I know plenty of people who know they have to work on something specific, something they know will help them in the long run, but they don’t do it. They’re comfortable where they’re at. Those people never amount to anything great.

Adversely, the people who see a setback as a failure and give up are never going to amount to anything either. Failures and setbacks are lessons. It’s data. Information you can use to improve. If you did everything perfect from the get-go, you’d learn nothing. Failure always comes before success. And if you want to succeed faster, fail often.

Don’t be afraid to fail. The most successful people failed often. Do you think Kristin Armstrong showed up at the Olympics one day and won all her golds? Hell no. Or Peter Sagan? Hell, that guy gives zero fucks. He was kicked out of the Tour de France and then went on to win the Paris-Roubiax. Every single person who is now considered a pro or a success has failed. We’re no different from professionals in the land of failure. They just failed and learned faster.

As I lined up amongst the other racers I told myself to “fake it.” “Don’t let them see you sweat” and by bob, I was sweating. My legs burned. My lungs were on fire. And we pressed on.

Excuses are like assholes

You aren’t working out because you don’t want to. It’s just not a priority for you. Own it. We only have 24 hours in a day and we all prioritize them differently.

The biggest excuse (and yes, that’s what it is) I hear is: “I don’t have time to workout.”

You do.

The problem is that you don’t want to spend your extra time working out. I get it. I was once like that. I thought walking 500 steps from car to school was a workout.

Back in high school, my best friend wanted me to join soccer with her. I remember thinking I didn’t have the time after school to go to practice. And the games. And all the days/nights spend running around. Instead, I thought going to cafes and punk rock shows were more valid uses of my time. Mosh pits and chai teas were my priorities.

I didn’t want to workout. It seemed like a chore or something my mom would make me do when I talked back. I associated working out with pain and sweat and my 16-year old mind thought, “ew. Gross.” I did not want to find time to go through that.

My friend finally convinced me to go to a soccer try-out with her. I distinctly remember the coaches walking us to the stairs that my crew hung around and I thought, “why the fuck are we going over to the stairs? We’re not running up that shit, are we? No way. I’m not doing this.”

So there I was, running up and down these stairs that I only ever used to get to my next class or hangout at the bottom. And I was panting, sweating, and cursing my friend for dragging me to this. I felt awful and as I made my way to the bottom I told myself that once I reached the top again I was booking it around the corner and running away from this bullshit.

Five steps from the top I was ready. I was ready to dart away and be done. I semi-considered how the other girls would react to this vanishing act I so quickly invented as I gasped for air and that top step. Then I took off. I ducked behind a railing and heard a girl yell, “a girl just ran away.” Yup. Sure did.

Then I army-crawled down the hall, later finding my punk rock friends haphazardly rolling a cigarette. Like I said, I didn’t have the time for sports.

What changed? The inner tube growing around my waist was a pudgy nudge to get my ass moving. I did 30 minutes three times a week in Undergrad. That was plenty, surely, to lose weight and stay fit. I worked out to YouTube videos that were definitely under 30 minutes. Anything that creeped over that 30-minute mark were skipped. Who has time to do a 34-minute video? A new cafe just opened up on Broadway and their untasted chai tea had my name on it.

Unbeknownst to my ignorance, the chai I later drank did away with whatever no-greater-than-30-minute YouTube video burned. I wasn’t seeing results and I heard once that weights were good, so I signed up at Bally’s for $10 per month with my mom.

I had no idea what to do with the racks on racks of weights, the sweat-stained machines, and weird cardio equipment I never heard of before (rower? TF?). I started Googling and teaching myself how to lose weight, gain strength, and grow muscle.

I started going every other day, slowly carving more time out of my day so I could workout at the gym, even adding a weekend into the mix. My mother started doing weights with me and we tried new moves. I began to add weight to my lifts and ventured away from the 30-minute workout to 40 minutes to 50 and so on.

Then I met Jared who probably revolutionized my training routine. I made fun of him at first for how often he trained and how meticulous he seemed about health and fitness. Tracking your workout? With a smart watch? My money was still going to concerts and chais.

Then I got on a bike and fell in love with Bullseye (their name). I wanted to improve on my bike. I remember seeing Jared taking selfies, talking on the phone, texting, adjusting his bibs while he waited for me. I hated being the “slow one.” I felt uncomfortable knowing I was messing with someone else’s workout. I was determined to get stronger.

I started training specifically for cycling, carving out more time from my day to dedicate to riding my bike AND weight lifting because strong legs meant faster legs. The time that was once devoted to chai tea lattes and blaring music in spilled alcohol and grimey dance floors began to shrivel compared to my “training” time.

For the first time, I understood it to be training and not “working out.” I was training for a 100-mile bike ride and late night shows prevented me from waking up early to conquer the trails.

I stopped going out during the week for drinks and coffee because my alarm was set for 5:30 AM to get my workout finished.

I was told you have three choices in training – sleep, training, social life – and that I could only pick two because it was impossible to have all three. This is where priorities come into play and how mine changed.

As I trained, I hung out with my friends less and less. They eventually stopped inviting me out because they already knew the answer. I don’t blame them. Constantly receiving the same, “sorry, I have to get up early morning to train” response would also push me away from asking someone to hang out. They knew they weren’t a priority. My priorities were sleeping and training. I learned the hard way how important sleep is to training when riding my first 80 Miles on little sleep. There were tears.

You must find the time. No one has more hours in their day than you. You have to prioritize. You must make hard choices. You can totally have your cake and eat it too (wouldn’t recommend this every day), but you can’t have your cake, eat it, and reach your weight loss goal.

Same goes for working out: you can’t have all three (sleep, train, social life). You can have a little of all three, but it’ll take you that much longer to reach your goal. If you want it bad enough, you’ll make the hard choices that get you to your goal. You’ll stop doing shit you thought was important (watching tv, drinking at bars, sipping chai, watching bands play until 2AM).

If you want to lose weight, get stronger, achieve some fitness goal, you’ll find the time to do it – only if you’re motivated enough and only when you prioritize.

Go All The Way

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery – isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

-Charles Bukowski

 

The first two lines of this Bukowski quote are printed across a photograph of a dirt path separating weeds, shrubs, and (maybe they’re) Sycamores. It’s clear the dirt road was formed from cars using the same path as the one before them and the one before that. There’s a little patch of weeds between the path of tires, peeking out of the ground amidst the dirt. I found this picture as I searched for “Bukowski desktop wallpaper.” I don’t know why someone chose this picture with this quote.

 

Maybe they read those lines and they envisioned a path leading them to isolation. This was their, “All the Way.” I don’t know what my “All the Way” looks like. I feel like I’ve committed to too many things and have lost focus to go “all the way” with something. I was looking through my notebook earlier and read what I imagined my ideal life to be like:

“When my life is ideal I am:

  1. Making a living off my writing
  2. Racing my bike around the world
  3. A world renown writer
  4. Working for myself
  5. Traveling the world first class”

 

That was 6 months ago. As I skimmed through the five passions I deemed would bring me my ideal life, I considered doing it again to see what’s changed because again, I feel like the path I’ve been on doesn’t feel like it’s leading anywhere.

The house was silent and gave me just enough energy to scribble another 15 passions and to whittle it down to five. Here they are:

  1. Traveling for fun every month to a new country, state, city, etc…
  2. Drinking coffee on our back porch in the mountains getting ready to write.
  3. Changing people’s lives for the better with my words.
  4. Waking up when I want to and riding my bike outside.
  5. Making $100,000/year working for myself.

 

What I’ve noticed between these two lists and what’s pervasive whenever I consider my future is writing. It always comes back to writing and yet, I never fully commit to making this a reality. I explained to Chris earlier today – or at least tried to – that writing brings me the most happiness. I’ve done it ever since I could put sentences together, but with each year that passes, I write less and less because too much of my time is spent on chasing after security. A false sense of security, might I add.

 

So many of us choose safety, security, caution over our dreams because following your dreams is scary. The future is scary. The job you currently have is not. I learned that you could hate your job and still lose that security you desperately grasp on to as if it’s the last breath of air. I’ve always been scared to follow my passion for writing because I buy into the idea that being a writer doesn’t generate a lot of money. I buy into the idea that I’m no J.K. Rowling, Toni Morrison, Sylvia Plath, or hell, Jen Sincero.

 

I don’t believe I’m good enough. A lot of us let that idea stop us from what we truly want to do. Too many of us take on boring jobs, boring partners, a house in the suburbs because we don’t think we’re good enough. We don’t think we’re worthy of following and achieving our dreams. I do. I’ve always felt that way. Any time I’ve submitted work or applied for a job I’ve thought, “I’m not going to get this. Someone is better than me.” Every time I think that.

 

I used to think I was the bee’s knees – I was also 16 and a total shithead. I was up my own ass, but dammit did I deserve the world. I was a fighter. I fought for what I believed in even if that meant pissing people off. I scribbled words that left me crying in bed because I got too real and my emotional teenage self was ripping out her heart and slapping it on the page.

 

I know the 16-year old Jessica would tell the 29-year old Jessica, “Fuck it, dude. Let’s go bowling.” She’d tell me to forget what others thought and if I wanted to write, then write. No one is stopping me.

 

And for you: do what you truly want to do. Stop playing safe because it will change. Your situation, your life, your friends, your partners, everything.. changes. The only constant in life is change. So go. Go out there and give it your all. You’ll laugh in the face of fear and spit in the eyes of the naysayers. Go all the way, so when you look back on your life, your 16-year old self would give you a high-five.

I Know Nothing & Neither Do You

I can’t give you any answers. So if you came here thinking that, you’re wrong.

I can only share what I’m going through and hope it helps you in some way, even to know you’re not alone.

I’m lost.

As the great Socrates said, “I know that I know nothing.”

I don’t know what I want to do, who I want to be, or where I want to be. And it scares the hell out of me.

I used to be so sure of myself, that I was going to work for the CIA, catching terrorists, living in DC in a sweet penthouse. Rich as hell.

When I was 15, if you would have told me that I’d be struggling as a Personal Trainer and Freelance Writer, while still living at my mother’s because my husband (who I had a crush on when I was 15) and I are continually outbid, while dealing with some form of depression/anxiety, meanwhile racing my bike, I would have had some wise crack and maybe even gave you the finger, followed by expletives.

And through high school into undergrad, up to graduate school, I believed that’s where my education would take me. I even tattooed my favorite painting on my body because I was so sure I’d never come back home after earning my Master’s degree.

I gave up friendships and relationships to chase after a dream. I’ll never get that back.

I applied to dream positions, spending hours on applications, asking for letter of references, and the like. I thought I deserved it because of the money I spent on my degrees, the time I spent reading and writing, and everything I gave up to pursue those careers.

But I was dead wrong. I didn’t (and still don’t) deserve anything. I think this is what causes my misery: The belief that I deserve anything. Just because I did a thing doesn’t mean I deserve shit. No, I’m not the “entitled millennial” that the Gen Xers believe us to be. When I grew up, I was told that if I worked hard, I’d get what I wanted. It’s not true.

You can work your ass off and still not get what you want and just because you work hard doesn’t mean you automatically deserve anything. It’s kind of a sick reality come to terms with when that’s all you’ve ever been told. They made it seem so easy when I was younger. Go to college. Pick a career. Apply. Get that career. Find a partner. Get married. Find a house. Buy it. Live happily ever after. Right?

I was taught to “dream big.” Hell, in 5th Grade we created our own businesses – mine was JDM Lawfirm. My ten-year old ass already had a plan. I wasn’t thinking about just playing with friends outside or my math homework, no, I was planning my future before I could even grasp the concept of future, past, and present. Little 5th grader Jessica would not have guessed I’d be where I’m at now. Last year I wouldn’t have thought I’d be where I’m at today and because of that, I feel like every year I’ve regressed, not progressed.

With each new year, I feel a little less sure of myself and my abilities. My goals and aspirations become a bit fuzzier as my identity evolves. Every new day I question what I truly want in life. I’m confused. I thought I knew what I wanted. I don’t. I don’t know where to go at this point. As a planner, this drives me nuts. I’m throwing shit against the wall, waiting for something to stick. Once something sticks, I follow it. I’ve been following shit and talking to walls for my whole life. I know that I know nothing.