It’s funny that I started my last post mentioning my lack of disappointments and difficulties I had encountered in my cross season thus far. I suppose I have been an athlete long enough to know that multiple months of personal success and improvements always has to get interrupted sooner or later – That interruption just happened to be my race yesterday in Hendersonville. Before I go into it further, I will also mention that it is unfortunate that I haven’t had enough time to write about my cyclocross race in Charlotte because that was truly a huge breakthrough for me getting my first second place and riding well. However, I would rather take this time to write about this while it is still fresh in my mind.
The majority of my team headed up last Friday to Hendersonville for a weekend of racing at North Carolina’s UCI cross event. I was unable to race on Saturday since the girls I coach for Girls on the Run were having their end of the season 5k celebration that morning. Not wanting to be left out on the weekend of fun though, I made the four hour drive solo directly after the 5k and got to Hendersonville just in time to see Will finish up his race (literally just in time -I got about the last 20 seconds of it!).
I was in great spirits as our whole team hung out in the beautiful cabin we rented after all the races were over. I am truly at my happiest when I get to spend time in a group of people that I can be my authentic self around; this group is comprised of some of the most supportive and kind people you will ever meet. I went to bed content and ready to seek revenge on a course that I DNF’d at last year.
A group of us arrived at the course a little bit after 8am to pre-ride the course for our 11 o’clock race. For us North Carolinians, the 20 degree bitter cold was nearly heart stopping and quickly got rid of all feeling in my fingers and toes. I have not seemed to managed to find a good pair of gloves that I can have enough dexterity to break and shift on my bike but still keep my hands warm. Do they exist? Someone needs to enlighten me…
Anyways, the preride was far from encouraging. The entire course was covered with an icy sheet of frost that made even the most sweeping of turns precarious to ride on. There is a section of several back to back steep up and downs followed by off-camber that I skipped riding, telling myself I would ride them later when the frost had melted. Mistake #1. It took 3 different small segments of time pre-riding to make my way all the way around the course before my race and I didn’t ride a single section that caused me some grief. Quite possibly the biggest mistake I’ve made all season.
From the time the gun went off, I really, really, really, REALLY did not want to be racing. I got a pretty good start but I found myself backing off as soon as we left the pavement because I was uncomfortable with the slick turns at the very beginning. I quickly saw what felt like 10 people ride away from me and I felt even less of a desire to race. It didn’t take long before we got to the up and down section that I had mentioned and it was the final straw for my race mindset. We could barely run up the hills and then I didn’t want to ride down the hill so I carefully tip toed down. While doing so, I continued to see the front group move further and further away. While back a ways from the leaders, at this point I was still with the girl that ended up 4th in the race. Continue on and I was getting more and more negative. I wasn’t even really pedaling and my heart rate was basically at what it is when I’m resting between intervals. There is a segment in this course called “the wall” that I didn’t get to try before the race either. This section was the final nail in the coffin as I walked up the hill and then walked the off camber after it, trying really hard to hold back the tears in front of a pretty large crowd and my teammies.
I finally got onto the second lap and I considered dropping out of the race. I wasn’t having fun – in fact I was pretty downright miserable. At this point I really was just coasting on my bike and was livid at myself. Some of the extremely sweet girls who passed me tried to encourage me to go with them so that we wouldn’t get lapped by the guys. Towards the last part of the second lap, I ended up waiting shortly so that they actually COULD lap me and I could finish with only 2 laps rather than having to do a third. Honestly, the only reason I stayed in the race was because I figured getting some points for the series omnium was better than getting none. Probably the only logical thought I had during those 20 minutes.
Only smiles again post-race. It was only slightly cold.
So there you have it; a very low, low for my racing laid out in earnest. It would be very easy to criticize me for what looks like giving up when I’m not in top position. It would also be natural to fault me for not giving 100% or in being dramatic when I mention that I was “holding back tears” over something as silly as a bike race. Trust me, this censure exists very loudly in my head right now. What good does it really do to focus on that though?
What does help is to “lean into” the extreme feeling of discomfort that this race caused me. For whatever reason, very steep uphills and downhills cause me a great deal of panic. They don’t have to be very long ones and even when I’m just riding around I’m fearful of them. On the downhill, I always think I’m going to go straight over my handlebars or that my cantilever breaks aren’t going to be strong enough to stop me from crashing straight into the tape (especially when I can’t feel my fingers). It’s difficult for me to even try steep uphills because I feel like I’m not going to get my foot out in time if I can’t make it up. Which is silly of course; more likely than not, I will get my foot unclipped and if I don’t then I’m going extremely slow and falling over won’t really be all that bad. Fear is not rational though.
Going further, fear is a pretty ugly thing. It’s a very strong and powerful primitive emotion that is uncomfortable to face head on or to admit. Instead, we usually cover it up with other things like anger or blaming something else entirely unrelated. We make excuses that allow us to avoid the situation that causes the fear which in turn ultimately makes the fear worse.
Yes, those were my initial reactions. I was angry. I cried after I finished and couldn’t explain why. I gave myself 30 minutes afterwards to be upset about the race. I did what I know never fails to clear my head: I went on a run. As I got further away from the park, I slowly realized the real reason I had such a bad race; I realized I had let my fear and anxiety snowball and triumph over me which then led to being angry at myself for letting it beat me.
That is not me. It goes against the fundamental principle I hold for my life – I actively seek out the things I am afraid of to push my comfort zone and expand my perspective. I NEVER want fear to get in the way of me doing something that I want to do. I never want it to be a motivator or influence over decisions in my life. And while immediately after finishing I vowed never to do that race again (last year’s DNF was pretty much due to the exact same thing), I know I will be back again this time next year.
I will search out some steep things to ride up and down until I don’t even think twice about it. I’ll ride in the grass on frosty mornings and learn to embrace fish-tailing, sliding out and falling down. I’ll continue pushing my technical abilities on my mountain bike and venturing out on single track on my cross bike. In short, while fear may have won on Sunday, I refuse to let it dictate my life and I will overcome it.
Now, on to looking ahead to the race this Sunday.