Monday, March 3, 2014

Peg, Troy, Myself and Danial after the crit.
So, I started my race season by jumping in with both feet. I headed to Arizona for a stage race with some crazy fierce competition, and a few "borrowed" teammates from Colorado-based Psimet-Zilla Racing. These guys are FAST, and they know how to make the "seriousness" of bike racing a whole lot of fun. Six bike racers, a whole lot of bikes and gear, and warm Phoenix sun made for a great time. 

Danial got a cookie.

Some of the Psimet guys had great results. Two finished in the top ten overall, and Troy nearly had a top twenty in the criterium. Danial got mixed up in a little crash on the road race, and had an elbow the size of my leg. We kept telling him to "rub some dirt in it," but it turns out it was actually broken, and he's slated for surgery. Here's a piece of advice: Don't get hurt around other racers, because you get no sympathy, and just a lot of "war stories to commiserate." 

My own race? Not as awesome. The Road Race was such a mess that I ended up being offered the "pity feeds" in the feed zone, where other teams look at you with such sympathy as to try and hawk bottles and gels so you might magically get better and actually be competing with their racers. Seriously.

Here's an account with some commentary on losing, generally.

Open up the pages of any major cycling publication, and you’ll find articles on how to win a bike race. You can read about tactics and training, speed drills and bike handling, and how to climb better and faster and stronger. What you won’t find is an article about the single most important skill you can master in the sport of bike racing: How to Lose. No one writes articles on how to fall off the back, get lapped, how to put your head down as you ride alone through a feed zone to finish a race that is all but over or, worse, climb into the team car and call it a day because you are too far behind to make the time cut. And that’s too bad, because losing is not only an option in life, it is pretty much inevitable. 

Losing isn’t easy for anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are, like me, a naturally competitive person or someone who simply cares deeply about what you doing. No one aspires to defeat. And despite all the platitudes about sport being “just for fun,” we know that it is a lot more fun to win than it is to come in last. 

I kicked off my cycling season last weekend with a stage race in Arizona. I had marginal aspirations for the event. It’s still really early in the race calendar, and the competition included some of the top professional women in cycling. Still, my training plan has been much better this year than in years prior, and I have been a lot more dedicated to doing the hard work. The road race was well-suited to my abilities, and the criterium was a perfect match to my racing style. In all, I expected to find myself with at least a couple of top ten finishes. Had that transpired, I wouldn’t be writing this.

That would be Evelyn Stevens in the leader's jersey.The first 17 miles of the RR were at 60kph. FAST.

I spent three days struggling to make something happen. At every turn, I felt as though I was just trying to get through the day, to make time cuts, to race again tomorrow. I was crossing my fingers that the next race would be better. I am sure you are shocked to know that finger crossing doesn’t work and, by the last day of racing, I was both demoralized and tired. Within minutes of my final race, I was off the back and making the decision to pull the plug. I walked away disappointed. 

Part of what makes bike racing such an awesome sport is how tough it can be. It’s hard. Really hard. You have to love it in order to get through it. You have to be willing to struggle and sacrifice and, at the end of the day, summon the emotional maturity to accept losses and, even, embrace them positively. No amount of tantrums or displays lacking personal grace will change the fact of defeat, and perhaps the only thing worse than losing is being a bad loser. It’s important to learn to fail with dignity and make the most of every loss.
Diabetes has definitely done its part in making me resilient and well-balanced in the face of loss. After being diagnosed with Type 1, I felt as if I had to re-start my life with this new challenge, and I had to move past thinking that diabetes would ruin everything I had worked to achieve in terms of my racing. Disappointment and anger are natural responses to bad news or defeat, but I realized that the sooner I re-gained my stability, the better. Diabetes affirmed my ability to summon the needed resilience and courage to be gracious in my struggles. 

I started at the back, and I stayed there. Gives me the sadz.

I am pretty good at accepting reality. You have to be if you are going to get good with losing. I once had a coach who repeated “where there’s a will, there’s a way” as if it were a personal mantra. Unfortunately, we have less control over our lives than we’d like to believe. I can’t control a flat tire mid-race or the once-in-30-year-history torrential downpour at El Tour de Tucson. All the determination in the world won’t move me to the front of the pack if I am pinched in a corner at the back. You can choose to be burdened by past failures and things you cannot change, or you can move on and work with those elements in your control, make needed adjustments and get better at managing what is actually in your grasp. 

You also have to have some appreciation of effort and competition. Before my diagnosis, I never felt like it was enough to simply try my hardest. Effort, on its own, was of little importance. Then, I was diagnosed with Type 1, and I had a doctor tell me I would likely never race again because she mistakenly believed that the intensity of the sport would present too many challenges to my diabetes management. All of the sudden, just showing up to race a bike seemed like a huge accomplishment. No matter how much I wanted to win, I took pride in being there with everything I had to give on that day because there was so much uncertainty in getting there in the first place. Even now, all these years later, I can take comfort in trying my hardest and being beaten by someone who was better than me.

Losing has made me appreciate winning to a greater extent. In the sport of bike racing, you work to move up a bit at a time. You struggle to win and, just when the victories start to come more readily, you find yourself racing bigger events and tougher competition. You find yourself losing all over again. Those who succeed in the sport are those who have the ability to lose ten times over, and keep showing up. When you finally do make your way to the podium, it’s with the understanding that victory is temporal.  

The world is filled with disappointments, both big and small. Learning to accept loss without feeling crushed is a mark of maturity, and an important skill in navigating daily life.

John and Danial warming up before the TT.

I made my way back to the team car after the race. I hate pity, so we all agreed to focus instead on the better parts of the weekend. I took a few moments to enjoy the fact that I was there at all, racing some of the fastest women on the planet. I spent the rest of the long drive back to Colorado evaluating my training plans, and making adjustments based on the weekend results. Racing and training are dynamic and require constant changes in order to achieve results. I hope I have some winning ahead of me this season, but I am prepared to make the most of my losses, too.

1 comment:

  1. You already know my sentiments on this but I feel the need to re-iterate them here for permanency sake.
    I am amazed at how you put yourself out there like that. I know you were punching above your weight. You, are always an inspiration and quick to express how important it is to sometimes put yourself into these challenges. It makes us stronger physically AND mentally.
    You rock my friend!