“It doesn’t matter if you’re sprinting for an Olympic gold medal, a town sign, a trailhead, or the rest stop with the homemade brownies. If you never confront pain, you’re missing the essence of the sport” – Scott Martin
Bike racing is a fascinating thing that often stirs up a mixed bag of emotions on any given day. I like to compare it to dating. Sometimes you meet the most beautiful soul with all the attributes you’ve been searching for your entire life. The fairy tale romance is almost too much to believe, but you just know you’re going to be with this guy forever. You’re in love. So in love it hurts. But then one day you wake up and there’s a note on the table. He’s gone, and the only thing you have to remember him by is a deep dark hole in your heart, and an ache in your soul. Sometimes, for me, that’s what it feels like to race a bike.
I’ve never been a quitter. My dad raised me to start what I finish, and never let me storm out of a ball game or stop playing in the middle of a season. I had a stubborn mother who showed me how to be strong in the midst of pain and anguish. I remember my coaches were always impressed with my gut-busting determination and hard-headed tactics. Quitting was just never an option for me. It’s a gateway drug. If you quit once, you’ll most likely quit again. So, I just didn’t do it.
Coming to terms with a DNF is something I still haven’t learned how to manage. I’m a grown ass woman racing a bicycle in a circle, right? Shouldn’t be rocket science. Shouldn’t be such a big deal. Shouldn’t be, but it is, and I’m not going to apologize for it. At the end of the day, no one actually cares if you quit or not. The only person you have to answer to is YOU. Your friends don’t care. Your dog doesn’t care. Your bike doesn’t care. But none of those comments help me care less. In fact, I care more now than ever.
So how do you recover from the swarm of negative emotions that fall after a soul-crushing performance? For starters, I cry my eyes out. I’m sure there are better ways to cope with a bad day, but my go-to emotional relief is crying. And if you are a crier, don’t be ashamed. It’s not the worst trait you could have, and it is scientifically proven to help bring you relief. I’m like a tea kettle. When the heat builds up to a certain point, I have to let it out. I cry when I’m happy, too. I’ve finished many a bike race in tears of joy. Those are the best tears.
Realize some things are out of your control. Having control freak-like tendencies makes this one a challenge, but after the dust settles, take some time to reevaluate why you felt the way you did. Take mental notes and move on. Tomorrow is another day.
Use defeat as fuel. Quitting a race is a total shit feeling, and remember how it felt the next time you want to pull off and throw in the towel. Don’t let this drag you down. It’s okay to swim around in your pity party for a little while, but make it quick and get over it. This is not the end of the world.
Figure out why your body hates you/hurts/doesn’t respond well/etc. Are you eating right? Are you drinking too much? Training properly? Not training enough? Do you have an injury that tends to flare up in certain situations? Get that shit taken care of. Figure out a way. Be nice to yourself. You get what you give, and if you don’t give much, you won’t see any gains. We are machines. Temples. Beautiful beings that deserve love and self-care. Treat yourself like the princess (or prince) your daddy thinks you are.
Surround yourself with other racers who are positive, and show them love and support when they are giving everything they have on the course. This is crucial. What do you love about them? How can you emulate some of their positive traits? Building yourself a race family can make all the difference in the world. It’s easy to feel alone when you actually are alone, so do your best to spark relationships with others, and remember you’re not the only one who’s ever felt sad, embarrassed, or gutted after a shitty performance.
You’ll have plenty of folks who tell you to stop racing if you get so worked up about a bad day, and you have to take those people with a grain of salt. Yeah, we’re just racing bicycles. Yeah, life is hard enough without getting so serious about how well you did in a race. And yes, we do this because it’s fun, but bike racing transcends that for many of us. Know that you are not crazy for taking it more serious than someone else. You’re driven and that’s a beautiful thing. If someone wants to shame you for taking bike racing serious, you can politely tell them to go fuck themselves. Or not. Either way, you keep doing your thing and they can keep doing theirs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you.
Just like beauty, bike racing is in the eye of the beholder. Don’t change what it means to you for someone else, and remember there will always be another race.
See you next weekend.