I've always struggled with the expectation vs. reality thing, the idea of something is always a bit more exciting than the actual thing itself. This season of bike racing has been a large scale version of that feeling for me. It sounded fun and motivating at first and then it crept closer and closer and the feelings started to shift. Excitement was turning to anxiety and dread, riding was turning into training, races felt like a collection of self and external judgement. When something feels off we try to figure it out. We look at it from all vantage points, we dissect the feelings, the actions, the outcomes. We pull it all apart to put it back together and sometimes you have to walk away just to get a fresh perspective. I've been doing a whole lot of this for the past 4 months.
I’ve thought a lot as to why this year has felt heavier on my shoulders. Perhaps it started with saying yes to the Lifetime Grand Prix. It has nothing to do with the series itself and everything to do with what it meant for me. It was saying yes and committing to an entire race calendar that I had no control over. That's the point of a series, and it didn't really resonate with me until I was already in it. I don't thrive when I feel like I have to do something. I’ve been used to handpicking the events I go to, molding my calendar from my own two hands. Naturally, the series was a huge shift for me.
This is not going to be a whiney, poor me essay, don’t worry. I like to keep shit real and I have to start with the reality to move into the 'what I did to improve' portion of this writing. This is a story of an A.D.D, people pleasing perfectionist, I’ll shorten that to ADDPPP, as it really rolls off of the tongue.
I am not sure people know this about me but I’ve been racing since 2008. I joined the cycling team at Fort Lewis College when I was a Freshmen. Since then I’ve had a few national titles, a handful of podiums and a few years of stepping away from competition completely. I quit racing because it wasn’t fun. I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t having fun until Dylan (my partner) asked me if I was having fun when we were driving home from Marathon MTB Nationals in 2014. I looked at him and something clicked, I didn’t actually have to do the thing, bike racing, that had been bringing me so much angst and to be honest, sadness. So, I walked away. I sold my race bike and bought a trail bike. Though I had been working full time as a graphic designer since 2012, stepping away from racing allowed me to experience the 9-5 life in it’s entirety. I worked, I rode with my friends, I learned how people had fun riding mountain bikes, something I really hadn’t experienced until that point. When I had time to ride I was stoked, I felt lucky to get time to just be on my bike. Until then, cycling had always been competitive for me, I dove straight into racing and skipped that whole ride for fun part.
I eventually came back into racing in 2017 when I decided to sign up for Single Speed Cyclocross Worlds in Portland, Oregon. It's a weird race to "focus" on but it was the first time I felt excited to race since I'd started in 2008. Expectations were gone and excitement was high. The nerves were still there though, don't worry, pre-race poops will never go away. I participated in our local cross series to prepare and decided to wear some jorts (I know, so unique and groundbreaking) to serve as a reminder that I was choosing to be there, choosing to race, choosing to have fun and enjoy it all. It worked. It was a monumental shift in my mindset and the results followed, not that that was the point. The next year I signed my first pro contract with Specialized + Ten Speed Hero.
I’m going further back in my story because I did the thing where I had to learn the same lesson a few times before I got to move forward. When I got back into cycling I decided to do it my own way, I never did well trying to be the version of an athlete that I thought you should be. I thought you had to do X, Y and Z to be the best athlete/person and then when I did those things and didn’t get the result I wanted it was demoralizing. I felt like I was just always going to be at that level.
Fast forward a decade and I get to re-learn the same lesson of progression.
The Pursuit of Better than Yesterday
I forget that practice is growth. I forget that you can change. I forget that the journey is the focus, not the thing you think you’re focused on. I forget that you’re supposed to try hard things and fail trying. Maybe it's not even failure but coming up short or less than perfect. I forget that it’s better to attempt something challenging and suck versus doing something easy that you know you’ll win. I forget that you grow from the low moments, the good moments are just your reward for trying. I forget that the things we choose to do with the majority of our time takes so much practice just to be a version of that self image you have in your mind.
Going back to the ADDPPP, we feel like anything less than that perfect image is unacceptable. It is a tricky game to play especially when you’re lining up (or whatever your version of a race start is) with some of the best. Now, enter the concept of winning. Something that more than just sport is centered around, and not that I want to dive into yet another thing that our society has profoundly backwards. Winning is set up as the goal, but as James Clear says in his book Atomic Habits,
"If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers."
As my career in sport continues, I face more and more pressure, as we all do in the endeavors we choose. The deeper into a practice we go we start to build up an image, a set of expectations associated with our pursuit. The work is letting the pursuit be the goal. How we approach the challenge is the differentiator and in professional cycling, we are all at such an extreme level that the wins start to thin out. If you continue to define success by crossing a line first you are going to face some serious heartbreak.
There is that lesson I get to learn again. I’ve been sifting through all of these things amidst a less than sparkly season, which now I recognize was probably the best albeit harshest way to learn. The process has been less than sparkly for me, and we’re not done yet! I don't want to play it off that I'm all good, new mindset new me, as much as I wish it were that easy I'm a mere mortal and it turns out I suck and sucking with the best of them!
Make Friends with the Monsters
Amidst my process in finding the fun, joy and purpose of it all this year I began (trying) to meditate. I finally tried the thing I’ve truly fought against for a decade, convinced that my A.D.D. would simply not allow it. As I dove in I realized the language behind mediation, it’s called a practice. You practice meditation. There isn’t really a word for someone who is an expert, pro, or even just really good at meditating. I’m sure if you wanted to you could come up with one, but for the most part I noticed that the whole thing was a practice. Regardless if you can sit for 3 hours or 60 seconds, you’re just always practicing and it’s never more than that. My takeaway from this is that no matter how much effort we put in there is no perfection, there is only more effort, more trying. So you might as well make friends with those monsters on your back, the ones adding weight, pressure, holding up that perfect version of yourself you might never be. The monsters aren’t going away, they’re a part of you, the game is knowing how to live in harmony and enjoy the ride together.