I had some pretty defined goals this year and obviously I had wanted to make sure that I worked hard enough to attain them. This journey has thrown its fair share of curve balls (baseball analogy in a cycling blog? Well I guess they are linked by doping so why not!) over the course of the year many of them seem to have worked themselves out.
Where have I been, what have I done and what have I learned over this last 6 months you might ask? I could honestly go on for hours, at length (and in some cases have) of the knowledge that I have accumulated in that time, but for the sake of your reading I will break it down into the ten most important points.
For a little context I will list the goals I had for the 2013 season.
- Upgrade from Cat 4 to Cat 3 in the spring – Accomplished
- Podium at one event in BC Super Week – Accomplished
- Upgrade from Cat 3 to Cat 2 – Explanation to follow below as to why there is no rush for this.
Without further ado, the following are the top ten lessons that I learned while attempting to check off realizing my dream:
1. This is going to take time… and plenty of it. Patience is essential! I have the attention span of a puppy dog. In fact there are several times in my life that I have been called a puppy dog as I have always wrestled with the ability to focus on one thing at a time. I jumped into this with both feet and set the lofty goal of Cat 2 by 2014. Has that changed? Absolutely! Setting goals is good, but over the past 6 months I have come to understand that the journey is part of the process. Yeah I can get out there and smash it all the time and sacrifice other aspects of my life, but getting there is half the fun. You may have a coach, or you don’t but you probably have a routine that you do and that means that at 5 am you are out of bed and on the road long before most can pull their eye lids open. Even my family don’t understand, but you do it because you know that getting out there will mean a better result in the next race. I love it because of the way that it makes me feel and I relish the challenge it presents. Racing is the hardest thing that I have ever done, and I have this incredible drive to do better, and right now there is nothing that will stop me from doing that. This understanding has given me huge respect for the World Tour riders and the time that they put into it. I could not imagine being “on” for that amount that time. Yeah they are paid for it, but their job sure isn’t easy. One more item relating to “time” is recovery. No one can hammer for days straight without some form of recovery. I have a life and a job that requires my attention, so there needs to be time when I sit with my legs up.
2. Expect to change things. Change is inevitable. When you are out there on the bike (usually solo) doing your training, there is a lot of time to let things get the better of your mind. But this time can also be very rewarding. You learn a lot about yourself and what you really need/want when turning the cranks over for 10-15 hours a week. For me the breakthrough came when I realized that for the longest time I had been very unhappy with myself. My time in the mountain bike world was more of a reflection of complacency than actually happiness. There are a few people that know the extent of the unhappiness, but the simple fact remains that I did it to be cool. Lame? Yes, but I did it so that people would like me or worse like the image that my life was. A paradigm shift is usually centered on an event of some kind. For me, it was breaking my leg. I was angry when I did it, and I was angry that my actions led to it. But it forced me to pick up the road bike and in a long twisty route has landed me where I am today. I used to tell people that I wasted my time doing something that was actually getting me nowhere. Those feelings are now gone, and it is an amazing feeling when you can let the anger go.
3. 3. Friends will change. The simple fact remains that to perform at a high certain level takes time out of everything else. A good friend Kristi once told me, in her most Zen like yoga master talk that to be good at something you have to sacrifice other things. That you can’t be good at everything! When you focus your time on the bike, things drop like going out for a beer. Or heading to a friend’s house and staying up all night. People don’t like this and in my case, some actually got super negative, ultimately telling me that they liked the old me instead. I didn’t share my thoughts on it at the time so they had no idea what was going on in my life but look back at Lesson number 2 for why I will never go back there.
4. 4. You will stop caring what other people think. Mountain biking was caring about what everyone else thought. I look back at time now and it astounds me that I cared so much. Heck my time in the sport turned sour as I put on events for what other people wanted, instead of doing it for me. It is really hard to please everyone and at the time it “really” mattered to me what other people thought. Standing in line at the bike park listening to the smack talk, and the stares from people who had better bikes or gear got really tiring. I think that this is due in large part to the age demographic the sport caters to, 15 year old boys. When you start doing stuff for you, the other people don’t matter as much.
5. 5. This is going to hurt. Racing on the road is insanely pain full, even when you factor out never winning. You are pushing your body further and further with each lap and you are fighting fellow racers and most importantly your mind. If I compare mountain bike racing to road racing the difference is that racing on the road is all about suffering verses racing mountain biking being all about letting go. Racing on the road takes strength and the ability to shut your brain off when the red lights are flashing and the easy button is screaming your name. Downhill mountain biking is all about having the kajones to let go of the brakes and go faster. Does that make one better than the other? No, certain people gravitate toward certain things. I never made it past the safe point and as a result downhill mountain biking stagnated for me.
2. 6. Good energy in means good energy out. The kind of food/drink that you put into your body will directly affect the performance that you can expect. Regular gas in a Subaru WRX and it will run rough, similarly head out the night before a race and binge drink and you cannot expect anything. Let’s not get into how alcohol destroys the body’s ability to repair damaged muscle tissue. Changing what you eat and how you eat will make huge gains in the pursuit of speed. For me this was a sticking point and caused me to shelve many races during the month of April. My stomach shut down and I couldn’t eat anything, I basically stopped riding. Working through this was one of the blackest moments of the year, but my coach helped me as best he could and reassured me that I would get through and that it was only a month and in the end I would work it out.
3. 7. There are going to be bad days, and setbacks are a part of the journey. Even though you have planned everything out to a T, and it all seems foul proof, there are going to be times that things just don’t work out. Whether it is a stomach issue that sidelines you for a month, or you get blocked in the last corner of a race, it is important to know that these are minor detours and you will get past them. Some days your legs just won’t work, they feel like tree trunks and you can’t get anything out of them. You can’t plan for everything and as time goes on, these nuances will become smaller and smaller in the grand scheme of things. Also if you race because you plan on winning all the time, you will realize fairly soon on that you don’t win that much. Maybe, and this is a firm maybe you will probably win two percent of the time. Focusing more on these events as benchmarks, working at not letting it bother you will benefit you in the long run instead of dwelling on them.
4. 8. Take chances! You will never win if you don’t take chances. Sitting in the peloton will get you to the end of the race, but it won’t get you anywhere near the top of the podium. Make mistakes, make bold attacks, and tax yourself to the limit! I have recently learned that I seem to look like I am taking my bike out for a stroll during a race and that I should attack or take a chance. It paid off in spades with the 2nd place finish at the UBC Grand Prix and while I finished 8th in the Whiterock Crit , I (with the help of Brett Wakefield) drove the pace of the entire race.
5. 9. Give back to the sport. There is nothing better than giving up some free time to the sport that will eventually give you so much in return. I ride lead for Steed Cycles, volunteer at the Tuesday Night race series, am volunteering at some cyclo-cross races this fall (mainland and Island) and drove Comm 2 car for the Men’s UCI race in Delta as part of BC Super Week. You will learn the ins and outs of the events and organizations both big and small can always use the help. Plus it also builds community.
6. 10. You will find yourself! Trust me when I say that these last six months have been the most trans-formative in my life. From years of disliking who I was, and being riddled with a mind crushing lack of self-confidence, my journey into racing has changed my perception of who I am and what I can accomplish. Will some people dislike that? Absolutely, but at the end of the day, it is your life and you have to be happy with yourself. What they think is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Plus there are plenty of really cool people in the sport, with the majority of them wanting to help and more than willing to give advice to a “fresh” rider, all you have to do is ask.
I look back at where I was 3 short years ago and what I valued in my life. Looking back now, some of my actions used to embarrass me. Outside of the leg break it hit home when my Grandma looked at me and asked when I was going to grow up. I love my time in the mountain bike world and while there are events that I am not happy with, in the end it all lead to where I am today. Do I hate the sport? No, I still get out for the occasional ride with friends (this weekend in fact) but as I noted in Lesson 3, I need to focus on something if I ever want to be good at anything. Road/CX, while different somewhat the same and that is where my time is going.
See you on the track!