Asleep at the Wheel Volume II

“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.

mmmm
Photo: Capture Happy Photography
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The Curse of the Athlete

I’ve been racing ‘cross now for 4.1839 seasons. I still get nervous the night before, and my heart still races well over 100 bpm on the start line. I still go out of the gate like a scalded rabbit, although I’ve learned how to tone it down a bit. My footwork is still ugly and I can’t remount properly on hills and sloping off-camber sections. I’m a forever cat 3, and who knows if I’ll ever see those shoulder numbers outside of a master’s nationals race. I haven’t given up, though, and this past weekend was a testament to my stubborn determination.

Utah is an interesting place for many reasons. The ‘cross racing is no different, and the UTCX season opener made me lust long and hard after a two-stroke engine. The race was held at Rocky Mountain Raceway, boasting a drag strip start, a lot of loose turns and a deathly downhill. Being the new fish in the pond didn’t help my pre-race jitters either. I felt like I might throw up during the entire hour-long drive that morning, and getting dressed for course inspection almost had me in a cold sweat. Ok, I’m being slightly dramatic here (who, me?), but I was definitely feeling sketched out before I even saw the course. Typical Archer.

First lap was a rude awakening, and offered similar feelings to my first mountain bike ride in Utah. It was loose and scary. I’m used to mud, rocks, and roots. Where was the slop? I wanted my Limus tires in a bad way, but those were things of the past. I made it to the logs and remembered the last time I tried to ride a triple log barrier section. I decided I wasn’t 100% certain that I could clean it 100% of the time (Thanks, Adam), so I ran it. Shew…made it. On to the run-up.

Solid run-up, guys. The ankle deep dust on crust made for an interesting threshold interval, even at a course inspection pace, and I thought about how bad it was going to hurt at race pace. The descent on the other side was even more of a challenge. I stood at the top, failing to commit for three solid attempts. Hard left into a hard right, down an off-camber pseudo sand pit. WHAT THE HELL? I watched a couple folks go down on mountain bikes. It was like I was standing at the top of a chute, waiting to drop in on an avalanche path. I can be so overly excited about things I can for sure accomplish, but my fear of commitment is ridiculous on so many levels. So I did it. Almost crashed. Made it. Next.

I’ve never said this, ever, but I was so happy to see pavement. Here I am, the girl who always got excited for technical courses because it slowed the crit racers down, AND I’M EXCITED ABOUT LONG STRETCHES OF PAVEMENT. Since moving to Utah, I’ve discovered this thing called POWER and these things called LEGS and they move much faster than I remember. So yeah, the pavement was my savior. A couple more laps and I was ready(ish) to line up.

The start was literally the longest, straightest paved section I’ve ever seen in a ‘cross race. It was longer than Derby City Cup by a gazillion miles, and I kept thinking “DO NOT GO OFF LIKE A ROCKET”. Let’s face it; I’m so damn good at getting the hole shot. I’m also really solid at blowing up after a lap. I decided to stay steady with another woman who also went off like a rocket, and I let her take the first turn. We both wanted to hit the dirt before the rest of the pack, though, because West Coast dust clouds are not to be fucked with. Into the motocross track we went…

Whoops on a motorcycle are easy. Whoops on a motocross track, on a ‘cross bike, racing with other people on bikes are hard. I got pinched in a turn and ended up going over the bars in a deep moon dust pile, and I watched the small field leave me in that cloud of moon dust. “Well, shit. You’ve got to be kidding me?!” I thought. I got up and noticed both hoods were pointing towards each other, but decided it was time to learn how to ride with both hoods pointed towards each other. I finished out the whoops while beating my hoods into submission. I turned myself inside out to pick people off, and ran through the barriers so fast that I nearly tripped and knocked out my teeth. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to get left in the dark, so I did what I had to do. Would it stick? Would I blow up? I had no idea.

The run-up was painful, as they always are, and I could hear myself audibly wheezing as I reached the top. I hid my fear and grabbed the drops like it was my job. I surfed the turns and managed to make it to the bottom of the hill without taking out any course materials. WIN. “Cool, so now I just have to pedal back around to this part a couple more times and I’m golden.”

I managed to catch up to 3rd place during the 2nd lap, and we fought each other over the next lap and a half. I generally use pavement to recover, but I knew I could make up time if I got up out of the saddle and pounded the concrete as hard as I could without blowing up. I came pretty close to shutting it down a couple times, but those weekday lunch rides have whipped me into a bit of a big gear machine. This is something I’m definitely not used to, but I really enjoy the whizzing noise a bunch of watts make.

It was over 90 degrees and I don’t race with a bottle cage. I was wearing a skinsuit. I had no place for water. A friend of mine was sweet enough to give me a handup, but my dumb ass missed it the first time. I watched that water bottle drift off into the depths of hell in slow motion as I passed through. I’ve never been so sad about a drink of water. I caught it the next time. Lesson learned. Get better at this.

After 48 minutes at an average heart rate of 178 bpm (yeah I’m a nerd), I managed a 3rd place finish. Considering the crash, all the footwork mistakes I made off the bike, and the fact that I am most certain I saw Jesus standing next to a bright white light, I think I did pretty okay. My fear had turned to heartburn and my nerves had been burned to death in the hot sun, but I was so fulfilled and happy. I lost my voice and probably had the black lung from all the dust, but the opportunity to spend a day doing the thing that I love the most was enough to make all that worth it. I live in Utah and I’m racing cyclocross. How can you feel sad about that?

Alright, so I had the second lap blues pretty bad. Whatever.

I love seeing progression. I love feeling powerful. I love feeling good about myself. The curse of being an athlete can be beautiful when everything lines up. You feel me?

 

Bro.

boy

I remember the moment I realized I was a competitor. I was five. I played in a basketball league at the elementary school every Saturday, and I was often the only girl. It never occurred to me that I was different. I got bloody noses just like the rest of ’em, and I scrapped for that ball like it was the only thing that mattered.

The next real competitive memory I have is playing in an all-girls basketball league a year or so later. I was still a firecracker, and you would often find me sacrificing life and limb to steal, strip, or layup some action. I became a pretty darn good basketball player over the next 13 years, but it came with a price. I learned this at a much later age, and saw all the lost opportunities after it was too late. Would I change the trajectory of my life? Not a chance. Competition taught me a lot and there’s no shame in that.

I’ve always felt a need to compete with the boys. We used to scrimmage the boy’s basketball team in high school, and I can tell you I rarely walked away from those without a drop of blood somewhere on my body. Even as an adult (I use that term loosely), I find myself getting into situations that make me just as much of a chest puffer as any boys club. Yeah. Chest puffer. I do that sometimes. Figuratively of course. I just rolled my eyes because I admitted that to the entire internet.

Gonna keep doin’ it.

There’s a balance in being a female athlete. I don’t know if anyone has a recipe for it, but I know there IS a balance somewhere. I find myself not wanting to stray from my roots and upbringing, though I realize another person’s perception can make or break you. I spent my summers at the motocross track as a young girl. I ripped a 3 wheeler around while my brother raced. His friends taught me my first curse words. How do you change something you’ve always been?

I find myself out of balance often. I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. I’ve scribbled out my mental notes when something didn’t work out. Working on ski patrol was one of the most challenging and beautiful times of my life. I experienced a lot of the same hurdles I did as a young child, always having to fight for my place and prove my worth. Or did I really have to prove anything? It depends who you ask (and I didn’t ask you for your opinion, thanks).

I always struggled with what I thought I was supposed to be growing up. I didn’t spend a lot of time dating like many of my female counterparts. I spent summers at sports camps and running suicides during off-season ball practice. I asked guys out and they often told me I played too many sports to make a suitable date. My daddy would say the boys had nothing to woo me with, and they were intimidated by my outgoing demeanor and athletic abilities. I just thought I wasn’t good enough.

And that thought followed me to adulthood.

I had an identity crisis in my early twenties. Instead of taking care of myself and allowing my strengths to flourish, I infected my body and mind with copious amounts of booze. I thought if men didn’t accept me for who I was on the inside, then I needed to change who I appeared to be on the outside. Sadly, the only thing I gained was raging hangovers and a few pounds here and there. I hated myself. No one respects a sloppy drunk, and that’s exactly what I had become. I quit school and looked to adventure to fill my soul. The next decade would teach me all I needed to know about where society thought women belonged.

You know what? Women are awesome. We put up with a lot of shit from both ourselves and the outside world. We sometimes find ways to cope with how others view us, and often give in to stereotypes and opinions. We second guess ourselves according to how you think we should act. If we wear a short skirt, you think we are slutty, and if we keep up with you on a bike ride we’re just one of the dudes. We are fucking awesome and we still can’t win.

So, I’m here to tell you that we CAN win and we WILL win and no one is going to stop us.

Be competitive. Be formidable. Be all the things you’ve always been and make no excuses for it. If you want something, don’t be afraid to work hard for it. Demand respect. Show the naysayers that you belong here. Show up to the group ride, even if you’re the only woman. Don’t be afraid to show off your talents, and don’t be ashamed if you don’t perform at the same level as everyone else. Never apologize for being a woman. Don’t you dare say I’m sorry. You deserve to be here, no matter what anyone tells you. We’re gonna change the world, even if it takes us forever.

I think we are sitting on one hell of an opportunity. More women are taking control of their lives and following that big beating red thing in the middle of their chest. We are infiltrating the workforce, and doing what we love. We no longer make excuses for being smaller or slower or not as “good” as the men. We’re not taking that shit anymore. We are paving the way for the young girls of the world to grab life by the horns. I hope the men are taking notice, because it’s only getting better and we’re gaining momentum.

WE ARE COMING FOR YOU.

Ladies, we have an opportunity here. Don’t be afraid. Don’t hide. Embrace your passions and work towards your goals. I never once thought I would be sitting in the middle of the Wasatch mountain range, working for one of the most incredible companies in the bike industry…but here I am. I’m living proof that you really can do anything. It’s not easy and you’re probably gonna sweat a little, and you’re MOST DEFINITELY gonna cry a little…okay, I cried a lot…but you get my point.

Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like less of a person just because you’re different. You are beautiful and amazing and worthy of love and respect. You deserve the opportunity to reach your goals, no matter if you wear a skirt or not. Stop apologizing. Don’t settle. You are a bad ass and nothing can stop you. Try and free yourself from that baggage of the past and nourish those dreams, girl. Life isn’t slowing down, and you shouldn’t either.