Actor turned bike racer Mark-Paul Gosselaar once said, “I think racing and riding are two different elements of cycling. You either want to or not depending on what you want to get out of it.”
I can relate.
Call it a mid-life crisis; call it Fabian fever, Armstrong adrenaline, Leipheimer lunacy or whatever you want. My love of cycling and possibly a stroke of insanity got the best of me when I decided to participate in New Jersey Bicycle Association’s (NJBA) Cat 4 Women’s Cup Series, which includes Criteriums, Road Races and Time Trials. With Category 4 being the entry field for women, this series is designed to give riders like me the opportunity to identify the types of races you like and may dislike about road racing.
A few races into the 2011 amateur road season and the experiences are proving to be much more of a dose of harsh reality than a rise to glory. Granted, I never expected podium finishes but to Gosselaar’s point you have to dig deep to understand what you want to achieve through racing. The first thing you’ll find out is that while the strength, endurance and speed you’ve built on group rides will serve as a foundation, you’re about to enter a different sphere in the universe of cycling.
So far I crashed out of my first Criterium and tanked the following week in a Time Trial primarily because it never occurred to me that the Eddy Class (no aero equipment) permits an open field. Next was the Tour of Colts Neck, a circuit race with a field of 25 Cat 4 women. No crashes this time and I didn’t come in last but my finish was far from any level of greatness. Nothing like sprinting for 21st place. Awesome! (eye roll)
At this point there was a fine line between continuing the series and burning my race license. Never one to walk away, I have resolved to a mental state of patience, persistence and determination to continue and push me physically through hard training rides and racing. NOTE: mental state. That’s what’s important now.
Being a new racer can be humbling but it will thicken your skin and you’ll need this barrier to help resist thought processes that can break you down. Most experienced racers can attest that your first few seasons are for gaining experience and nurturing the ability to build strategic instincts. As a new racer, you should also be prepared to take what may seem like a failure and turn it into a “what do I need to do differently next time?” lesson. This is also how you build the mental toughness necessary to keep going back for more, which is the only way to become a stronger, faster and more strategic cyclist.
Make sure you give yourself a pat on the back by looking at the big picture and recognizing the hard work you’ve put into making improvements over an extended period of time. A year ago I wasn’t close to riding at the level I’m at right now, let alone attempt racing. I attribute my development to joining Montclair Cyclists, a performance-based team that prides itself it rider development programs. One example is our biannual Time Trial. Our spring event was last week and I shaved two minutes off from the fall. While I know I still have a long way to go and a several bad habits to break (like gear mashing), a personal best is always a good boost of confidence. Savor it.
Most importantly, remember that cycling should be the FUN part of your life no matter how lofty your goals may be. For the time being I am enjoying my attempt at racing and learning a lot about this beautiful sport. Not to mention I’ve made some amazing friends in the process.
I would be irresponsible to end this post without addressing the true risks of bike racing. You’re usually in a close pack holding an aggressive pace with cyclists you don’t normally ride with. If you race enough, there is a good chance you will experience a crash. Often times, this is out of your control. When racing, make vigilance and safety part of your strategy. Health and safety always comes first.
And remember the toughest, most hard-fought moments are the most inspiring and motivating because that’s when you see results.
For more inspirational tales of mental toughness, visit Maryanne's Blog, BlueRubyRider.