Breaking Points

I hit a breaking point two weeks ago at National Champs. I went into the race tired — I had done some solid training in Ohio at my parents’ house the week leading up to the race, and while I felt strong during the workouts, my recovery seemed to still be lagging behind where it was, say, three months ago, before I got sick, and I couldn’t shake the exhaustion. Maybe it was the 3pm race starts, maybe it was the humidity, maybe it was the fact that I blew out my shock the day before practice and could never get the new one dialed in. Whatever it was, I felt like crap and it showed.

To be honest, I never had huge expectations for National Champs, but I wanted to have fun on new trails, and I wanted to feel good on my bike, and even those expectations proved too lofty. I didn’t want to be racing — in fact, I dreaded it. When things went to shit for me in the first stage of the second day (also known as the flattest stage ever seen in an enduro race, although that is by no means an excuse for my behavior), instead of taking the 2.5 seconds necessary to get my bike into working order, I lost it. I basically had a temper tantrum on the trail, and while I didn’t quite throw my bike into the bushes, it was close and there were definitely tears and some NSFW commentary (thank goodness I forgot to turn on my GoPro for that stage).

I almost quit the race after that stage. Actually, I almost quit racing entirely. I fantasized about leaving my bike in the forest and walking out, and then keeping walking until I couldn’t walk anymore and I collapsed onto the ground in a pitiful, mushy heap of pitifulness, vultures circling overhead. While I’ve certainly wanted to quit races before, this was the first time I wanted to quit purely because I didn’t want to keep racing, not because of a mechanical or an injury or a missed start or some other happenstance. There was no reason for me to quit beyond “I am so sick of this right now I don’t know if I can do this anymore.” This was kind of a scary moment — what do you MEAN you’re sick of this? my logical brain demanded. What do you mean “not anymore?” What exactly are you so sick of? Riding bikes for a living? Poor baby. Get your shit together.

And I did, more or less. I can’t say I have the best attitude in bike racing — in fact, catch me at the right (wrong?) time, and I might be the biggest fucking mess on the race course — but I am the master of the 180 degree attitude reversal, and that is pretty much the only reason I am still here doing this.

“Just pretend you’re doing intervals,” Macky told me on the way up the next climb after he had convinced me that, no, I couldn’t quit the race. And so I did — pedal for ten seconds, pump for ten seconds, repeat. The second stage of the day was nearly as flat as the first one, but somehow ended up being one of my better finishes of the race, confirming what I’ve known for a while, which is that pretty much all my problems originate in my head. Yeah, my fitness could be better, especially after being sick, and yeah, my skills could be better because DUH, but both of the those things are good enough that I could be racing a hell of a lot better than I am. To be honest, I don’t entirely know how to fix this, but as I discussed in my last blog post, I’m tired of trying the same things over and over again, so something is going to have to change, and soon.

The night after the Nationals race, I was in a slump. “I’m sick of losing bike races,” I told Macky in a fit of “woe is me” moaning.

“Then I guess you better start winning, or quit bike racing,” he responded. It was a bit of an “I’m fed up with you” kind of response, but for some reason it made sense to me. Like, maybe it really is that simple. Maybe I just have to decide to “win.” I’m not talking about winning as in standing on the top step of the podium, but winning as in “trying” or “trying to actually do everything I can.” Maybe my biggest problem is that I am just too good at losing races. Losing doesn’t really scare me, anymore. Being DFL doesn’t really bother me that much. I’m kind of used to it. And while that’s good in some ways — I’m not scared to try new races, or to push my limits — it’s also made me complacent.

While my result wasn't super impressive this weekend, I'm pretty stoked with how I raced (minus the chain drop dilemma on the final stage grrr ). After being sick for so long earlier this summer, it was really tempting to write my season off — I lost a lot of fitness and mentally I wasn't in a good place, but after Nationals I realized I had had enough of half assing it and being disappointed in myself, and that something had to change or, quite frankly, I wasn't going to be able to keep doing this. I resolved to do everything I could from then on out to race well, have fun and be happy. NO MORE EXCUSES, time to take care of my own shit. And I have some shit that needs to be taken care of before I can race at my potential, but I'm working on it, and this weekend was full of small victories. I might not crawl out of this slump in a week, or a month, or anytime soon, but I will get there, and that's a promise so let's go ride some damn bikes!! ‍♀️ . Thanks @beth2025 for the photo and all the cheers!!

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To clarify — I train hard. In the off season, I really have done everything I can to be the best bike racer I can be. I’ve worked with an endurance coach and a strength coach and a skills coach. I’ve followed my training plans, and tackled my weaknesses and just overall done my homework. And then I get to the race start and I crumble. I take the easy way out. And the easy way out is expecting to lose. After all, if I expect to lose, how hurt can I get? I marshal my excuses, I mentally compose my “just didn’t have it today” instagram post, I skip my warmup routine because “what difference does it really make?” All this before the damn race even starts. To be honest, I’m a little ashamed to admit this on the internet. I think people look at me and where I am in my career and think I have my shit together way better than I actually do, and here I am, in real life, getting in my own way in such basic and obvious ways. It’s a little embarrassing.

I suspect I’m not the only person who has asked this question, whether about bike racing or other aspects of life — “What if I actually lived up to my potential?”

What if.

It’s kind of a scary thought really, because it lets in all sorts of demons like “what if this is really it” or “what if I’m always slow.” But I think I’m finally at the point where I have achieved all I possibly can with all my mental hang ups and neuroticism and it’s time to show the fuck up 100%. To be honest, if something doesn’t change, I can’t keep doing this — I have been slowly driving myself crazy for the past two years (okay, slight exaggeration, but you get the point). So after this conversation at Nationals — “start winning or quit” — I made a pact with myself to do everything I could from that point forward to race well, have fun, and be happy. Basically, I’m done making excuses and ready to start taking care of my own shit, even the hard stuff, like what’s going on in my head.

Last weekend’s EWS round in Aspen was probably my best race of the year, not because of the result, but because I actually showed up mentally for at least four of the six stages (a massive improvement over nationals). I struggled with my fitness on some of the longer stages, and had an annoying mechanical on the final one, so it wasn’t a perfect race, but it was a pretty good one, and most importantly, I was there.

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Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

I write about bikes and life and trying to get better at both.

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6 thoughts on “Breaking Points

  1. One of my favourite quotes is by Maryanne Williamson; “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

  2. Hi Syd. Im working a lot on the mental side too which is perhaps one of my weakest sides impacting a lot also my skill progression. I was reading that in races (especially among 10-20 top riders) its psychological rather than physiological makeup/skills that determine the winners. (Joe Friel The mountainbikers training bible). Im still trying to figure out how to strenghen my mental stamina, but I found that accepting my bad racing-training days, shouting ‘aggressive!’ to myself when tackling a rough section and pushing myself endlessly through rough days, trails, features even though I dont want to. I have been asking myself recently what if i ‘decide’ to win before hitting my bext race instead of just being worried and feeling insecure about it? I think half of winning is racing with an aggressive fighting mode.. so what if you set yourself on a fighting mode by deciding to actually win and be on the actual podium even if its ews.. how far would that mental mode push you to do instead of expecting to be kind of last (as in my case or worse just hoping to finish). I wont be racing for a few months but i’ll give it a shot!

    • Hey Yasmine, I think you’re totally right. I really think that a lot of my issues stem from racing pro races and EWS races looooong before I was at the level to do well. At the time it seemed like a good idea because it really pushed my riding levels, but now it’s coming back to bite me a bit, as I can see that I’ve developed a lot of assumptions about where I’m going to end up that are hard to shake, even when I KNOW I can race at a higher level, my brain just keeps directing me back to where it’s comfortable. Crazy stuff, our minds.

  3. Hi Syd. Im working a lot on the mental side too which is perhaps one of my weakest sides impacting a lot also my skill progression. I was reading that in races (especially among 10-20 top riders) its psychological rather than physiological makeup/skills that determine the winners. (Joe Friel The mountainbikers training bible). Im still trying to figure out how to strenghen my mental stamina, but I found that accepting my bad racing-training days, shouting ‘aggressive!’ to myself when tackling a rough section and pushing myself endlessly through rough days, trails, features even though I dont want to helps. I have been asking myself recently what if i ‘decide’ to win before hitting my next race instead of just feeling worried and insecure about it? I think half of winning is racing with an aggressive fighting mode.. so what if you set yourself on a fighting mode by deciding to actually win and be on the actual podium even if its ews.. how far would that mental mode push you to do instead of expecting to be kind of last (as in my case or worse just hoping to finish). I wont be racing for a few months but i’ll give it a shot!

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