Last Weekend was my second EWS and probably my second most challenging race ever. Pattern? Yes, Enduro World Series races are really hard. Brutally hard. That’s kind of the point. And I tend to do my best to make them as hard as possible. By, say, contracting a mysterious flesh eating bacterial infection days before the race or tumbling down a wooden bridge while pre-riding and bruising every joint in my body. Take your pick. (No, just kidding, take the bridge, definitely, take the bridge.)
After my first EWS in Colorado last year, I wrote this post about how important it is to take that leap of faith, even if you’re not ready. Last week I had some regrets about writing that blog post because I was having a really hard time following my own advice. I knew it was okay that I didn’t feel ready for the Rotorua race (what’s ready?!?!?!), but goddamnit, I wanted to be better prepared than I was and I was pretty annoyed at myself for banging myself up so badly in practice. Going into a big race with a bruised confidence and a sprained hand is just not ideal.
Turns out, nothing about my race in Rotorua was going to be ideal. I’m starting to realize that enduro racing is just too complex for things to go perfectly. There are too many stages, too many different kinds of terrain, too many things that can go wrong with a bicycle (not to mention the human body) over the course of a seven hour day. Enduro isn’t about having a perfect day, it’s about dealing with the day you happen to get. And my day was, in a lot of ways, pretty subpar.
I endo-ed into the spectators multiple times on Stage One, dropped my chain, re-arranged pretty much everything on my handlebars and had to run down stuff I SWEAR I could ride in practice. Then it took me awhile to put myself and my bike back together and I showed up about 25 seconds before my Stage Two start. I dropped my chain about 15 seconds into Stage Two and had to pump it out for the rest of the stage. On Stage Three I overshot a corner and knocked a photographer down a steep embankment (it was a dangerous day to be a spectator). Yadda yadda yadda until Stage Seven when things really fell apart and I had to run all the climbs with my chain so wedged up in the chain guide that I couldn’t even get my pedals to turn. Surprise surprise this is where the live broadcast picked me up, trying to strider-bike along the last flat section and generally looking like an idiot. Oh, and I was totally dead last.
But now I’m going to throw a curve ball at you. Wait for it…despite everything in the above paragraph, this was actually a really good race for me. A break-through race. I know what you’re thinking — what is this chick smoking to think that was a good race?
Here’s the deal — I’m not going to be getting top tens (or fifteens or twenties) in Enduro World Series events this year. That’s just how it is. A “good” result for me at this race would have been 28th or 29th place. Which would have sweet — I would have been stoked on that, but it’s still not much to write home about. And in the long term, the lessons I learned from having so many things go to shit in this race? Way more valuable than a top-thirty place.
This race wasn’t really a race between me and the other pro women. It was a race between me and this dude we’ll call the “Asshole In My Head” (AIMH for convenience). You know him. You probably have one too. The guy who’s always there when things go bad, to tell you that you suck, that you should just quit now because man, you’re hopeless and what are you even thinking to think you can handle this race, or this job, or this project, or whatever it is that you’re pouring your heart into, god you must be delusional. That voice was in fine form for me on Stage One and I came THIS close to caving to the pressure on the transition to Stage Two. By the time I had my bike back in working order, it really was not looking good for me to make my start time. I almost gave up right then because who wants to climb 45 minutes just to be turned around? There’s no way you’ll make it, the AIMH was telling me, so why bother, why not just give up now and go drown your sorrows in a nice, hot shower?
But then I figured that if I was going to get turned around, I might as well have tried, so I pushed as hard as I could on the climb and made my start with a leisurely 25 seconds to spare. This was a bit of ding-dong lightbulb moment for me, because the AIMH had pretty thoroughly convinced me that there was no hope, and yet, somehow, I made it. It made me realize that there probably have been a lot of times in my racing history where I’ve given up on situations that, had I just stayed focus for a few more minutes, could have been salvaged. Like all the times last year when one crash in a race stage sent me into a spiral of self-destructive doom. So when my chain fell off fifteen seconds into Stage Two, instead of being like “omg Syd why does this always happen you clearly suck at riding a bike” I was just like “huh, if Neko Mulally doesn’t need a chain, then neither do I” and then pumped my way to one of my better stage finishes of the day (luckily there were no climbs in this stage).
After Stage Two the race was pretty much a blow-out. The AIMH didn’t stand a chance. I’m proud to say I stomped his ass. This isn’t to say things went smoothly… I had some crashes, I had more mechanical issues and I chickened out on some techy sections, but mainly I had fun riding some of the gnarliest, wildest jungle trails in the world. By the time I got to Stage Seven I didn’t even care that I crashed into a mud pit, or that I had no chain, or that my handlebars refused to stay straight — I was just incredibly grateful that I was there, that I hadn’t given up after Stage One, that I was still riding and that I was going to finish the damn race, albeit with about as much style as a train-wreck.
That overused and usually mis-attributed Hunter S. Thompson quote applies to enduro racing, too:
Finishing this race was a huge victory. Finishing it with a smile was enormous. At this stage in my life and bike-racing “career,” a good race doesn’t necessarily mean a good result. A good race means persisting when things are going wrong, not beating myself up, feeling confident and having fun. A good race means telling those negative thoughts to pack their bags and go home. A good race means finding and then redefining my limits. So, I had a damn good race. That said, I really need to find a better chain guide…