Another weekend, another bike race, another wild gauntlet of emotions. This weekend took me all the way from “I am never racing a bike again” to “I can’t wait for the next race” all within the span of a few hours, and honestly I’m feeling a little confused.
After a rough few years and struggling with burnout, I am still feeling my way to back to racing, and trying to figure out the role I want it to play in my life. There were points this off-season when I really thought it might be healthier for me to just walk away from racing entirely — goodness knows you can have fun on a bike (arguably more fun) without racing it — and yet, here I am. Since I pulled out of the Moab Enduro Cup to sort out some knee issues, the Big Mountain Enduro in Santa Fe this past weekend was my first “real” race. (Real is in quotes, because I did race Sea Otter, but that barely counts as an enduro). The BME Santa Fe is about as real as it gets, which is to say that 3/4 of the stages scare the shit out of me at race pace, and I spent the three days leading up to the race fantasizing about announcing my retirement from enduro racing, which is, like, probably not the greatest race prep.
And then the first stage — well, it felt awful. I felt like I was going interminably slow, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to get my shit together. Rocks popped up out of no where and stole all my momentum. Lines that had flowed when I had pre-ridden the stage suddenly required an enormous amount of effort just to get through safely. And then I made a stupid mistake at the end of the stage and ended up having to get off my bike and walk myself out of a pile of rocks. I was pretty certain I had frittered away any chance I had of not being last in the race. It was all over after the first stage. Blah blah blah.
As it it turned out, I had actually done fairly well in this stage, but the power of self-fulfilling prophecy is strong, and I proceeded to have a pretty good shocker on the second stage. I’m not sure what happened, other than that I seemed to lose confidence in my ability to ride at all, and just couldn’t put the pieces together. I rode some lines I swear I had never seen before, and there was a reason I had never seen them before (they were NOT good). By the end of this stage, I really wanted it to be over, and seriously contemplated just walking out on the whole scene — like, you know, from racing altogether. Like, full on, EFF THIS I AM OVER IT moment. What can I say, bike racing makes me dramatic. But then I pulled myself together, and climbed back up the hill because finishing shit is the one thing I just do really, really well.
I raced the next two stages aggressively (perhaps a little too aggressively given the number of times I rode off the trail on stage 3), and finished the race on high note and, somewhat surprisingly, in 7th place. It’s an odd sensation to feel like I somehow exceeded my own expectations and external goals (a mid-pack finish), while also failing to achieve a lot of really basic more inwardly pointed goals — such as, ya know, keeping my shit together and not letting early mistakes escalate into, ahem, full on “I forget how to ride a bike” meltdowns.
The lack of immediate feedback from other racers makes enduro especially difficult, I think. Our perception of how we’re stacking up is left entirely to us and our brains. If you blow a corner in an XC race you can see how little you actually lost with that mistake and can make a push to make it up. In enduro, that blown corner can, quite easily, blow out of proportion in your mind and start to seem like the end of the world. With enduro racing the reality is that you really have no idea how you’re doing until you punch your chip, something I avoided doing after Stage 1 because I was so *sure* I was going to be last and that that would make me upset. Had I actually bothered to punch my chip I would have seen that I had placed 6th on that first stage, easily my best BME stage finish in several years. But I didn’t look. Because, you know, I already knew.
Generally I’m a proponent of not looking at results mid-race because holy moly mind-fuck, but this strategy only works if you haven’t already decided for yourself what those results are going to be. The point of not looking at results is that you take your head out of your rectum and just RACE YO DAMN BIKE, not that you get to decide pre-emptively that you are obviously in last place, like I did this past weekend.
As they say, it’s not over ’til it’s over, and ya don’t know ’til ya dip yer chip. Or something like that.
Now that the dust has settled (or rather, now that I’m done hacking up dust), I’m pretty pleased with this weekend. My fitness was way better than I anticipated after having taken a few weeks off training to rehab my knee. My knee survived 4400 feet of climbing in one day. My skills are, if not exactly where I’d like them to be, certainly far better than last year. Despite several off-trail detours, I beat my Stage 3 time from last year by 27 seconds. Mentally, I am still facing some of the same struggles that have plagued my racing career, but I also snapped out of it faster than usual and salvaged more, and that’s incremental progress. And, at least for the moment, I can’t wait to race again.