How I Finally Stopped Saying Sorry

“Sorry, I’m slow.”

I used to say this a lot — or variations of it.

Sorry, I’m feeling slow today. Sorry, I’m so bad at this. Sorry, I’m so much slower than everyone else. Sorry, this trail is really hard for me. Sorry I’m so slow, I had a crash and got my chain stuck and then you wouldn’t believe it, but I got chased by a rabid badger, but really, just, sorry for being slow. Blah blah blah.

It wasn’t really because I thought I was slow (although, sometimes I did), but because I was so often riding in situations where I was slower than everything else, or at least towards the back of the group. This is the reality of being a new racer and dating a male professional mountain biker who has lots of male pro biker friends. I knew this, on some level, but I still felt shitty every time people were waiting for me. Hence, the apologizing.

Sorry, I’m slow. Sorry you had to wait for me. Blah, blah, blah.

The problem with saying “I’m slow” all the time, whether you believe it or not, is that it’s pretty much the opposite of what you should be telling yourself if you want to race fast. Our friends in Santiago did an experiment where they put two kiwifruits in different jars and labeled one “beso” (kiss) and the other “poto cara” (butt-face). They kept the jars in the same conditions and three weeks later the butt-face kiwi is covered in mold and the beso kiwi is fine. Now, don’t ask me how that works, but apparently it does, and the point is — what you say, matters, and it matters a lot.

I’ve tried to stop saying stuff like this in the past, but it’s never really stuck, because when I get to the bottom of the trail and see a bunch of people sitting around tapping their feet, I feel obligated to say something. This is because I’m a woman and have been indoctrinated by society to think that the only thing worse than drowning puppies in a swimming pool is inconveniencing people. (To be fair, I’ve heard guys say “sorry, I’m slow” but not NEARLY as often.) But, in all seriousness, when you’re the last person to roll up, saying nothing feels like ignoring the big, purple elephant sitting on the side of the trail. You can’t just pretend nothing is going on. If you do, people will probably assume you’re pissed off and they’ll be all “are you okay? did you crash?” and then you will be pissed off, and probably say something testy like “no, I’m just actually this slow, believe it or not” and then everyone will feel awkward and you will feel bad about yourself, all over again. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.

So, anyway, I was at an impasse — and then someone in my Facebook feed posted a link to this comic from Bored panda, called “Stop Saying “Sorry” And Say “Thank You” Instead,” and it was a massive lightbulb moment. It’s so good that I’m going to steal the first bit and post it below, and hopefully not get sued for copyright infringement. Seriously, though, you should go read the whole thing.

Comic by yaoxiaoart.com

Via yaoxiaoart.com

And so, over the past few months I’ve made a concerted effort to replace “sorry I’m slow” with “thanks so much for waiting for me,” and the results are pretty astounding. (Obviously I should have titled this “She changes 3 words in her vocabulary and what happens next will amaze you.” I would have gotten a lot more clicks, missed opportunity.)

I first tried out this strategy on a moto ride, and the end result was having two motocross bros bending over backwards to help me dig my bike out of trenches and make it up hills, all the while constantly assuring me that this was the most difficult trail in the area (which does beg the question why they brought me on it on my 7th ever moto ride, but hey, we all had fun). The second test run was on a XC ride where I was seriously imploding and crawling up the hills. To be honest, I was going slow, but instead of saying that, I just thanked everyone for waiting for me and being so patient. It worked. Someone even said “it’s nice to ride with someone who just goes their own pace and has fun,” which was a nice affirmation.

Here’s why I think this works. When you thank someone for waiting for you, they feel good about themselves. They feel like they’re helping you out (which they are, of course), and doing a a good thing. They feel appreciated. And, to be honest, they probably had a fairly good idea of what your ability level was before they rode with you, so they probably knew they would be doing some waiting, and now they’re just happy that you’re appreciative of their time. When you say “sorry, I’m slow” it’s awkward for everyone involved. Whether you mean it or not, it comes off like you’re fishing to be told that you’re not slow, kind of like when you tell your boyfriend “my stomach looks fat in this shirt” and you really just want him to say “but you’re so skinny!” (Hint: don’t do that either.) The truth is, if they’re that much faster than you, they probably do think you’re slow. And they probably don’t care. And even if they do care? You shouldn’t care, because you know what — you’re out there, doing your best and it doesn’t make one iota of difference whether someone thinks you’re fast or slow or average or whatever. It changes NOTHING.

But when you thank people for waiting for you, or compliment them on how fast THEY were going, it turns the whole dynamic of the ride into something more positive. Not only do you stop sending yourself the wrong message, you make other people feel better about themselves and encourage them to help you with your riding, instead of just waiting and feeling awkward. In other words, everyone wins.

Syd-El-Aleman

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

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

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40 thoughts on “How I Finally Stopped Saying Sorry

  1. Excellent and interesting advice.

    And the correct answer to “does this dress make me look fat” question is always no. If you’re fat it’s not the dress’s fault and if you’re not well, you’re not and you (really) know it.

    In the past I’ve played that game and felt burned. Now I just say “no”. Or jump the gun and observe how nice the dress is. All anyone wants who asks that question is a little affirmation that they look nice.

    But I do like the “thanks for your patience” line. I’ll start using it and report back in a few months.

    • hahahaha I like your strategy. Everyone fishes for compliments occasionally, but I think it’s important to try to keep it from becoming the norm — definitely not the healthiest for a relationship, in my opinion!

  2. this actually brought tears to my eyes…because i AM the slow hiker/jogger/snowshoer/skier…but i also AM the hiker/jogger/snowshoer/skier who is OUT THERE getting 14ers slowly summitted, and i also AM the appreciative of my friends for still hiking/jogging/snowshoeing/skiing with me person. thank you. thank you. thank you.

  3. Great article, and I’m guessing you’ve been on the other side, too, if you ever ride with women. We all start making excuses before we’ve even parked the car and unloaded the bike. Who cares if you’re not right behind me when I stop? I could ride slower or behind you if I did care, but I prefer that we all go our own pace, no apologies.

  4. Great advice!! In my ride group I am the oldest and slowest by far. I used to be so self-conscious and constantly apologized for holding up the group. But then I realized that they know I’m old and slow and still choose to ride with me anyway. Sometimes I push myself to keep up with them, and I’m sure my relaxed pace gives them permission to slow down now and then. Either way we all meet up at the next hill, pit stop, whatever, and always have a great ride.

  5. Great advice, Syd! I do a lot of hiking and tend to be the slowest in the group, so I will look forward to putting this to use in the near future. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  6. Thank you so much for this article. I ride with people much faster and more skilled then myself and I always find myself apologizing or allowing awkward silences. They are really good about it, but I think I should definitely try this.

  7. I’ve been on both the ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ teams many times, and this post is spot on! I can suggest taking down the level of self deprecation even one notch lower by rolling up to your riding (running) buddies, who may have been waiting a few minutes, cracking a big ‘old smile and exclaiming “that section was SO sweet!” I’ve found that cuts right through any perceived or actual anxiety on both sides related to the waiting, and sets a positive tone for the rest of the ride. Note that if this approach doesn’t have the desired outcome, then I suggest finding a new group to ride with:)

    • I like it, and I definitely use that one myself pretty frequently. Although it’s a little less convincing when the section in question is a hike-a-bike straight up hill, lol. I find “thank you” to be applicable to almost all situations and more palatable in the cases where you really are having an awful time and can’t bring yourself to pretend that something was fun (we’ve all been there).

  8. I so loved this post! As I am the slowest on climbs( really! Seriously! strava says so- hahahahaha). always DFL on strava climbs. I have physical issues that slow me down so I have to stop a lot and take breathing breaks- which is why I have always avoided groups rides as I hate having people wait for me. But after reading your post I just may start joining some group rides – with a hole new outlook! I’m way better at the downhill. Not that I’m speed racer or anything but I’m learning to look at my strengths and not focusing on the negative, which brings me down! Thanks for your inspiring words!

    • If you find the right group, nobody will care if they’re waiting for you or not. Most group rides are super social things and everyone wants to stop and gab anyway. I try to keep that in mind when I’m holding people up — they’re probably enjoying the chat!

  9. I like this advice – I’m usually the tail end charlie in my group of friends and end up feeling bad making everyone wait – but hey we have been riding together for 9 yrs now so I am sure they would have stopped inviting me long before now if it was a problem ! Going to start saying thanks from now on :)

  10. I love it! We hear apologies all the time in our clinics! We always say: “There’s no sorry in mountain biking!” It’s so important for women to understand how their words and thoughts towards themselves can affect their well-being and everyone around them. This is spot on! Awesome!

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  12. Thank you Syd for this post and advice!! Awesome! You really nailed it! :) From now on – I’ll definitely stop saying that I’m sorry I’m slow and feel sorry that people have to wait for me! I agree that turning the message to a more positive angle will for sure work better. Thank you!

  13. This is great advice for all aspects of our lives. I put out a “sorry jar” at the beginning of the year and promised my boyfriend I’d put a quarter in it every time I say I’m sorry. I’m sorry to say I haven’t done that yet lol. I will go put the jar back out and use it to help break the habit and think differently. On the bike, it’s important to just have fun and I’m learning that more each time I go out on a group ride.

    Thanks for posting!

  14. What an excellent piece of advice – I too am guilty of apologising all the time but that’s about to change and I’m going to try really hard to thank people for waiting for me.

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  16. Here we go again I thought another obviously not slow woman mountain biker giving me advice on being slow. However I carried on reading the article and had this amazing “aha” moment. You weren’t just telling me not to say sorry but actually giving me something else to say instead!!! So simple yet so effective. Thank you and apologies (allow me this one) for judging the book by it’s cover.
    Deb

  17. I’m so glad I found this. I’ve been apologising for months and feeling so guilty. Everyone I ride with has been racing for 10+ years and I’m just a year in and still messing up a lot and very slow. Starting to just go cycling on my own so I can enjoy it without feeling useless. This post has made me feel a lot better, can finally put a positive spin on things for everyone’s sake :)

    • It’s so so hard to ride with people with more experience, but it will make you stronger, especially if you can have a fun time doing it. It can be good to take a break and ride by yourself sometimes too, though. Glad you liked the post, thanks for the comment!

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  19. I really like your post. I guess it is like you when you find that your glass is actually not half empty, but rather half full, right? People can see things from different perspective, and it makes a big difference.

  20. Thanks for this article. I’ve been feeling slow with a new riding buddy, who is great and doesn’t pressure me. In fact, she is actually pretty fast and still asks me if she is slowing me down. We both need to worry less about that. Thanks for the affirmation. Also feeling a bit skittish, as I took my first real MTB crash over the handlebars last weekend. I’m working on building back my confidence. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Thanks for the comment, Dani. Crashes always take some time to build back from — I am going through the same process right now! Just trust your skills and your preparation and the confidence will come back.

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  22. Thank you so much for writing this. I have begun MTB with a women’s group and I must say a zillion times, SORRY! I know in my head that all the sorry’s are not helpful to me. So I repeat words of encouragement in my head, “You can do this. Look how beautiful it is out here. Smell the forest. Take in the moment”. So I really appreciate the reframe. And, I want to improve. I hate being the slowest! Once I get up the hill I can hold my own going down. But getting up the damn hill no matter how big or small is my cardio nemesis.

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  24. Great article Syd! A total aha moment for me in seeing that it can be used- or some variation of it- in so many places in life.

  25. Oh wow, I love this post! I’m in the middle of writing about my hiking experiences in New Zealand. I walked in a group for a while, and although I loved it, I struggled with being slow and keeping down the others. I really had to learn to be okay with it and accept that others had to wait for me once in a while – that’s part of being a group. I think the next step would definitely be your approach: thanking them for their patience. Now I’ve read it, it sounds so simple, but it is actually a brilliant idea!

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  27. This is great. Coming from a long and successful road racing background to a newbie on a mountain bike, I find myself in this situation every time I ride with someone else. Great reminder. Adding it to the dry erase board on my refrigerator. Thanks! Keep blogging!

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