What if being scared is the point?
5 Jun 2019
Here’s a revelation I had recently: it’s time to get over the expectation of thinking I “should” be able to ride everything at an enduro race without being scared or intimidated.
When I first started racing enduro, I had this vision of a future where I would be able to show up at any race and just race. You know, focus on going fast instead of bugging out about one feature or another. Back then I did a lot — and I mean A CAPITAL LOT – of bugging out over things, partially because my skills weren’t that great, and partially because I was just prone to bugging the eff out.
Over the past five years, I have improved exponentially both skills-wise and mentally, but an annoying thing has happened — as I’ve gotten better, so has everyone else, and the courses have gotten more and more challenging. Enduro was a bit of a baby sport in the US back in 2014 and that’s the problem with being a baby racer in a baby sport: it grows with you.
As I got better, enduro courses got harder, and yet still, my expectation of being able to ride everything confidently grew and grew. After all, I had been doing this for so long, why was I still bothered by this rock or that jump or what have you? Shouldn’t I be over all that? I am realizing now that judging myself by this moving bar was probably a huge factor in the burnout that nearly drove me away from racing in 2017.
Last year, as you know if you’ve been following this blog for awhile, I changed my approach to racing. While this was a good thing in nearly every way, I didn’t push myself much skills-wise in 2018. This was okay — necessary even — and despite (or perhaps BECAUSE OF) not “pushing myself” I still made some huge strides with my technical riding. But the reality is that most enduro races I did in 2018 did not push me too far out of my comfort zone technically. I actually could race everything and I had very few moments of freaking out over a certain feature. Until, of course, I went to a few Enduro World Series races at the end of the year and managed to absolutely LOSE MY MIND over one particular rock section in Finale Ligure. A sign that perhaps, despite a much better year, this particular mental pattern was not completely behind me.
Fast forward to this past weekend, pre-riding for the Grand Junction Grand Enduro, when I found myself on the very cusp of a meltdown. There was a rock A-Line I didn’t want to ride. But more than not wanting to ride it (because I was fairly certain I could ride it, I just didn’t like it), I didn’t want it to be on the course. I didn’t want to have to face it and the fact that, after all this time, all these years, all this skills work, I still am showing up to regional races and balking at technical features. I didn’t want to face the fact that I still have not arrived at that point where I can show up at a race and just race and not be so damn intimidated by a pile of rocks.
I rode the line and it was fine, but I was unhappy about it, an unhappiness that I have to admit had nothing to do with my skills or that line, and everything to do with my expectations and what I think riding certain features says about me. Later I got to thinking, and I realized something: what if I was actually able to let go of that expectation of being able to riding everything easily and without being intimidated? What if that wasn’t the goal? What if I showed up to enduro races not just accepting but seeking that challenge? What if I saw that challenge as the WHOLE DAMN POINT, instead of seeing it as this ugly part of the experience that shows how unprepared and unworthy I am of being a pro racer? What if I completely let go of of the idea that I will ever be able to show up to an enduro race and not be scared of at least something?
I say I am in this bike racing thing for the challenge of it. What if I lived that?
Nice piece, Syd. It’s reassuring to know that people who do scary stuff for a living really struggle with that fear and then do it anyway.
Syd, your candor and willingness to put yourself out there truly sets you far apart from most MTB bloggers. I’ve read somewhere that fear, in its’ many forms, is an unconscious connection to our primal survival instinct, so it is easy to see why it can dominate our thought processes especially when adrenaline is flowing at race speeds.
A question that I have, my apologies if it has been raised earlier elsewhere, is that does having a pro enduro husband help, hinder or hurt how you handle fear?
I’m an old man who still pedals around and your blog really hit home on the story of life. As i cover the last mile I have many of the same thoughts so you make me feel I can still do something. It will not be what it was but hopefully it will be the best I can do at the time, as you do.
Thanks you Syd.