When You’re Tough Enough

You are tough enough. You’ve done good. You have nothing left to prove.

toughenough

These words spontaneously popped into my head while I was finishing a training ride in Frisco last month. This was about two weeks after my concussion in Sun Valley and I had just pulled out of the Keystone Big Mountain Enduro. So, You are tough enough, you have nothing left to prove. It became like a mantra while I was cooling down on the bike path and before I knew it I was bawling my eyes out while dodging tourists on cruiser bikes. Awesome. As you can see, I’ve really got my shit together this year.

I don’t really know why those words hit me so hard, but I think it was a sort of sudden emotional release of everything I’ve been holding onto since things started going sour for me this year. Or maybe longer than that. It was like I suddenly realized how much pressure I’ve been putting on myself to be tough for the past three years, or maybe my entire life. I’ve been slowly working my way towards this conclusion for a few months now — I touched on it a little bit in this post when I was talking about how riding through my knee pain caused me a million and ten problems, but my crash in Sun Valley, as well as my mishap this past weekend in Steamboat, really drove the message home.

Mountain biking has made me tough. And that is, for the most part, a good thing. I think there are a lot of people out there who could benefit from the high tolerance for scrapes and bruises that mountain biking affords you. Case in point, I have raced with a torn hamstring, a MRSA infection, a sprained hand, food poisoning, numerous head colds and the usual bumps and bruises (ranging from minor to downright alarming). In 2014, I raced the day after I got seven stitches in my face and earlier this year I got up and finished a race even though I had zero idea wtf had just happened. Some of these things were minor inconveniences, and others were downright stupid. And that’s the problem — sometimes stupidity looks a lot like being tough. The line is blurry, especially in a mountain bike culture where we idolize ridiculous crashes and cheer people on for racing through injury.

The lesson I’ve been learning this year is that being tough, while admirable, does not make you fast. And also, and perhaps more importantly, I’m already tough enough. I can gut out long transition climbs, even the ones that seem impossible. I can make it down some pretty gnarly terrain when I’m exhausted. I can get up after a crash in a race run and nail the rest of my lines with my handlebars 15 degrees off center. I can buckle down and finish just about anything no matter how jacked up my body and bike may be. And that’s great and all, but while I may be tough enough, I’m still not fast enough. And I want to do more than finish races. I want to do well.

After crashing on the second stage of the Big Mountain Enduro in Steamboat this past weekend, I was furious. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so upset with myself over a mistake in a bike race. I just felt so dumb to have crashed on something that was entirely within my ability due to…I don’t know…being a millimeter off line, being a nanosecond off on my timing, my body position being a eensy-weensy bit unbalanced… or maybe just having the shittiest luck ever. It was really upsetting. And even though it wasn’t a high speed crash I managed to chuck my bike ten feet down an embankment into a creek and smash my arm into a boulder. I finished that stage, and the rest of the day, but I wasn’t entirely sure my arm wasn’t broken at that point. It swelled up massively, and while I could technically hold onto the bars, it sucked. I felt better the next morning — until I started riding, where every bump was excruciating. I had full range of my motion and some grip strength, so I knew nothing was broken, but I almost wished it was. On the first transition, I tried to give myself a pep talk. Like, you just have to finish, who cares if you’re last, you can ride through much worse pain than this — Just think about what you can learn from this, how tough this will make you.

And then it hit me — that same mantra that made me cry a month ago in Frisco. You’re already tough enough. You’ve done good. You have nothing left to prove. And I realized something — I already know I can finish the damn race. I already know that if I can physically ride my bike, I can finish just about anything. I already fucking know that. The only thing I can possibly learn in this situation is when to walk away.

So I raced the first stage of the day. And then I walked away. I’ve never DNFed a race before, not like that. (Technically, I was a DNF at Inca Avalanche in 2014 but I was vomiting uncontrollably and got carted off the course by the police escort vehicle, so there wasn’t much decision involved.) It was devastating. I felt like a failure. The hours after that decision might be the lowest of the low for my season, and fuck, that is saying something this year.

But it was quickly apparent that my decision was the only possible good one. I avoided injuring myself further and I was able to get the swelling down with some rest and a lot of ice. I haven’t tested it out on anything bumpy yet, but I think I’ll be able to ride for the Enduro Cup this weekend in Park City. And life goes on.

This season has forced me, brutally, harshly, to divorce my sense of accomplishment from race results. I’m riding completely differently than I was last year — I am fitter and faster. I don’t need race results to tell me that. I’m hitting jumps and features that are way bigger and gnarlier than I’ve ever hit before. I am looking at trails in an entirely different way, seeking out little opportunities to get air that I never would have seen before. I can actually hit corners and carry some speed.

And yeah, I’m still racing like shit. But racing isn’t everything.

I sat down last October and wrote down a list of goals — tasks, really, things I could control — to work on. I read these over this morning and I realized something — I’ve done them all. I’ve worked on everything I’ve said I was going to do. For the past ten months, I’ve poured every ounce of energy I had into being the best mountain biker I can be… training, strength work, representing my sponsors, working on skills, racing. I have done everything I possibly could. I didn’t give up on myself when I injured my knee in May. I didn’t give up after my concussion in June. And I’m not giving up now, either. The rest of my season could be a total disaster, but at least I will know that I tried, that I did everything I possibly could to make this work. I don’t need to prove that to anyone, because I know, and that’s all that matters right now. So, no matter how tired and frustrated and discouraged I am right now, I’m proud, too.

Syd Schulz

Pro mountain biker.

Average human.

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

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15 thoughts on “When You’re Tough Enough

  1. Syd, this really resonated with me and where I am with my training right now (7.5 weeks down on my surgical clerkship, 4.5 left to go…not that I’m counting). I’ve spent so much time trying to prove the exact thing, that I’m tough enough, and who exactly have I been doing it for?

    I’m proud of you and I love how you write about mountain biking but really you write about life.

  2. Hey Syd I wanted to leave you a message… You inspire all of us! You are good enough and you are worth every drop of the blood, sweat and tears that you put into this. I know all to well, like many of us that have this love/hate relationship with this sport, how devastating it can be in a situation like you were in. But you did what you came to do.

    Personally I know all to well how you can beat yourself up about losing a race, DNF’ing, or whatever. But there is something that I have taught myself in the last few years, a saying that has helped me with so much and proves what you are saying….
    Fall in love with the process and the results will come.” And for me this is true in my work life as a project manager for state govt. No where else have I ever been where this is more true. There is always some variable, some item that keeps you from the results, so you really much love the process(es) or you will go insane.

    Think about it….
    “Fall in LOVE with the process…… And the results WILL come.”
    Nothing is truer than that statement, fall in love with only the results and that is when things start looking more like work and less like FUN. This was something that I personally went through when I was racing a few years ago. Yeah I could put in the work, time, effort but at what cost. At what point did the race start feeling more like WORK just to get a podium vs. being out there for FUN and earning that podium. Again, Fall in LOVE with the process…. And the results WILL come.” No timestamp, no ambivalent horizon that you are shooting for. Just falling in love with something.

    Short story: In 2013 I was coming into a new race season with a number of wins locally in 2012. I had promised myself that I was going to repeat it and win ALL of the races for my amateur category.. I won the first one, right before Mother’s Day that year and was so proud to show my mom all the hard work that I had gone through paid off. Here was my FIRST win of the year. Of course of what I thought was many more. I had just started a new, high paying job after coming off lay-offs in 2011 where I literally cut my income in half. But mountain biking was my faith, my love and was my stress relief.

    Then at the end of June my mom lost the almost 20yr long fight with cancer. Needless to say this happened the weekend before my next race. At the ripe age of 68 she would never see me win another race. My family was devastated but we all held it in, grieved in our ways and said goodbye. Every time after that that I attempted to mount up my bike to go for a ride, I couldn’t. Sometimes I got as far as lacing up my shoes, sometimes I got as far as getting to the trailhead. Sometimes the equipment just collected dust. One night talking to my brother about it he said, “You know I go through the same thing. Some days the motivation is there to at least get on the bike. Some days I get on my trainer and that is as far as I get. I sit there for a minute slumped over the bars and feel like I just got done riding a 30+ mile, 10K foot elevation gain climb type ride. And some days I get home and feel absolutely ashamed that I even have the equipment in my garage because it hasn’t been touched in days. And then I remember that mom worked, literally, until the day she died. Not because she had too, but because she LOVED what she did. PERIOD.” That took a while to sink in…

    Then shortly after I found that quote…. “Fall in LOVE with the process…. And the results WILL come.” She was a teacher at the same school that she started at as an aid, and finished there. She was with the school for 35yrs. She had seen kids come through her 3rd grade class, grow, have their own kids, teach them AND get to see them grow and teach THEIR kids. She LOVED what she did and that was why she kept doing it until the day she died. Literally was one week from retirement, was doing the end of year school meetings and check when the cancer finally took her.

    So… what I am getting at is YOU INSPIRE ALL OF US. Don’t do it for the results, not for Macky, not for the Sponsors… Do it because you love it. And believe me when I say I have been there, I am writing this with a boot on my right leg, crutches next to me and 3wks post-op. But I will be on that “damn bike” (as the wife calls it) again because I love it. Maybe not quickly here but soon. Stay strong, stay true.
    And as my HS tennis coach once told me…. Harder, Faster, Stronger, Longer…. Stand Tall and Let the Heavens hear your cries!

  3. Syd,

    Thank you for sharing your blog posts with us. I love how raw, unfiltered , and seemingly unashamed you are. It’s not easy to put all of this down on a public forum. I’ve been following you all season and rooting for you and know you will catch a break soon, you deserve it! Honestly, reading your insights into enduro racing has really helped me in my race season too (although I race XC). I had a similar revelation that you described at the end, where you looked at some goals from the previous season and found that you met them all, and in hindsight you are a much stronger and well-rounded rider because of it. It’s so important to take that step back and stop comparing yourself to others. It might be cheesy, but someone once told me that the only person you should compare yourself to is who you were yesterday.

    My observation is that women’s mountain biking is getting increasingly more competitive in the last 5 years or so, and that is a great thing for the sport overall. The best we can do is stay focused, stay in it for the fun and for the gratification of pushing personal boundaries, and keep on shredding! You got this lady :)

    • Hey Bella — so good to hear from you. We definitely need to catch a ride together at some point if we end up in the same place. I like the comment about comparing yourself to who you were yesterday. I think I need to start printing motivational stickers with all the smart things people write in comments on my blog, haha. And yeah, women’s mountain biking is blowing up, which is AWESOME and a good thing for all of us in the long run (even if we feel a bit behind the curve, right now, I know I do, lol).

      • I would love that. Seriously, don’t hesitate to get in touch any time you are in northern Colorado :) I live in Fort Collins.

  4. “but I wasn’t entirely sure my arm wasn’t broken at that point. It swelled up massively, and while I could technically hold onto the bars”

    You must’ve banged up your picture takin’ arm. A picture of that would be a cool one to post!

    Watch this: https://youtu.be/Bf5TgVRGND4
    Have a beer.
    Hit it hard tomorrow.

  5. Yo Syd,

    Thanks for this post. Your writing always reminds me to get over myself and push my own boundaries (mental or physical), redefine success. I’ve looked everywhere for an excuse to bail on an upcoming race, for a few reasons, but most of them super lame. A lot of that has to do with comparing myself, not the simple accomplishment of finishing an endurance race, which also is NEVER a fucking guarantee and I’m taking that for granted. So, Ima do me. Really, who else is it for? I am stronger and more skilled each year, and have many things to be grateful for and proud of. Thanks for reminding me of how far I’ve come. Lately I’ve been thinking too, a great gift is to always have another chance, so here’s to next season as well.

    -hbee

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