Thursday, November 9, 2017

Home Isn't Where The Heart Is

I don't want to talk
About the things we've gone through
Though it's hurting me
Now it's history
I've played all my cards
And that's what you've done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play…

The winner takes it all
The loser standing small
Beside the victory
That's her destiny

Sometimes you need to play the whole song and not just a snippet of the lyrics. In this case, it all too perfectly fits my experience at two consecutive Raven Enduro races, despite very different approaches leading into them. Last year I spent a lot of time preparing, thinking that I could use my home course advantage and practice all of the stages until I was good enough to actually win. The result of that tactic was a punch in the face that left me reeling and crying in front of strangers, but ultimately set me up for greater success this season. Simply doing a run a bunch of times won’t do a lot of good unless you are finding and addressing fundamental weaknesses while you do it. My personal experience and observations of others from the past year is that I’m not sure that a home course advantage is really as much of a thing in enduro as one might initially think. While you want to generally know the tone and any major features of a segment, I think that too much practice on a single section may eventually backfire mentally.

Learning that lesson lead to quite a few sport class victories on trails than I’d never ridden until the day before the race, and a realization that there was no special advantage to be gained by making a bunch of trips out to SMCC to practice for the Raven. Also, I just didn’t want to do that. I had raced all that I wanted to race this year, but I felt some sort of guilt that I was still supposed to race my “home” race. Home is relative when it’s 20 minutes away, but not trails that you ever ride other than to practice for a specific race. What I really wanted was to just go through the motions at this year’s Raven, and not care too much.

That sounds easy enough, but as the weeks ticked off leading up to the race, my anxiety still grew. I mentioned in my post on the Gorgeous Ladies of Enduro that it was actually more stressful for me to ride my home trails than it was to race because of the spontaneous Strava competition that erupted around the time I started resurrecting old downhill segments that no women had ridden in years. What started as a fun way to motivate myself to try and get faster quickly turned into a demotivator with names I’d never heard of popped up on the leaderboards to challenge me, and were often times successful. Per the theme of the GLOE post, I felt a certain internal pressure to be the queen of my little piece of enduro territory, and I was upset to see that slipping away. Worse, the imaginary Strava competition that I had entered pronounced all of my insecurities about being an untalented rider in way actual racing never did, because I had to face it every single ride instead of just the occasional weekend.

Man I promise, I'm so self-conscious
That's why you always see me underneath some goggles
Rockshox and S Works done drove me crazy
I can't set my own rebound, but check my new full-facey!
Then I spent 400 bucks on this
Just to be like girl, you ain't up on this!
And I can't even go on a weeknight ride
Without my matchy matchy gloves and a shirt that’s bright
It seems we living that neon dream
But the people highest-vis got the lowest self esteem

Sorry, I just had to diverge into some bonus lyrics there…
The technicolor inspiration for the bonus lyrics above. Some guy said, "I like how your S Works matches your jersey, and I thought, "Yeah, too bad I can't live up to this bike's expectations."
Anyway, things didn’t really get any better for my Rothrock riding after I published my GLOE post and took a mid-season break. Although one of my Strava gnar-meses gained a whole lot of credibility when she raced the CLIF Enduro East in Killington, which looked absolutely awful from the pictures and videos that I’d seen. Basically, the quickest way to gain my respect is to jump into something way over your head and get your ass kicked really hard. However, as I tried to come back later in the summer and continue to improve on segments where I’d made huge leaps in the spring, I found myself unable to improve while another girl had seemingly swept up every downhill QOM in Rothrock, including Wildcat.

This was a huge bummer for me for all of the reasons mentioned above. Despite exceeding the non-existent expectations that I’d had for myself at the beginning of the year about my race season, I felt like every ride at home was just a reminder that I actually sucked. I was trying really hard to get faster, and it just wasn’t working while every ride I saw proof of how easy it was for someone else. I was winning races in West Virginia, but at that point, it just felt like that was just luck. All it would take would be another semi-talented new girl showing up in there to take it all away from me.

So as the Raven approached, I became more and more worried that I would have to face the human symbol of all my self-loathing in real life, and that would just be too much. Due to my late-season stagnation, I felt helpless to actually do anything that would make me race better, and I mostly just plotted ways to soften the blow. Maybe I would enter the Pro/Cat 1 class so that I’d have excuse to lose? I waited until the last hour of pre-registration to make my decision, and at that time I was the soul entrant in that category. Would I actually get my wish of just showing up and going through the motions and not have to feel bad about my results?

The answer was of course not. Sunday’s race brought three other entries into the Women’s Pro/Cat 1 category, including the one that I was most afraid of. And she talked me. And she was nice. And on Stage 4 she moved from a few people in front of me, to a few people back, and to starting right behind me. And almost making up a minute on me during that single stage. In the end, she placed second between two of the fastest women in the state, and I was DFL…by a lot. And that was the point at which I just had to hang my head and admit that she is way faster than me and that it sucked. At least there is a certain level of relief that comes when something plays out just as badly as you were afraid it might and then it’s over.

I know that I’ve referenced Syd Schulz almost of my posts the past few months, but the woman is smart. As I scrolled through my phone waiting for the results, I saw the words “It doesn't matter what other people COULD achieve, it matters what you DO achieve”. While that snippet wasn’t entirely relevant due to the fact that I was dealing with a whole lot of theory that DID just become reality in real time, it was very timely that she had just published a post on the stories we tell ourselves about our own lack of talent. The point of the post was that even when we try to spin it in a positive manner like, “I can outwork more talented people”, that it’s still coming from a sense of internal inferiority that can quickly turn to “I suck, and I’ll always suck” after a bad day.

Unlike Syd, I actually stopped believing that I could outwork talent a long time ago, because of the limits on the body and the time constraint of a grown-up with a job prevents me from doing much more work than I do. That means that on the worst days I straight up fear and resent talented people, because all they have to do decide they want to beat me, and that’s pretty much that. On a good day I least acknowledge my historical ability outsmart and outlast talent. I’ve got eleven years of competitive cycling behind me where I failed, kept going, and figured out way to get better. Where are those girls who beat me in beginner XC races in 2006 now?

For the past few years, each big disappointment has prompted me to ask myself why I keep trying with bikes. Even though I like to wallow in the “Everything is going to be harder for you than it is for other people” narrative after a loss, I realize that I have the ability to keep improving and I’ve done so many times. The reason that I don’t quit is that deep-down the voices that tell me that I’m inherently at a disadvantage and always will be are countered by a curiosity of how the story will end if those voices are wrong. So I keep going, and I find out what’s next, and somehow that has lasted eleven years with no end in sight.

And that’s where I sit now. It’s never easy to break old habits, but I need to continue to hammer away at my pattern of trying to use self-loathing to motivate me to be better. I’ve improved more in the past year of riding than I did in the whole ten years before that, so I know there’s hope for this old dog yet. I’ve also learned a lot about learning this year, too, so I’ve got plans to set myself up for even greater success next year.

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