Winning. It’s a mindset and it’s not something that exists in everyone, but can be cultivated.
Last week was a special week and you may be thinking because of winning the USA Cycling Marathon National Championship. Well yes, but not the reason I’m referencing. It was special because the experience of trip as a whole wasn’t entirely revolved around the race itself. It was about spending time with my family and enjoying much more than the start and finish line.
2 years ago when I saw that marathon nationals were in Arkansas, I saw it as an opportunity to mutually meet in the middle with my family from KY and I now living in CO. We don’t get together as much as we’d like and I still like to ride and race new places so in the sake of efficiency combining the trips was ideal in my eyes.
Sure often when you try to kill two birds with one stone, sometimes both aren’t done as well as they could be, but I was prepared for this. I wasn’t putting all my eggs in the “race well at all cost” basket for the sake of spending some time with my brother, Jeremy, and his teenage son, Josiah (who is now getting the racing bug in the TN region and NICA racing).
Driving 14 hours from CO to AR was a big commitment on my end with a full plate of wife, toddler, house searching, business, and just lots of opportunities we have, but committing to see it through was satisfying at the onset and upon completion. Of course it made it that much sweeter driving home with a gold medal and stars and stripes jersey; sure! I don’t want to downplay how cool that is to add a 2nd national championship title to the palmares, but I want to dive into the mindset that I’d already won, before I’d even toed the start line.
During a conversation with Jeremy and Jo on Saturday we’d talked about how much we’d ridden all week, the fun we’d had on the Womble trail (an IMBA epic), riding in Hot Springs, doing a double day to pre-ride part of the course on Friday, and just completing a longer than ideal ride the day before the race and how that was affecting what I was thinking about Sunday. As we discussed fueling plan, aid stations, and my general approach, it came out as I said without hesitation, “Oh don’t get me wrong, I’m here to give it a shot for the win. There’s a start line and finish line and racing is an art I’m good at.”
There was somewhat of a surprised look on Jeremy’s face as I elaborated and we discussed the fact that; yeah we’d ridden quite a bit and run-in to race prep wasn’t ideal, but I wasn’t counting myself out of the mix. That mindset was part of what it took to seal the deal in the race.
In coaching I see so many focusing on the negatives and why they are already counting themselves out. From not eating exactly their norm, sleeping in a foreign spot, travel, weather, conditions, perceived inadequate physical preparation, and the list goes on. But I’ll list the reasons I shouldn’t have won due to inadequate prep and you know what, I overcame that adversity with the mindset of not letting it get to me and having fun in each of the moments.
- Awaking at 4am Wednesday to embark on 14 hour solo drive
- Didn’t really eat dinner Wednesday night
- The camp spot I’d picked upon arrival at 9pm in Arkansas didn’t exist (or I couldn’t find it because of lack of gps signal). So I had to drive around and find a new spot settling in after 10:30pm
- I slept in my car with a seat folded down and it was 80 deg still as I tried to go to sleep.
- Mosquitos were crazy so I had to put windows nearly all the way up and wear clothes making me a sweat ball.
- It started raining and dripping on my face just after dozing off so I had to put windows all the way up. Can you say redneck sauna!?
- Thurs I woke up late, so decided to hit the trail without breakfast so I could leave car at one end and meet Jeremy and Jo at other end so we’d have a shuttle on the point to point trail.
- I rode 45 miles that day finishing in a 1 hour downpour and ran out of water 2 hrs in until I was able to rendezvous with Jeremy and Jo to join to finish the ride.
- Didn’t eat lunch really after as we tried to get to somewhere less remote with food, so an early dinner was really the only meal that day.
- Rode twice on Friday both in morning on trail that Jeremy and Jo wanted to hit since they run AR league NICA races on, then drove down to race site to pre-ride nationals course (again ending in the rain)
- Had to set up tent camp and still go into town to get some provisions that took way too long and ended up eating kinda crappy fast food Friday night.
- Tent sleeping with rain spitting overnight.
- Camp stove food out of my normal routine Friday and Saturday.
- It wasn’t sunny or without rain from Wednesday to Saturday afternoon. That’s hard after living in sunny CO now for over a decade. My word for the week was “dank” which I translate as constantly damp and dirty, which was inevitable riding and raining while camping.
- Saturday rode remainder of race course and ran into some registration issues so was out on the bike for nearly 4 hrs over lunch time.
- Saturday night poor sleep in the tent before race day
- Sunday ate too hearty of a breakfast too close to race start while trying to pack up camp site to be able to check out and depart after race.
How’s that list look?! Typing it out even blows my mind now, but in the moment all of these things actually fueled my intent to overcome. I’ve always had a bit of what I call “piss and vinegar” in me; meaning that a sense of pride exists to persevere in face of adversity just to be able to say I was able. That grit and tenacity has gotten me a long way.
Although you can look at the list and all sound negative, I was chocking them up as experiences and memories of the trip and things we’d be able to talk and laugh about later. Like “you remember that week I rode 45 miles without breakfast after sweating out a night of mosquito and rainy car camping, ran out of water, ate 1 greasy spoon diner meal for the day and then ended up crushing a race a couple days after. That was crazy stupid fun!”
If you take that list and look at it with an optimistic perspective, the amazing how your mindset changes.
I was able to drive from CO to AR and stop and ride a cool trail in OK along the way
- I was able to camp right near a trail that I’ve wanted to ride for years and experience it finally.
- The sauna car camping helped gain some heat acclimation for the hot race coming that weekend.
- To boot the spot I camped allowed a perfect point to point shuttle and meeting arrangement with my brother so we could shuttle the trail with his 14 year old son and not overcook him so he has fun vs a death march of an out and back ride.
- I got to ride with both my brother and nephew on trails I’d always wanted to explore.
- The “stamina” ride on low fueling depleted me enough to queue up replenishment and supercompensation for the weekend of racing.
- Eating in a diner in Hot Springs, AR we got to experience great southern hospitality as several people pinned us as out-of-town riders and proceeded to talk about the riding, try to fill us in on the local’s secret trails and even introduce us to local business owner highly involved with the trail building movement producing epic trails in the region.
- The riding volume of the weekend kept frequency of riding up that is more normal for me with commuting and such of day to day routine.
- The activity and hopping around kept mind busy with fun times so mind wasn’t dwelling on race approaching and potential nerves.
- The less that plush tent camping, rain, camp food, etc. set the mindset that I’m not entitled or should expect anything and I have to earn it across the board.
- Eating a bigger breakfast made start a bit tough but paid off as had fuel and energy to hold pace for 2nd half of race and overcome the competition.
- Did I mention I got to ride 5 new trails I’d never ridden in the course of the week.
After reading that does your mindset differ? Maybe some things were less than ideal but would I change them. Nope! It’s all part of the experience, the journey is greater than the destination, and if I changed something then maybe the outcome would be different. Because as I was racing the thought came to mind, I’d already had tons of fun for the week and if I hadn’t raced at all, I could go home fully believing that I was winning at life. And that no pressure to perform mindset allowed me the freedom to simply focus on the fundamentals to empty the tank, have fun and leave it all on the course. I did as I chased back into 1st place in the final few miles of a 50 mile race that took 3 ½ hours to complete to take the win by only 33 seconds!
With that in mind, I challenge you to check your mindset as optimism or pessimism when approaching events, goals or general situations in life for the sake of the experience and what you want to get out of it. I’m not saying don’t take the end goal serious (because I did when the number plate was on and the gun blew), but don’t get so caught up in the reasons why something is not ideal and simply commit to see it out to the end. You’ll grow as an athlete and more importantly an individual.