Winning. Pretty simple concept right? Reese Bobby from Talladega Nights stated it pretty cut and dry, “If you ain’t 1st; you’re last!” True in the absolute sense, but also very far from it.
Not to say you should bring up all your situational things to discredit what you’re capable of by any means; that’s called excuses. What I’m talking about is; what is “a win” for you on any given day?
This thought surfaced as the stars aligned and was able to score a win at a local gravel grinder. Whether from fitness, skill, timely tactics, or sheer luck that just someone faster than me just happened to not show up. All are valid points among others, but the latter is really a bigger piece than often people give credit, because not to be Debbie downer, but there is always someone able to knock you off the high horse.
Honestly the event wasn’t on my radar prior to 8 wk notice due to it being a inaugural event. I wasn’t tapering for it or frankly even doing workouts to prepare specifically. Someone said, “Well yeah you shoulda won; your a national champ right?” and it got me thinking.
What’s the difference in those two cases; a local event that no one know about versus the national championship?
That’s an easy answer at first thought. Automatically the title or clout that accompanies, but is that really just a label that’s attached? I mean there are events popping up like gravel national champs, fat bike world champs, and even mtb stage race world mf’n champ (I’d like to have that last one) that just stake claim to the title before others can. But inherently, it’s really not any different than any other event across the board.
So really the answer of what’s different is not much of anything for 99% of us. Sure when you get to that utmost elite level then the championships, Olympics, etc. the wins and events are different. Let’s be honest, most of us aren’t there and I’m not delusional about even being near that caliber.
Don’t take it the wrong way. I’m not discrediting the fact that being a national champ isn’t a huge accomplishment and that more people targeting that event show up with guns blazing. But there are just as many, if not more qualified athletes, that can’t or don’t show up. It’s one of those “must be present to win” scenarios of competing and actually in life too. Show up, do the work, and hope for the best outcome.
And speaking of local events, sometimes more talented people show up to the local races because of being in a competitive region. So that should mean that scoring a “result” a local event with more competition would hold more value, right? Who’s to really gauge that anyways? Bottom line a result, podium, or win has many more variables based on who decides to show up on a given day. I’ve raced local weekday series against Olympic hopefuls and some big events against names I’ve never seen.
That’s why I believe that each person can have and should develop their own win. Maybe that’s based on what your job, family or kiddos allows you to define at that moment. It doesn’t mean that your current win definition must remain stable. That’s just selling yourself short. For some, just making it to an event is a win. For others it’s a PR, simply finishing, moving up to longer distance, winning age group, etc. This is something I’ve found personally valuable, as well as a tool I use in coaching, because you must be aware of where you currently stand to set realistic goals. That doesn’t mean you don’t strive for something that challenges that comfort zone.
That’s why I see high performers commit at the same level no matter the title that is on the event, or frankly even if it’s an event at all. The mindset trickles down to their execution daily in everyday workouts or discipline. Their motivation isn’t exclusively the podium, the prize, or the props they get. It’s more than that. It’s the standards they’ve set for themselves. It’s the “what you do when no ones looking” concept that shines. They commit to give it their all whether when it’s a solo training day, a stars and stripes is on the line or if it’s just local kudos in a training series.
Circling back to defining your win; think of it like climbing a ladder. With the rungs evenly spaced you can climb indefinitely without any big challenge. But take out a big section of rungs and you’d be stuck at a set height just unable to just reach that next height. That is like setting mini-“wins” to get you constantly higher and higher. Often to the point you look back and scare yourself to the height you’ve attained. Each small step may not have been much, but the accumulation is a game-changer.
A key to this mindset is being happy (with where you are currently), but not content. If you are the latter, then you will never see anything greater. Staleness sets! That last part keeps the definition of winning a moving target, even on a day to day basis. And if you want some more mindset reading check out my National Champ articles Part 1 and Part 2.
Speaking to the example case of winning this local grinder, I had another race scheduled the next day and knew I was going in sub par after the effort. So I defined my win for the 2nd event; being aggressive as long as I could, if I got popped or it worked trying to ride my own climb (it was a BIG one), and use the descent to my advantage (set a PR). Did you notice I didn’t say anything about winning, getting on the podium (which was feasible since I was 2nd last year)? Instead the little wins set me up for having my best in-the-moment experience that luckily resulted in a podium for 3rd in a much faster field and time than my 2nd place finish from previous year.
So my recommendation is to get you mind right and define your win that is still a challenge and stretches your limit but doesn’t make you feel like a failure in light of your overarching moonshot. Put those rungs back in your ladder so you can climb to that really big goal that’s at the top. Keep glancing up that ladder to know where you’re heading and to redirect or adjust as necessary because often the path is never as straight as my ladder example. That’s the fun part, the journey not the destination, if you take this approach.
Thanks to Steve Bell at the High Plains Gravel Grinder for a fun inaugural event in Elbert, Chelsea with Journey Racing for the Crippler in Canon City, CO. Generally all those involved as it’s not just 1 man shows to make them run! Show thanks, smile and appreciate all that goes into putting events on for us to show up and define our wins.