“Hey wait a minute, we’ve Strava stalked you from every angle and there was nothing leading on that you were prepping for Nats, let alone a winning performance!” This was my favorite quote after the outcome. Why? For many reasons; because 1) it was partly true, 2) it’s funny, 3) it’s exemplifies my mindset around events (big or small), 4) it’s a learning experience.
So I left off Part 1 with all the reasons I should have had a subpar experience or result at Marathon National championships but found the space personally to excel. I can continue with that theme considering; I spent lots of time with my 2 1/2 year old (nearly 2 full week days each week as my normal full day & 2 half days of daddy daycare time alternating with my wife as we both run our own businesses) and my wife by having many home-cooked breakfasts and dinners at home together as a family and even scheduling most Sundays as dedicated family days to not involve bike or training. Also I spent time building a bunny hutch out of reclaimed supplies as well thus spending hours in the sun, hot garage or on my feet completing it. Even to the point we decided to spend an entire month in upstate-New York over Christmas and New Years without a bike and little intent to “train”. And for those you that do or don’t know, that part of NY is cold during that time of year and especially so during our trip where it didn’t get above temps in the teens for over 2 weeks at one stint and was often in the single digits when we’d get out for a short jog or walk down the gravel road to in-laws house.
So with all-that, how did the mindset persevere? It’s because I thoroughly practice embracing the process and limiting the stress and worry about the ultimate outcome.
Let me reiterate, THE PROCESS!
Let that set in and think about what it means for you. I try to implement this in my daily routine both personally and with my coaching practice. Because at any point in Arkansas this story could have differed due something relatively out of my control like a crash with other riders on the start, flat tire, broken chain, etc. So why put so much weight on the result when it can easily be swept right out from under your feet and leave you feeling empty.
In my case, I was full because the process leading in was saturated with execution of in-the-moment wins. More time with family = win. Coaching athletes = success. Capitalizing on good days on the bike = win. Not fretting over missed workouts = win. Embracing the few good “workouts” I actually completed (can count on both hands from Jan!) versus worrying that I didn’t log enough workouts = win. Camping & riding with my brother and nephew I don’t get to see frequently versus perceiving that as upsetting my final prep = win.
I could keep going from these general points to the specifics at the micro level of real-time workouts when I had certain intents but the cards were dealt different and I had to call an audible. Like, I want to hit 4 climbing efforts on this ride but I ended up fizzling after 1 or even the complete opposite of just intending to ride easy and remarkably having great legs and embracing it.
The process for me involved being intuitive and thus learning more about the depths of my true self and as I delve in, I’ll give you some insight to my self talk as we go so enjoy the snapshot to crazy.
Embracing the process not the outcome allowed me the confidence to consider myself a player from the onset. In the start circuit when things got heated and hard. “Oh shit this just got real! Breathe….I deserve here just as much as any other. Let’s play!” When the dirt was approaching, “Move and get there. Fitness isn’t my forte; mtbing is!” When the double track several guys started making moves and coming around, “Holy shit (looking at power output) this is gonna hurt. Stick it, stick it, stick it. Get to the single track!” When finally approaching single track and dangling from lead group of 4, “Close it up with efficiency. Slow down to go fast and don’t force it.”
Getting popped off the lead group of 4 guys wasn’t ideal but I knew pure fitness wasn’t my strength going in, so although I wasn’t happy I wasn’t surprised either. If I’d had a bad mindset, at this point I would or could have thrown in the towel. Sounds crazy 5 mi into a 50 mile race to me and many, but as a coach I’m privy to seeing more of this than I’d like to. So instead, I dialed it to what I was capable of and committed to the process of seeing the race through. “If it’s meant to be it will sort out in the end.” At this point I was in no-mans land off the lead group but ahead of 30 something others. (And until I typed this, I hadn’t even thought once about anyone behind me. Race ahead! And I’ll come back to that….)
So I continued to plug away in the heat and ride the twisty trail and realized the bottles I’d started with were not being consumed due to the demands. So 1st audible was to stop at aid 1 and swap out for hydration pack (which wasn’t plan). Taking those seconds was one of the acts that saved the day in the long run. Hydrating would reward me with more time gained that my perception of time lost by stopping. Same goes with riding my own pace. The surges at the front (that I was having a hard time matching) would have quickly burned me but settling in to what I trusted was a strong pace allowed me to push based on my strengths and ride efficiently.After 1 lap the fruits of embracing the process began to surface. I caught one of the top 4 that was swinging big hits early on the steep pitches and making me hurt. (Yes that was 25mi and over 90min at full gas battling the inner monkey mind saying telling me that being on the podium is out let alone winning.) But I was able to ride up to him after the start/finish line and easily pace by him without any reaction to stick the pace. This helped reinforce my mindset even more, “Stick to the process. Two more to catch.”
Talking. That’s one of my odd race strategies as well. In talking, I found out Brandon was a stud (already winning a gravel and cyclocross national this year) which boosted my spirits back up. Not just riding with an everyday joe, but a proven winner. We got each others back ground, talk about common acquaintances in the racing scene and then I began to realize something. My heart rate had dropped. I was recovering. I had settled in and I had more. “Brandon, you mind if I get by when you get a chance?”
“There’s something up there you want isn’t there man?! Go get it!” he stated as he let me pass on the left.
I actually had physical goose-bumps/chills develop when my mind realized what I’d just announced and set out to do. Onward I went passing some more wave riders ahead. One was a UCI Junior. As I approached, rang my bell and announced I wanted to pass when he had a chance, I noticed his body language was nervous and jerky looking over shoulder. He said franticly, “How far back was next Junior” as I passed. I told him when I’d passed which was quite a way, but circles back to “Race ahead” that I mentioned earlier.
Keeping your eyes ahead and what you are capable of is part of the process and thus not worrying about the extraneous things. It’s what I call “owning your bubble of control”. Reflecting I wish I’d told this kid to race up and not back but it wasn’t my place at the time. Now it is! So was I worried, who was behind me. Nope. But oddly enough was I secretly warning those up the trail that they should be worried about me coming. You bet!
Anyways, I kept intent on pushing myself to the limits of what I thought I was capable. I kept passing people and finally saw a familiar jersey from my start wave. Then the leg marking confirmed it was 2nd or was it 1st. I thought I’d seen a guy off side of trail on 1st lap that looked similar to guy that was in lead. Hmmm either way get there.
The effort was hard but I caught right at the top of one of the climbs approaching last 1/3 of lap where on 1st lap I saw someone pass and descend away from less skilled riders and I got stuck behind, frustrated. So I went for it. I even asked, “Can I get by on your left?
Which I think took him off-guard because I was irrelevant of his response, “uhhhh sure.” as I was already past. I was the one guy in my race with a dropper post and probably enduro rims vs XC specials and I’d planned to use it. I laid it hard into the next downhill, each corner. Finding my flow. I kept my eyes up. Crossed a creek and began counting one thousand one, one thousand two and so on until 8! “Shit 8 seconds!” as I hit the same double track climb after the road parade loop off the start that hurt so bad and I couldn’t keep pace then. “Errrrrrrrrgh (that’s a grunt) it hurts. Go harder!” as I stood up and powered up. Sit back down and keep spinning. “Ughhhh HR is higher than it was in last 2 hrs. Go harder!” as I geared up and pushed again. Another quick descent then hammer into single track. Out onto the road crossing before last single track, “take on some fuel and hydration; it’s not over til it’s over!”
I kept pushing still unsure if he’d let me pass because he didn’t know, or he was in 2nd and had already counted the day as podium versus winning. I just didn’t know so I kept pushing knowing the last 1/4 mi or so was a flat gravel road through a field and if anything left to a drag race, I wouldn’t last knowing my strengths and limiters. I came to the line without any celebration and the announcers not making any sign that I’d won, so I guessed there was one guy up. But as I searched around, talked to my brother and nephew, it grew apparent that I was first. Poor form on the announcing crew for not keeping track of who was where in race (I did some announcing before at collegiate nationals) and it’s not that hard with a start list. C’mon now.
With that play by play I hope you can see that keeping your mind right is a big part of the body following along. You have to do a certain baseline of work in the first place, so don’t think you can get through something just by “willing” yourself there, but there is something to be said for keeping your mind in the right spot.
Wavering is normal but you always need to find that cardinal direction back to your alignment of embracing the process. So going back to the quote, sure all those day I had to go coach the devo kids and couldn’t ride for my own purpose of training, minimal few mile commuter rides to and from the office, commuting to the grocery store on the Xtracycle with my 2 year old in tow, & little short rides when I really wanted to go get a big dose in all could have weighed on me as less than ideal preparation for nationals, but I chocked it up to better than nothing.
Trust in the process and your mind will quickly become your adversary. And I’ve already received some comments from readers of Part 1 that helped them get their mindset right and finish some tough events, so if this helps you please leave a comment. Share your story or share the post. I’m all about helping others tease out the best version of themselves.
Thanks for reading!