2 cyclocross cyclists crossing the finishline smiling

Race for Yourself

Successful racers aren’t selfish. They are self-centered.

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  • If you don’t care for yourself, you can’t care for others
  • Few others can relate to the sacrifices committed racers make
  • Cycling is a sport for heroes
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If you have ever flown


on a commercial aircraft, then you are familiar with the oxygen mask dialogue that every flight attendant delivers at the beginning of a trip. After all the demonstrations of oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling, and how to blow into your inflatable vest should it not inflate, you are told, “make sure your mask is securely fastened before attempting to help others.”

In addition to being excellent wisdom for daily life, this actually describes successful amateurs bicycle racers rather succinctly.

By “successful,” I don’t necessarily mean those racers that consistently get on the podium. I’m referring to those racers who are experiencing joy in every workout, and in every race, no matter the outcome.

In short, they are racing for themselves.

Despite the majority of mornings waking before dawn to train, saying “no” to desert, and in choosing to spend Friday after work at the gym rather than at a movie, the first question that friends, coworkers, and family always ask after a race is, “what place did you come in?”

If you did not make it to the podium, the collective sighs and polite silence conspire to tell you, “we’re so sorry you’re wasting your life.”

After a while, this can get to even the most diehard racer. We want those close to us to see the personal development we’re experiencing. But it’s very difficult to communicate to those who haven’t tasted this kind of lifestyle about it’s positive benefits.

All they see is restraint, discomfort, and effort.

You have to remember that you are doing this for you.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]the first question that friends, coworkers, and family always ask after a race is, “what place did you come in?”[/callout]

You are not racing simply to “place.” You are not racing purely in pursuit of a podium. At least, I hope you are not. If you truly are hyper-focused on these very specific ends, you will undoubtedly miss out — or at least dilute — the joy of many of the accompanying experiences that make bicycle racing the rich and heroic sport that is.

Selfishness versus self-centeredness

Selfishness is simply immaturity run amok. It’s “me me me” stuck in repetition no matter your age. Racers who become almost angry at not being at the top of the field suffer from some amount of this.

They, too, are missing the point of the greater experience. But then, I wouldn’t classify them as “successful racers.”

To them, I’d remind them, racing isn’t your livelihood. It’s not “podium or else,” or “escort teammate to podium or else.” We are amateurs, in it for the love of the sport. So, fall in love, why doncha.

Self-centeredness, on the other hand, is the realization that you cannot be good for anyone else if you are not first good to yourself. In order to be competitive, you must be disciplined. In order to enjoy bike racing to it’s fullest, you must be competitive — whatever “competitive” means for you at the level you find yourself at.

To be “in the game,” is to be living the game.

By my experience, successful bike racers are mature, unflappable, joyful, and have a blend of toughness and generosity of spirit that is admirable. It is one of the reasons that I insist that bike racing is one of the most heroic sports in the world.

Heroism is an attribute that few people these days recognize in others. There are heroic figures among us. Heroic figures aren’t selfish, although they do invest a lot of time in keeping themselves sharp, honed, lithe, and capable. Ultimately, that capability comes in a complete package that is inclusive to others, rather than exclusive. We’ve all seen those strong, silent — fast types. Always ready with an encouragement or a tip. They’re the ones that’ll give you shelter from the wind when you’re sure you can’t make it to the finish.

So the next time someone begins a conversation about a race that you trained for earnestly, “what place did you come in,” simply smile. Tell them about the energy, the excitement, the humor, and of how beautiful the environment was through which you were racing. Tell them how hard it was. Use lots of powerful adjectives: Burning. Gritting. Grinding. Flying. Hurtling. You won’t be lying, after all.

If they continue to entertain your story, let them know how you placed. If on the other hand, it’s apparent that they’re not really all that curious about your experience, keep them hanging.

They don’t understand how heroes live.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: Do you personally know any real-life cyclist heroes? Perhaps someone on your club, or associated with your neighborhood shop? Tell us a story.[/icon_box]

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Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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