a sprint finish in an amateur bike race

Racing. Do it. Despite the shock.

No, you’re not prepared. But it doesn’t matter.

[content_box type=”with-header” title=”StartConfident Summary” text_color=”dark” color=”default” animation=”fade-in”]
  • Getting smart about a thing is awesome. But not as awesome as doing the thing.
  • Doing bike racing easily beats dreaming about doing it.
  • Get super smart about racing. But then, go race your bike.
  • Racing is raw on your nerve endings. Cool. Let it make you feel alive.
  • Woody Allen would’ve made a cool bike racer.
[/content_box] [dropcap style=”default”]During a long, arduous interview process [/dropcap]

for a vaunted agency position as a Creative Director, I endured an almost criminally-invasive array of personality tests. After literally dozens of questions where I was filling in bubbles with my very tired No. 2 pencil, telling perfect strangers that I became exhausted as social gatherings go on and that I believed facts don’t speak for themselves, they illustrate principles, I handed in the stack of tests to sit in a cold, sparse room to await my “assessment.”

Of all the subsequent conversations that ensued (and for what it’s worth, I didn’t get the job) all I remember was the following phrase:

“For you, it appears that thinking trumps doing.”

I don’t just remember that statement, it’s haunted me ever since.

I’m reminded of this after writing a previous blog regarding the overwhelming lack of new road racers returning for their second season. Because, for my first season of racing — at least for my first couple of races — it was all in my head.

cycling jersey with race number and pins

The jersey I quit my first race in

Here’s a vivid picture for you: I had scoped out the course of my first race, both via GPS maps online, as well as driving the course the morning of. I had mentally ridden that thing dozens of times before I ever clipped in at the start. The course, which was 4 laps of an 8-mile loop, included 1 significant hill, and it was within the first 2 miles of racing. I suspected that the first ascent would be far from a sprint. I determined to be at the front during that ascent, and I’d allow myself to drift back as the climb wore on.

I did that. And summarily watched — in indignant, prima donna disbelief — as the entire peloton stormed on up and grimly past me. The pace was “irresponsible,” I thought, for a beginner race.

At the end of the first lap, I pulled off the course, and into the parking lot, never seeing another racer from my race after losing touch before the first summit. Like a spoiled kid at Christmas who didn’t get his hoped-for toy, I sulked.

Let’s be clear, here.

My first volley of races saw me dropped, demoralized, and humiliated in the most lonely of ways. It was a complete, utter shock. I was a loner-over-preparer. As the reams of paper and lead and bubbles ultimately teased out years before, I’m actually pretty fulfilled by researching and studying something, to the detriment of actually accomplishing it. In the case of newbie racing, it set me up for a big, disorienting heartbreak. I had built a level of fantasy-preparedness.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]“For you, it appears that thinking trumps doing.” I don’t just remember that statement, it’s haunted me ever since.[/callout]

Despite reading about intervals, thresholds, base miles, and carb to protein ratios, the elementary facts were simple for me (and they most likely are for you, too):

  • No descriptions, no amount of study, no amount of great advice can ever prepare you for the sheer, raw effort required of you in your first race
  • It doesn’t matter how you’re training, if you’re actually training at all. The chances are overwhelming that you’re simply not laying in nearly enough intensity — and the right amount of it — much less at the right time leading up to that first race, to get you where you need to be, physically.

So how can this bleak post possibly be good for you as a budding racer?

Do, or do not. There is no try.
You can’t intellectualize bike racing, despite the fact that it’s a sport that relies almost as much on mental toughness and preparation as it does on physical prowess. While it’s very true that races often don’t go to the strongest, but to the smartest, the fact is, without a level of aerobic fitness and muscular endurance, you’ll end up riding a lonely time trial out in the country. But you need to experience it to know what level of intensity you need to build up to. In Joe Friel’s Cyclist’s Training Bible, he states that it takes at least 3 seasons of racing to form a truly competitive set of fitness and skills. Don’t let our culture of instant gratification sway you from that reality. Instead, realize that you’re signing up for a long, long-term experience of self-exploration and improvement. You will get faster. You will develop more endurance. But you’ve got to get in there to learn what levels you’ll need to aspire to.

Taoist proverb: “Learn, then shun learning.”
Do what I didn’t do: Read, discuss, find experienced people, and talk it up. Then, fish, or cut bait. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. Realize that endless tips and videos will only take you so far. Ultimately, you’ve got to put in the work, and you’ve got to jump into the fire. As one of my kung fu teachers told me years ago, “Everybody has a plan — until they get hit.”

Experience racing as much with your senses as with your intellect
Your first race will be like amnesia while drowning. As you’re fighting to stay above water, you’ll forget everything you read, discussed, thought you’d learned, or saw. And that is absolutely, 100%, perfectly OK. Racing is SUCH a new experience that it shocks the senses awake — unless you seek to protect yourself from the intensity. Some new racers shrink back after their first sink-or-swims. “I can never do this.” “It’s no fun paying for a race fee, only to wind up struggling.” Understand that this is what most racers experience. As a beginner, you don’t know what lines to take, how to conserve energy when you’re seemingly at your red line, already, or when you should follow a breakaway rider as opposed to sitting in.

So. What.

Watch as much of the race unfold as you can. Learn your weaknesses in the furnace of racing, then work on improving them on your own. You can do the mental work after the race. While you’re in the race, be in the race.

If Woody Allen was a bike racer, he’d probably do pretty well

I leave you with an excerpt of an interview with the famous comedic writer and director, Woody Allen. The full interview can be found here.

[content_box type=”without-header” text_color=”dark” color=”default”] I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up.  People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen.  All the other people struck out without ever getting that back. They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening.  So that I would say is the biggest life lesson that has worked.  All others have failed me.[/content_box]

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: What do you want to experience from your first race — or your first race season? Let us know, below.[/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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