When my life-as-I’d-known-it for the past 5 years unraveled, I bravely stood my ground and said let it burn. I’m starting fresh, I wrote in one blog post, with a new goal and a new motivation for training. Then my goal—to break the 800 mile Arizona Trail Race record—burned. Literally. Well, not all of it, but over 100 miles of the trail was destroyed by forest fire. The race is cancelled for this year.
My goal burned down with everything else—relationship, job, sponsorship, trust in myself. How apropos. How poetic. Alanis Morissette, I am certain, would call it ironic.
I may not have a tangible goal (Tour Divide 2021?) in mind at the moment, but I’m still on a mission to rekindle my motivation for training and racing again. This time, I’m looking to do more then just win.
Recently, my mountain biking bestie (Erin) and I put together an audition video for a car commercial scheduled to film in Flagstaff next week. Our video was awkward and definitely not as thrilling as actually riding bikes. But talking about our friendship—how we met 6 years ago at a local race—was fun. At the beginning, I loved racing because of the dynamics it brought to the relationships in my life. Erin and I did a really good job pushing each other during those first few years, and motivation for training hard came easy.
My love of winning also helped to motivate training. But I’ll save that for a different blog post.
Something about my motivation for training changed when I doggedly pushed on to race elite and chase the National Ultra Endurance Series. Erin didn’t come with me. Neither did our boyfriends. Or our other friends. Community played an integral role in my motivation at the beginning, without it, my drive lost focus.
For the commercial audition material, I hunted down some online footage of Erin and me riding bikes. On the DirtWireTV YouTube channel, I found two clips I’d never seen before that called into question my motivation for racing during recent seasons.
In the first clip, I‘m wearing some mismatched earrings that look really good together. I am also playing down my technical skills, saying I made up time by hammering on the climbs during the race. I have been saying this since the first year I started riding.
Enough is enough. I won the damn race, and I went on to win the national series. Constantly highlighting my weaknesses puts other women on the spot to focus on their perceived weaknesses. Racing bikes in an atmosphere of “oh, I’m sorry, I’m not that good” isn’t fun. It brings everyone down and sucks the fire out of the competition.
When women own their strengths, and face their insecurities without broadcasting them onto other women, it inspires positive narratives. It’s motivating. Period.
I am not saying we should praise ourselves incessantly. Those kinds of social media posts are annoying. I’m advocating for publicly stating what we did well in a specific event, without nervously looking over our shoulders wondering if someone thinks we are a fraud, or worse, covertly comparing ourselves to the women in front and behind us.
In another DirtWireTV clip, I let out a half-yip, half-giggle, as I fumbled and then saved myself exiting a tricky waterfall. It’s the opening of a video on how to ride the most technical feature on the True Grit 100 course. The clip tells a lot of truth about me as a rider: I know how to ride my bike, my way, and I don’t mind not being sleek and sexy as long as I don’t crash. In a 100 mile race, I literally give zero shits if other people ride a line more smoothly.
Also, you should have seen the dude before me slam his nuts into his handlebars on that section.
Here’s the catch: had I known the DirtWireTV guy was filming me, I would have shrieked “that was so bad!” as I slammed on the brakes. Why? Who is my intended audience when I say insecure crap like that? Men who race bikes are way too full of themselves to care about how the women are doing. So my audience must be other women and perhaps a few sponsors.
Woman #1: I’m the worst technical rider. That was so sloppy and bad!
Woman #2: Huh. I just walked all those sections, what does that say about me? Should I even be here?
Woman #1: Ride ‘em cowboy! I love chunky descents.
Woman #2: Huh. That didn’t look smooth, but she did it. Maybe I can do it too.
Woman #1: I felt so good on the climbs. I killed it!
Woman #2: Wow, I felt like crap, but I wasn’t that far behind her. Maybe I can beat her if I work more climbing into my training.
I’ve been Woman #1 and #2 in all of these scenarios. I like the attitude of women in B and C, and Scenario A makes me angry because Woman #1 is bringing down both herself and the women around her.
While on the DirtWireTV site, I also stumbled on an interview with the woman who won the National Ultra Endurance Series the year before me. In the interview, she fat shames herself and other ultra endurance women.
What the f*** are we doing to each other?
If she’s fat, then I’m really fat. I had heard the fat shame monologue from the former winner before, it’s her schtick as much as “I hammer on the climbs to make up for skill” is mine. These are the narratives about women mountain bikers we are perpetuating when we carelessly broadcast our insecurities without looking them in the eye and sternly saying no.
Feminine culture tells us not to compare ourselves and places the agency on Woman #2 in the above mock scenarios. I think that’s backwards. When the fastest women in a race are saying negative things about themselves, they are opening the door, and setting the standard, for comparison. Women on the top podium step are in a position of power, and it’s up to us to set the tone.
The first time I heard the former winner’s line about liking ultra endurance events because she was fat, and being fat doesn’t matter for long races, I was seriously annoyed. I am larger than she is; she was not saying it for my benefit or the benefit of body positive culture. The second and third time she said it, I started to hate bike racing.
By the next season, when I was winning the series, the DirtWireTV interview (the one with me and my mismatched earnings) illustrates how I was doing something very similar with my insecurities. The friend I was with at that race, who rode the 100 mile on a 6-year-old steel hard tail, called me out on my rhetoric. Thank god I have friends like that.
But those friends aren’t always at my races. By the end of last season, each big win was followed by a nagging “you’re just not quite good enough.” It drained my motivation for training. Still, I pushed on for one last 24 hour race in November—2 months after everyone else had started their off seasons.
My dream has always been to beat all the men at a 24 hour race. Rebecca Rusch did it once. But going into the race, a few people around me said, “you know, it depends on who shows up,” and although I tried to block out the noise, my brain was too accustomed to negative comparisons. Of course if X, Y, and Z males tow the start line, I told myself, I won’t be able to win because their technical skills are better then mine. My overall win was doomed from the start.
Here’s the secret that could have propelled me to that overall win: I have learned to be more efficient than the men. And the men frequently blow themselves up or stop to take naps. If I hadn’t been so focused on the insecurities around my technical skills last season, I think this mental defensive would have come easier.
What if I had embodied the more forward thinking, positive mindset in such a way that the second place woman started believing it about herself as well? Two women faster than all the men is way more exciting then just one.
Instead, the second place woman and I dragged each other down. Honestly, I think we were both tired of it all. In a strange turn of events, both our sponsors had bailed on us for the next season just before the race. Both of us gave up and took naps (people who know us know this is not usually our style).
Pieces of my life began to burn down shortly after that race.
So here I am, back where I started a decade ago with Erin. We’re both reflecting on our motivation for training by trying out new things like auditioning for commercials that need mountain bikers. We’re making plans to ride long miles, and plans to ride technical terrain (Angel Fire for her birthday!). There’s no projecting our insecurities onto each other, no trying to flash our weaknesses in a backhanded attempt to keep other women at bay. If I can do it, she can do it. If she can do it, I can do it, especially if I follow her wheel through the really technical stuff.