Back when I first dove into endurance sports, I had no performance expectations because I knew nothing and was just in it for the sense of accomplishment. I wanted to do a triathlon, so I trained for one and did it. This turned into more triathlons and running races as my time competing in endurance sports progressed. Towards the end of my first (and only) season of racing triathlons, I began to compete for age group placings in every race I entered. I even won age group a few times. I was having a blast and continued to have no expectations other than to “have a good race.” After that year, I joined the military and was not able to compete much for the next several years. I ran a lot, both for military physical training and on my own. I rode my bike a fair amount during this time, too, but mostly focused on running. Before I discharged, me and two of my Soldiers even completed a 50k ultramarathon. I had no expectations but to try and finish that race, and I had blast suffering through it.
Now let’s fast forward a few years to the present. After the Army, I was a little burned out on endurance sports and took about a three-year layoff from training this way. Last year, I started training on my bike again and decided to delve into cross country mountain bike racing. I had never ridden a mountain bike seriously until this time, and my first race was a few weeks ago. I probably rode my mountain bike a dozen or so times before my first race.
Did I begin my mountain bike racing career as a bright-eyed newbie just looking to enjoy the experience as I did with triathlon and that 50k? Absolutely not, and boy was this a huge mistake! I had the same expectations of myself as I did when I finished racing triathlons: win age group. How crazy is that? I expected myself to win at an activity the FIRST TIME I ever tried it! I put so much pressure on myself to win that I blew up early in the race and finished dead last. I was embarrassed and distraught, to say the least. Here I was with a fancy bike and seemingly using all my spare time to train and I finished in last place. It was a long ride home (figuratively and literally, as the race was three hours from my house). That is a long time alone to be in your head and process what happened. I was very confident in my fitness and thay was not the problem. So, what went wrong?
I did not let myself be a beginner at mountain bike racing. This is one of my flaws, I’ll admit. I’m too type-A to not want to be great at anything I set my mind to. Instead of letting myself have fun, learn, and enjoy the experience and camaraderie of racing, I treated this race like it was my job to win. And if I had won, it’s not like Under Armour would’ve approached me and said, “Oh Jacob, now that you’ve won a Cat 3 mountain bike race, we’re going to present you with this 5-year, $20 million endorsement deal. You’re on the level of Steph Curry and Bryce Harper now!” If I had won, I would have been proud and I would have done my cycling team proud. Winning any race is a huge accomplishment and a feat that should be enjoyed. But I am not a professional athlete and I never want to be. I realized on that long ride home that I did not allow this race to be fun, and that is the most crucial mistake any athlete can make.
If training and racing isn’t fun, then why do it? Not all things in life are a party, but an activity that you choose to passionately pursue should feel like one most of the time! In my next race, I went in with much lower expectations, had a blast, and did not finish last. In the race I have this Sunday, I have even lower expectations for myself (just don’t crash!). Every now and then, the world has a way of showing us what is important and that we need to get our priorities straight. This race did that for me, and I am happy that it did. I am allowing myself to be a beginner again. And, if at the end of the season, I am experienced enough to start competing for wins, I’ll be just fine with that. If not, I’ll be just fine with that, too.
Until next time…
Endure the Grind!