Lessons Learned From Failing

No one signs up for a bike race in hopes of failing. So when my teammates urged me to join a Cat 4/5 race (I’m a Cat 10!) with promises of “it’ll be great riding together as a team!” I drank the Kool-Aid. When I hit the register button for the May 2019 Cedar Hill Criterium, I wondered if I was crazy!

On race day, I came well-rested and with an attainable game plan: finish with the main field.

I thought this was doable as I’d been training hard & riding tough on Tuesday night club rides. At the starting line, I was focused, relaxed, and ready to give it my all in this forty-minute race.

The course was a rolling 1.6-mile loop and the race officials advised us that slower riders would be pulled for safety reasons.

“God,” I prayed, “I hope that won’t be me!”

We were given the green light and off we went. And true to their promise, my teammates were correct: it was great to ride together…at least for the first lap!

At the first climb, the pace surged and although I’m a good climber, I struggled. I hung on for a lap or 2 but noticed I was getting passed. A glance over my shoulder revealed what I dreaded the most…being last. Seeing the chase motorcycle on my tail, I set my resolve and picked up my pace.

I latched onto the wheel of another rider (who looked to be about my age) and we chased after the group. Slowly, we overtook other riders and my body (heart rate, legs, breathing, etc.) finally felt ready to race.

We charged the finish line (I forget what lap) only to see the race marshalls waving our group off. We were done; pulled 12-minutes into the race and averaging 21.6.

My first reaction was anger. We (the racer I was pacing) were gaining ground, or so we thought, and like I’ve said already, I was beginning to feel strong. Surely we could have done another lap or two before the situation got dangerous, especially since the main field didn’t pass our location for some time. Better safe than sorry I suppose.

My second reaction was “the agony of defeat.” I hadn’t come close to finishing with the main field and this was a bitter pill to swallow.

I rolled back to my car, got out of my jersey, and returned to cheer on my teammates. By this time, my mood was better because as the picture will show, I could smile about the whole thing. I spotted Jay, a fellow teammate, sitting with a group off to the side. It turns out he too had been pulled which, to be honest, did make me feel better as he is younger & faster. We commiserated while cheering on Steve who would end up winning the race.

Days later, after wading through the muck of defeat, I emerged with a fresh perspective. I hope these discoveries will encourage you in whatever endeavour you’re trying to accomplish as a rider.

  1. I wasn’t last. As you’ll recall, at one point in the race I WAS last but I fought back to move up several spots.
  2. The winning race pace was beyond my ability; they averaged 24.6 MPH. The ONLY way I would have hung with the pack that day was to have the stars align, my body to revert back 10-years, and all my tactical decisions to be perfectly timed.
  3. I tried and gave it my best. I faced my own fears, pressed beyond my comfort zone, and raced hard. I’ll take that as a win on many fronts.
  4. I’m 60-years old. Okay, I hate to lay this card down as it feels like an “out” but it is a reality as I was racing against men 10, 15, 20-years younger which is a factor when discussing physiological abilities.
  5. Maybe I’ll try Mens Masters. My average that day was 21.6. The Mens Masters 60+ winning pace was 22+. I’m not saying I would have found a spot on the podium, but I think I would have had a better chance of staying with the main field.

So there you have it! Lessons learned that, in my humble opinion, will not only make me a better cyclist but a better person, too.

Keep on spinning!

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