I hate Fitspo memes. Like I REALLY hate them. An unrealistic body of a fitness model glistening in sweat, with a clearly defined six pack; the ‘ideal’ athletic aesthetic, is not really indicative of what ‘healthy’ is. Sometimes I look at Fitspo memes as a way to pick apart what ‘fitness’ culture is (in the case of ‘Fitness’ and ‘Bikini’ competitions it’s wholly aesthetic; there’s not a lot that is functional about those beach muscles!), but there is one meme that I enjoy.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
If you keep doing the same thing day after day, year after year you’re not going to see change in your life. This can be applied to all aspects of life; your work, relationships, nutrition, and of course, athletic life. I don’t need the picture of the ‘ideal’ female body as a backdrop to this ‘Inspo’, I think the words can speak for themselves.
I recently raced a marathon (it’s becoming a habit, unfortunately; never mind XC IS COMING!) and realised that this year I have raced more marathons than I have collectively over the cumulative years of my cycling life. It’s been a steep learning curve, but coming from XC, it has been one I have been glad to get the gist of a little quicker. It’s been challenging; and i’ve been changed. Every single race has its challenges and it’s in the perseverance and overcoming these challenges that sees the most growth.
Obviously being challenged physically (followed by rest!) is what leads to adaptation and fitness growth, but it also applies to race psychology.
I sometimes see people avoiding races with a large competitive fields. After all, if you don’t go so well in the race maybe the image you want to present to the world of you as high-achieving bike racer won’t be presented on that day? A bigger field means there are more people who have potential to be having a good day…perhaps less potential for you to get the coveted W.
Firstly, getting nervous about a race is normal, having doubts about yourself is normal. There are tips and techniques you can use to get through this, but acknowledging you’re feeling that way is the first step. We race bike races to be the best we can be and to push our limits so a good field surely is a better option than racing in a field of three!
For athletes that turn to water in these times reassurance is really important, and focussing on process goals and moving away from the incessant need to win is key. We can look at LOVING thy opponent (regardless of how you feel about them on a personal level) rather than fearing their strength. We can use stronger opponents as tools for growth. And we can see ourselves as changeable beings and fitness as a sliding scale; rather than our ability being a fixed quality. Who gives a fuck if you have an average day? Maybe your mum, if you’re lucky (she probably doesn’t care TBH).
We can work on seeing ourselves as people outside of athletic achievement and have bike racing as one part of, not the sole key of our being.
What’s the worst that can happen? That you don’t go top three in your pet event and you’re worried how that will make you look? Please, i’ve learnt more from my failures than successes. People who endlessly make excuses after races get a reputation, which leads me to…
…Acceptance. Go your hardest. If that’s a win that’s great. If that’s 18th that’s great. Either way it’s great if you did your best. Sounds trite but it’s true. Year after year at XCO worlds I see posts from athletes being disappointed with their results ‘only came 50th not what I expected’… What did you expect? You started in the grid at 67th, you gave it your all, that’s as good as it gets. IT’S WORLD CHAMPS. If you’ve emptied the tank and you’ve learnt something then that’s a win in itself. Onwards and upwards have a beer and celebrate.
It’s just bike racing.
Nothing is a given, you could be the raddest descender ever and be having a bad day and get overtaken by someone usually less skilled than you. You can have the highest FTP in the field and get overtaken on a 20min climb by someone who wants it more. We can’t control those around us, only ourselves!
It ain’t over ’till it’s over. I see this with some athletes; got a flat? Not finishing. Especially convenient when you were going really well then a bunch of risers passed you, you flatted than, bah, all too hard.
Mountain biking—more than any other cycling discipline—is a race that ain’t over ’till it’s over. Climbing, descending, technical sections, crashes, the elements, mechanicals…we saw all of the above come into play in the women’s race of 2016 Marathon Nationals. It’s easy to ride strong when shit’s going to plan, when shit goes bad it sorts out wheat from chaff.
Thinking about your thinking (metacognition) and developing some self-awareness about how you race is an invaluable tactic. Embrace the challenge and your opponents; after all without them you’re just doing a training ride with some bunting.