Everyone who races bikes, and even rides bikes, does sport, is a musician, or otherwise is highly invested in a hobby, has a motivation that drives them to continue the habit. I have talked about motivation and what it means on a number of occasions, and whether that motivation is positive or negative.
Closely related to the driving force behind our daily patterns is the rewards we get from habitually doing something that–at least in the case of sports and training–isn’t always instantly gratifying.
I have been thinking about everything that the world of cycling has given me in the tumultuous ten-year history I have been riding, and it’s far more varied than one may think.
There are some obvious external gifts we are rewarded with; increased fitness, new friendship groups via social groups on the bike, a literal vehicle to travel to work, in some cases employment through the industry, great glutes (lol), an extra 8kg or so of muscle mass…
The real gifts, however, are those that aren’t visible to the eye. Sorting through a seemingly endless bag of number plates from bike races long ago through to more recently, I was able to recall many races where events had happened that had challenged and changed me. I was literally able to put together a timeline based on cycling events that ranged from who I was 10 years ago to where I am now. From an awkward self-deprecating, ever striving, anxious novice; to the awkward, slightly more confident, always striving, experienced cyclist with a slightly healthier anxiety level, that I am now.
The path is never linear and always has some added challenges, see below. (Ie: two degrees, a child, 18months of chronic illness, some form of mental breakdown, blah blah blah).
But what defines success? When I started riding years ago I didn’t even have an end goal, certainly racing ‘well’ at a national level would be a dream but not something I could ever envisage happening. But you continue riding and racing because of the physical, tangible things it gives you as well as the mental clarity, goal setting and achieving and ability to see progress.
And in parallel to your own progress, the goal posts of the sport continually shift. The standards are always changing; riders become stronger, courses get harder, athletes must either adapt and accept the increased speed and technicality required or be happy to stay where they are.
The greatest things that the bike has given me isn’t the opportunity to represent Australia at a world level on a couple of occasions, nor is it the privilege to wear the stripes. Though both of these are pretty great (and I would argue the shocker I had in Cairns last year definitely prompted a reset of values).
The greatest gift I have been bequeathed, not without a great deal of effort on my part, is the ability to know that I am actually an okay person with or without results. When you have been chasing, then have some form of success and you’re just the same old person it really drives home the existential questions…especially if the expectation is for you to change, or be different because of it. When you can turn it around and race and ride for love and not validation, it comes from a different place and a different headspace that is much sustainable for the long-term. You don’t fear competition, you can accept whatever happens on the day, and you know it has absofuckinglutely no effect on your worth as a human being.
So what has bike racing really given me?
-Perspective on what’s important (hint: not bike racing, though it is great),
-A relationship, husband and child (certainly didn’t bank on that when I picked up the GT Avalanche 1.0: rim-brake spec)
-Falling into a fiery pit of despair and coming out harder, better, faster, stronger….like a phoenix (or Daft Punk song, yo),
-An adequate sense of self-worth,
-A tenable ability to conjure watts and power and pain from the bottom of my soul, even when not fit, because you know what a pit of despair is like and you know how far you can push yourself. Sure the numbers may not always be pretty and you may not always be super fast uphill, but you can always delve deep into that pain cave,
-Self-enlightenment in how, and why I ride, and the ability to honestly appraise my own (and others…) motivation and drive to ride,
– The ability to accept and forgive and be kind to myself; no trading in self-flagellation. Nope the sun doesn’t shine outta my arse, but nor does it shine out of anyone elses,
-While it once gave me a sense of identity, coming full circle has meant that you can find yourself outside sport, and be happy with that.
So I am absolutely stoked to be riding and racing my bike. I mean…not today; today I have a rancid post-fever cough with chunks in it and I feel a bit how-are-you-going. But generally, i’m stoked. When you ask the question “what’s possible?”, line up and have a go, and even if you fail you’re going to be ok; it’s truly liberating.