Monday, June 25, 2012
The One to Beat
A newbie triathlete friend met me for a ride early Saturday. Since we both have a bunch of races coming up, I assumed she wanted a mildly challenging training ride. I chose a course that I described to her as 'a reasonable route with a little bit of everything'. I even sent her a map and elevation chart ahead of time. We would ride from one end of the Valley to the other, with a few warm-up hills early on to get us going.
I soon learned a valuable lesson in assuming things. We weren't maybe more than 3 miles in, when my friend's heavy breathing abruptly turned into a steady and increasingly vitreolic stream of choice expletives, aimed directly at my ability to choose an appropriate cycling route.
At first I thought she was kidding. I had ridden with her before and, although I knew she didn't exactly love hills, she was more than capable of climbing the one in front of her. But the tirade continued, maybe picking up ferocity with the elevation gain. Not quite knowing what to say, I simply told her that the road would flatten out a bit once we crossed Rt. 303 in Peninsula.
Or so I thought. My friend, who I will simply refer to as "Hill Bitch", saw the slight rise in the road ahead and practically shrieked "I SAID NO MORE F**KING HILLS!" At that point it hit me that she was serious, and that if I couldn't alter our route plan in a hurry I would be in grave danger.
I stopped and gave it to her straight.
"Look," I said. "I can't exactly iron out the road and make it flatter."
"I know, " she said, suddenly calmer. Like we were in the eye of the storm. "You just witnessed my hill personality. I'll be OK as soon as we're on the flat part."
Hill Personality. Hmmm.
I immediately understood where she was coming from. It wasn't the grade, or the length, or the pace that was bothering her. It was the lack of confidence.
Been there, done that.
I think that most of us have our moments of self-doubt, those nagging thoughts that say "I can't do this". I know I have my share, often as I'm pulling into the parking lot before a race or a high-intensity group ride.
Not that the Voice in my Head isn't occasionally right. Sometimes, it really IS likely that I will break a collarbone in a crit race, or my heart will explode on a 15% grade. More often, though, the Voice is dead wrong, and believing it makes me my own worst enemy. When you start believing what the Voice is saying, you risk not even trying. It defeats you before you even start.
I can't tell you how many times I've let a lack of self-confidence hold me back: from sprinting at the finish, from thinking I could actually win this race, to continuing to turn the wheels over when the course gets too tricky. But I'm learning to manage my attitude, and am always coming up with ways to tune out the negativity and focus on the task at hand.
My strategy is often as simple as this: Decide on the destination, and then start driving. Turn the Voice of Unreasonable Fear into a GPS Voice, so it starts working for me like I'm following a road map without route options. This is often what it takes just to get me to the starting line. Never mind who else shows up, my fiercest competitor will always be myself. Racing is a game that is won or lost in the space between one's own ears.
I gave my friend a pass - this one time - and we took the flat and rather unpleasant route back. I assured her that her climbing ability was fine and that once she got more hilly miles on her odometer, her confidence would follow. It's all a matter of reaching deep into the suitcase of courage, throwing out all the smelly stuff, and pulling out a different outfit to wear on hill-climbing day. Maybe something that has "I can do this" written all over it.
I'm guessing that she's going to one day learn to love hills, maybe even seek them out. I can't wait for the day when I can officially change her nickname to "Hill Climbing Bitch".