The air was warm and the scent of impending rain filled my nose. I felt metal and rubber underneath me. There was green and brown all around. Mindless race chatter and the rustle of leaves fades in and out of ears. My auditory nerves barely register the vibrations. To my right and to my left, I saw the women who would experience the course with me. The blood began to move faster with in my veins. Each breath shudders out of my mouth. With three rides of experience on a flat course, I was set to race a trail with inclines and roots. Fear kept fighting into my mind. Fear of failure, fear of shame, the fear that keeps us from greatness.
I watch as the other races are released in waves. Finally, it is my turn. We are given a 15 second notice. My hands shakily grip the handle bars and my knees feel weak. I angrily scold myself for weakness. A last the horn sounds and the group takes off. I am trailing behind. The first hill is before me. I perceive the confusions of the riders. In my panic I think of how to get around. I know that I will not be able to climb the hill unless I can build enough momentum to overcome the friction of the incline. The rider in front stops suddenly. I clumsily try to react and frantically grasp at how to dismount. The world tumbles around me and I feel the brush scratch my arms and legs as I roll. I jump up; my cheeks flushed and dart for my bike. I see support staff running my direction. I yell that I am fine. I grab the metal in my hands and run up the hill, determined to conquer the fluttering sensation in my stomach. Once the terrain flattens I remount. My heart is still pounding. I briefly pass the rider in front of me. I succeed in riding a more technical section before my nerves overtake me again. She passes me.
My mind races on how to calm down. I envision that this is not a race. My only concern is to enjoy the ride, to focus on technique. I am aware that I slowly getting further behind. My hands shake again and rounding a curve, I feel the bike give way, and I slam down on the dust. Upon remounting my feet are trembling and I am barely able to click into my peddles. Despite my attempts to be positive, shame slinks into my brain. I am still the little girl who was picked last for every team. The little girl who was told she would never be good at a sport. The girl who secretly cried at athletic failures while watching others succeed at physical feats. With a growl, I realize that today is the day that girl must be put to rest. That girl kept her training wheels on her first bike for 8 months out of fear. That girl trembled when biking on sidewalk next to traffic. That girl felt sick when looking over a high altitude into trees below. I bring myself to center. I remember I am a woman. This woman rides on the street with traffic in rain, snow, ice, or shine. This woman was invited to ride with a team and is wearing her first team uniform. This woman races bikes. I refocus on my technique and notices the beauty of the forest. In front of me I see a jersey. I am not so far behind anymore.
Each stride brings me more pleasure. I take in the scenery. The rain that my olfactory nerve warned me was coming, showers down. The water droplets bring hope and satisfaction. A marathoner passes me with an encouraging remark and a smile flirts with my lips. A few more marathoners pass, each offer motivation. I am really racing! I climb hills, round curves, and take descents. Sometimes I stay on my bike, sometimes I carry the bike. All the while I see the jersey in front. I am never too far behind The fear subsides. My heart now beats only from exertion. I make my final decent and finish the race. I cheer for myself at the end. I know I must celebrate this moment. I have come in fifth, which is last. That matters not. This is still my personal best.
I have learned much from this experience. I have learned that in the future, it is better to have a calmer start and a stronger finish. There is a great deal of training that I still need and technique that must be developed. But I will get there. The next race will be better. I will grow as a competitor. More importantly I have learned about myself. I fought my demons that have threatened my self-perception long enough. I have started to view myself as an athlete. I am ready to race again.
A Few Pictures From the Race
Riding Part of the Course Before the Race
My Precarious Ride to Ponca
(This chair is also responsible for a tumble)
Liz and Me Before the Race
(Thanks for being such a great bike mentor!)
Getting Reading to Race
Liz Post-Marathon and Looking Great!