Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Small and Not Unsurmountable Crisis of Faith (part I)

I'm starting over.  And I mean that in so many senses of the word.  Today I'm starting over with writing this blog, long neglected this year.  And I'm starting over with my sense of bikeface. 

I have to admit that one of the reasons I haven't written in several months is because I've found it difficult to write about bikeface.  And that's because I have found it difficult to find bikeface.  And until this past weekend, which I'll get to in part two of this post - and which prompts me to write now - until this past weekend, I hadn't even used the word "bikeface" very often.  I've had a crisis of faith lately, to be quite honest.  And if I paid close attention to some of my earlier blog posts, I would have seen this coming down the pike.  But you know what they say about hindsight....

It seems that I've discovered a great and somewhat troubling irony about getting stronger as a cyclist: getting stronger doesn't necessarily help you to feel better about your riding. 

That probably doesn't surprise any of you readers.  Even if you aren't a cyclist, you probably will be able to tell your own version of this story.  But here's mine.  For better or worse.

Since early fall (2011) my miles have increased exponentially compared to the year before. I've taken on far more challenges. And as I have written before, I have done more races, and have been more serious about how I did than I can ever remember. 

Thing is, when you get better, your expectations change.  You start trying to hang with people who are stronger than you -- which is how you get better in the first place -- but you also start caring more about how those people talk about your riding.  You start to wonder (and care) what your general repuation is with the group. 

Okay, yes.  That sounds so egocentric... to care about what others think.  But really, folks.  Let's not kid ourselves here.  Cyclists talk. They talk about who's likely to push the pace, whose wheel to trust in a paceline (and whose not to follow), who typically falls off the back, who's making great progress, who's the surprise rider who comes out of nowhere, etc., etc., etc.  Everyone is watching.  It's like being in school again.  And whether they know what they are watching for, or have misconceptions of what is happening out there, riders, as a community, and who generally care about who's riding with them, talk.  They do.  We're human.  We like to talk about other humans.... and like it or not, we all care about what other humans think.  (Some more than others, I realize.)

But, this post is not about whether I care tremendously about this unfortunate byproduct of being in a community, it's about how that community has gotten to my head and has affected my riding, and to some extent, my heart; and, I suppose, I'm attempting to get a grip on my own role in it. 

So.... this crisis of faith....

Let's start with the irony:  I've had the wonderful fortune of being part of what I consider to be one of the most caring and welcoming biking communities I could ask for.  I think that others who ride with me (us) would agree.  Generally speaking, every ride I do with this community leaves me feeling grateful.  So here's the big crisis:  I have lost my faith in my ability to be a part of it. 

I have lost my bikeface.

Since I have gotten stronger, I meet every ride with the fear that I am the weakest rider out there, that I'll be dropped, or make people feel they have to slow the pace for me, or worse, leave the group to help me bridge back up again.  I've left my house for group rides lately anticipating that I'll have no fun, anticipating the frustration and (sometimes) anger (though self-induced, I realize) at my own failings.  And flailings.   And while I know that helping others in the paceline are normal practices among cyclists -- I would do the very same thing for any one else -- I can't help but to get really really tired of being THE ONE.  I'm tired of being the one whose riding could potentially change everyone else's ride.  (Even if that part is only in my head.)  I'm tired of being the one who people have to look out for.  I'm tired of being the slowest one.  I'm tired of doing every ride knowing that the harder I'm working, the less and less great I'll feel about myself, and about the ride, and the less likely I'll feel bikeface. 

So, I'm shifting gears (pun completely indended).  I'm going to dial it back a bit for a while.  I'm going to ride the rides I know will restore my faith in myself, and in the bike.  I'm going to be the one to hold back for others, the one to pick up others when they've fallen off the back.  Because strangely enough, I'd rather be the one who's helping than be the one who's needing the help.  I'd have more bikeface in my life if that were the case.  I'll ride the faster rides only when I'm feeling particularly strong or needing to leave it all out on the road. 

I have to also say that this all comes with a strange little caveat too.  In the past 6 months, I've also competed in 4 races (2 CX races; Barry Roubaix, and Lumberjack).  In these races, I've found a little competitor inside of me as well.  And I kind of have a love-hate relationship with her too.  I won both 'cross races I was in, and don't want to lose any others this year (although I know I will).  

Bikeface turned Cyclocross Raceface

I had a blast with my captain, Derek, riding his tandem during the Barry Roubaix, and though we did pretty well for our first time racing together, I scolded myself afterward for not pushing harder. 

Crossing the finish line with Did, apparently lacking air....

I did the Lumberjack (a 100 mile single track mountain bike race) this year.  During the first lap (33 miles, which took me more than 4 hrs to complete), which was nothing short of disaster, I almost quit.  But because I wasn't riding for myself, but for a dear friend who couldn't ride (Kaat), I just couldn't let myself NOT go out for another lap.  I knew I wouldn't make the cutoff time to do a third lap or I would have attempted that too, thus completing the 100 miles.  I HAD to do what I could to make Kaat proud of me, even if it only meant doing part of the race.   

Pre-race Lumberjack with Roy and Mike.  Does my smile hide my nerves?

So as it may seem that these races have ignited a spirit in me that I didn't know I had, an embarrassment of riches in some senses.... they also raised my expectations of myself, and sometimes have nearly paralyzed me.  I have recently gotten into the habit of downplaying how important this all is to me when I talk with others just because I don't want my own lack of confidence to be a real thing.  But guess what?  It's there anyway.  Huh....

I guess this is all to say that I have decided to just get over myself.  I've decided that being dropped from a group, while not plesant, is not the end of the world, and it doesn't really matter.  I've decided that on most occasions, I'd rather be on my bike with my friends than pretty much any other place in the world. (Except on this beautiful night, as I write, I'm missing the largest and longest group ride of the week... go figure.) I've decided that pushing myself hard in places like Moab (another blog post coming soon) means more to me than being able to sit in a group on the Tuesday Night Ride and not get dropped.

This brings me to this past weekend. Which I'll write about in part II of this post.  I don't want to keep you from riding any longer.....


  1. I totally get this...it probably doesn't help that I surround myself with an overabundance of really badass, strong, fast, hard-working cyclist-types (heh, the same peeps you do). But I get this with running, too. I always seem to be that girl who can run 2-3x the mileage as other runners (like my BFF, who can slack for months and then breeze-along like it's nothing in a race) and still struggle to finish in the front half of the pack on race day. But I like running alone, which helps. I really don't like riding alone. I like no-drop rides, too. The Tues. night women's ride in N. Musk. has 2 speeds and neither will drop (you should come ride with us some time). Tom M.'s ride on Thurs. nights is like that, too. I like those rides. They are a good pace for me and I don't feel pressure to keep up or pressure to not drag everyone else back.

    I love riding with the guys in a casual situation, but during big shop rides when the bulk of the group is male there is a different dynamic that can be a little off-putting to lil' ol' me. I know a lot of women who won't saddle-up for the shop rides up this way for that very reason. Even their C-group rides end up with a bunch of guys hammering and dropping the legitimate "C" riders.

    I hope you can find your bikeface, again. It doesn't seem right if the originator of the phrase is struggling with it. On Sunday the shop van was at the A100 with the #bikeface sign on the side. It made me think of you and wish you'd been able to ride with us, though I know you got to experience something even more amazing (if that's even possible!) in your absence.

    1. Thanks for this, Kirsten. It's always good to hear that others are sharing my experience. That fact alone is what bikeface is all about, I think. And I did witness something really cool this weekend, but I wasn't on my bike, so it was not as cool as it could have been. I missed being at the A100 this year for sure. Looks like it was a huge success.... another testament to this community of ours!