Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Tyranny of Expectations

Bikes are fun.  Riding bikes is more fun.  Racing bikes is really fun. If you are stubborn, like me, and ride and race long enough, eventually you start thinking you might actually be good at it.

So as races approach on the calendar (why did you sign up? because of this) you start to look at historical results.  You look at the cut-offs.  2 hours?  3 hours?  8, 9, 10?  What's possible on this course?  Do you recognize a name on the results sheet?  Can you be as fast as that person?  You wonder if this racer who made it around the course in "under X" has a Strava account? Maybe you can compare what they rode to what you rode on a  similar segment.  (This is where Strava is truly evil by the way...makes it so easy to be soooo overt analytical about a ride). 

Since very few people ever get to stand on a podium, the cut-off for "sub-whatever" becomes really important. Sometimes there's a trophy (Leadville buckles...) and sometimes there's a tangible incentive like a finisher's medal or a entry into another race, and sometimes (mostly) it's just bragging rights (any chance someone will beat Conrad at Iceman this year?  No? Ok, how about sub 2:15, or sub 2:00?)

So one goes through all of this math and posing and trash talking about how many beers were or were not drunk in the weeks preceding the event, and through that process a time gets in your head. 

That time represents an expectation of performance. And because you entered a race, it matters

So you work hard. You eat right. You train properly.  You wake up and strap a light on the handlebars at 4am. You follow rule 5. You convince yourself that you are hard as a nail and have the capacity to suffer. 

And you begin to tell yourself the lie that you are fast. 

Now the expectation grows. 

That expectation grows and grows until you're (politely) elbowing for a position at the start line. And it grows through the start, through the gun, and it grows as you make the first turn and climb faster than you even believed you might. Oh my god!  You're flying you are A CYCLING GOD!  THE JENSIE COULD NOT CATCH YOU!

And then you cross a mile marker and you look at the clock. You're not as fast as you thought.  You're behind your goal time. You better work. 

And now the race is a little less fun. Because you are working. Hard. Then you remember rule 10.  You start to feel better.

Soon, you're in a little bit of a panic. Will you make your time?  Will you beat your friends? 

The clock only goes in one direction and that average speed is annoyingly refusing to move closer to what you need to achieve your expectation of sub- SOMETHING....

You begin to think. 

Will your family be willing to wait for you at the finish or will you need to bum a ride from someone because you have just become so daaaaaamn slow there won't even be any beer or bacon left when your slug of a marshmallow soft body drags this carbon fiber racing bike you don't deserve over the line?!?

The expectation is shattered. You're not fast. You're not that hard. You're not even sure why you put a number plate on your bars.

But you're in a race. You're not on a ride. You are racing

So you keep going.

And eventually, after a bit more suffering. A bit more humility of being passed by a flabby dude or chick on some POS steel machine a bit more elation of passing some on with an IM tattoo, and you cross the line.  

You didn't make sub- whatever. You did likely make the final cutoff. And if you're me, you were doing this in the mountains, in some amazing scenery, with some great friends. And someone has a beer. And it's for you. 

But for all that, you're still disappointed. You had that expectation. You fell for the lie all racers tell themselves, and now it's eating at you. 

After you finish your beer, hose off the bike, hug your friends and kiss the family, reminding yourself how lucky you are to have a spouse and kids willing to let you put on silly outfits and shoes that are too tight to play in the mountains regularly, There's really only one thing to do to fight he tyranny of the expectation. 

Enter another race. 

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