On Being a Middle of the Pack Racer – And Proud of It

I just got home from racing the Carson City Off-Road. How’d I do, you might ask?

Freakin’ awesome.

I finished smack dab in the middle of the pack, which is right where I always finish. Oh sure, I’ve had a handful of podiums in my fifteen years of racing bikes, but more often than not I’ve finished right near the middle. This isn’t something I’m embarrassed about, I don’t feel bad that I rarely make the podium–in all seriousness, I’m really REALLY proud.

You see, mountain biking (and biking in general) is my life. It’s what I do in my free time, it’s what I do for work, it’s what I read about, and what I watch on YouTube. And despite all that, I’ve never been particularly fast. Yeah, I’m fast compared to the dudes riding in sneakers and the kids on Huffy’s, but compared to most folks, I’m slow. Part of that is probably genetics (I’m not just naturally that talented), but part of it is a choice.

I choose to drink beer rather than a recovery drink in the parking lot. I’d rather take pictures and pick flowers than turn on Strava. When my six-year-old asks to go for a ride, you better believe my planned 3-hour training ride goes out the window. Despite being having a Type A personality in nearly every aspect of life, when it comes to my true love–biking–I’m decidedly Type B.

So despite showing up at nearly every race woefully underprepared, I still show up. I put on my number plate, and tape some Shot Bloks to the top-tube, and toe the line. Why do I show up, even when I know there’s virtually no chance I’ll podium?

Because it’s something I love. I love the energy at a race. I love pushing myself harder and longer than I’d ever do on my own (did I mention I hate training?). I love the feeling when I cross the finish line and know that I DID SOMETHING with my Saturday afternoon.

Finishing a race, and knowing I did my best, makes me feel good about myself. I don’t have to win to get that sense of accomplishment. It’s cliche, but it’s true: even if you finish last, you still beat everybody at home on the couch.

at the finish line of the tour of the white mountains mountain bike race

Why is it in life that we think we have to be REALLY GOOD at something to do it at all? Why can’t we just do something because we enjoy it? How often do you tell yourself, well I shouldn’t watch one episode of Westworld because there’s somebody else out there who’s going to stream the entire season tonight? I’m not gonna bother if I can’t win. You would never say that, right? You’d plop yourself right down on the sofa and flick on the TV. So why tell yourself that about racing? Or about mountain biking in general?

Of course, mountain bike racing isn’t exactly as easy as zoning out to HBO. Mountain bike racing is hard. It’s puke-in-your-mouth, cramp-in-your-left-calf hard. You’re going to cross the finish line covered in sweat or blood or tears–quite possibly all three.

Which is why almost nobody else does it. Do you know what percentage of the population has ever completed a mountain bike race? Or a race of any kind, for that matter? A very VERY tiny percentage. Like less than 5%.

So ladies, if you’ve ever thought about doing a mountain bike race, if a tiny part of your soul has dreamt about it, just go do it. Even if you finish in last place, I’ll be rooting you on. I’ll be screaming, and clapping, and hooting and hollering for you.

But chances are you won’t finish in last. You’ll probably finish smack dab in the middle of the pack–right with me. And heck, I bet you’ll even feel proud. Real proud, in fact.

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