In one of the circles I run in we talk a decent amount about fear, usually in regard to one of its manifestations. When I see an Instagram of my ex-girlfriend with another guy and get jealous, fear is the root of that jealousy – I’m not good enough. When someone at work acts differently than I think they should and I get resentful I can usually trace the root to some sort of fear – at its bizarre extreme maybe a fear that I’ll get fired and be homeless.
Two years ago – after being inculcated with this awareness of fear in my life for a year or two – I went to see a show in Denver. The band I was seeing featured Corey Glover, lead singer from the band Living Colour. The encore played that night was Cult of Personality and since “Vivid” was the second CD I ever owned I’m pretty familiar with the song. As the song approached its conclusion I had a flash of mental foreshadowing of the last line and as it played over the sound system I understood for the first time what FDR meant: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. For real.
Last week I was debating between two places to ride my bike, both of them very familiar. I happened across a Strava update of a friend who had the day before ridden somewhere I had been before but only a few times and not for over a year. As soon as that ride became a possibility, my stomach knotted a tiny bit – fear of the unknown. Riding somewhere I didn’t know like the back of my hand meant I might get lost and need to stumble along for a bit. Not a big deal at all but enough to bring up a little bit of fear; I decided to go, had a fantastic ride and can’t wait to go back. And it was during that ride that the desire to write this blog post arose.
In January I entered a lottery for a mountain bike training program. The program called for a committment of Thursday nights and every other Saturday. My normal work schedule is Thursday through Sunday, nights. Should I enter the lottery? Would I be able to switch my schedule around enough to participate? If I succeeded with scheduling, what would my finances be like as a result?
YOLO dogg, so I entered the lottery and was one of the 20 lucky winners. After a few prelimimary meetings we began training in April. New people; fear. New places to ride; fear. Meeting somewhere different every workout; fear. Asking people for car rides; fear. These are not major fears; they are operating-slightly-outside-the-comfort-zone fears. Slight discomforts on a regular basis.
The larger discomforts came with larger unknowns. A month into the program we had our first ‘practice’ race – an actual race, the 18 Hours of Fruita. Drive across the state to set up camp with a bunch of people I barely know (my training program teammates and coaches) and begin a race at midnight (and in which I wouldn’t ride for the first time until a little after a very cold 1:30am, my first time mountain biking at night). But I showed up and it turned out to be a blast and I wondered who I would get to do it with me the next year.
The next large discomfort was another ‘practice’ race, the PV Cycle Derby. 44 miles of more-or-less non-stop riding. Aspects were less uncomfortable – by then I had formed some actual friendships, and this was now my second, not my first, race – and aspects were more uncomfortable. It was an unknown place and I had never ridden that far without plenty of breaks and chit-chat. But I showed up and finished fine (in four hours and 25 minutes).
Major discomfort: short track race. Not endurance. 20 minutes of all-out riding on a short course (which we did four laps of). This one really had me going, I was not looking forward to it at all. The idea seemed too adrenaline-fueled and unlike the pleasant races I had recently been exposed to -where you ask to pass or you pull to the side so someone can pass you – this one was billed as scrappier. I also didn’t want to get injured and jeopardize my chances of participating in the ‘real’ race, the one most of us were all training for. So maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that adrenaline got the best of me and as I was trying to pass someone we both went over the handlebars. I was lucky – I scraped my elbow and though I didn’t know it until the next day, I suffered some minor rib cage area issues that are still with me two weeks later. Bill was less fortunate and needed to be helped off the course. He walked with assistance to a first aid tent and after a half hour he went to the hospital. I feel bad and need to periodically remind myself that it’s part of the sport.
That brings us to right now, Friday night July 11th, the eve of the race for which we’ve been training for 15 weeks, the Breck 68. Further than I’ve ever ridden in one go; altitudes I’m not used to. Despite the knot in my stomach I feel pretty good, trying to accept that however it is that I prepared, it’s all done now. Two weeks ago we rode half this course and my legs were heavy from the previous few weeks of training and I had half the sleep that I’ll get tonight (hopefully), and I finished it.
I had a leg massage two days ago and acupuncture yesterday. I’m in Breckenridge, my bike is in the foyer (chain lubed), my riding drinks are prepped, my hydration pack is full of water – all I have to do is wake up, sit quietly for a few moments, make some eggs, get dressed and ride. Thanks to the coaches and my teammates in this training program (and the care I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to give to myself) I’m in the best shape of my life.
I mentioned that I hang out with a group of people who talk about fear on occasion. We have an exercise that we do, a question that we ask ourselves: If I weren’t afraid right now, who would I be? Tomorrow I hope to ride as that unafraid person, aware of my fear and showing up despite it.