A Lesson in Disappointment

I stood there in the crowd, another anonymous face applauding the fruits of others labor. One-by-one, the categories were called to the podium, each rider beaming as they collected their medals. I was genuinely happy to see so many friends with great results, but as the 19-29 age group was called, I turned silent.

The preparation started on Easter weekend, with a trip up to Iron Mountain in Arkadelphia, AR to pre-ride the Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals course. Just three and a half hours' drive from Dallas, the day trip was a great way to see the course and ride with some good friends. As the weeks ticked down, and the championships grew closer, the usual nerves and uncertainty sank in. Even standing the in staging area, I was still unsure of what the day would bring.

The sun was just peaking over the tall pines of the forest as the whistle blew. We darted off the line heading out on course to tackle 50 miles of racing. The pace was manageable and relatively easy as we rode the opening loop out to the main road. Turning back into the park, I readied myself for a battle to enter the track first. But that battle never came. Instead, I was able to get right to the front and lead the pack into the opening jeep road climb. Setting a steady tempo up the grade, I was confident with how I was feeling in the first 5 minutes of the race and felt assured as I dictated the pace.

As we concluded the start loop and went back into the woods to start the first full lap, I was again at the front. Feeling eager to start the day's proceedings, I accelerated up the first climb, bringing just two other riders with me. I continued to set a steady clip up to the top of the hill, monitoring my effort all the while, and leading into the first descent. As we reached the bottom and spilled onto the road, the group had swelled to 5 or 6 riders who managed to tag on during the descent. Using the short pavement time, I grabbed some nutrition and allowed someone else to go to the front.

The next climb would prove decisive, just 30 minutes into the race. As the new driver of our train put in a dig, only me and one other rider could match the pace (with one other chasing). And just like that, our lead group was set. We kept it together and rode at a steady pace, which only buoyed my confidence. I was feeling fresh and my mind began to fast forward to the end of the race. In my head, I had it in the bag.

But reality struck a cruel blow as we hit the farthest part of the course and made the turn back towards the finish. My rear tire was starting to go flat. A puncture sustained in one of the numerous creek crossings, or perhaps in passing riders. Staying cool, calm, and collected, I reached the top of the climb and jumped off. Hitting the tire with some CO2, the puncture seemed to seal up. I had, of course, lost some time but no more than a minute or two, which I was sure I could make up on the ensuing climbs. With air in the tire, I remounted my bike and set out to catch the leaders. 

It wasn't more than 5 minutes further down the trail that I could feel the tire start to go flat again. My quick fix had not worked, and with one air cartridge left, I was going to have to put a tube in the rear wheel. I pulled off and did my best multi-tasking - deflating the rear tire while blowing air into the tube and fumbling for my tire lever. The seconds turned to minutes, which turned into eternity. Finally sorted, I went to inflate the tube, but both the valve on my inflator and my tube burst.

My day was over, just 17 miles and 1 hour and 17 minutes into the race.

I hate quitting.

I hate it with a passion.

In fact, I am a firm believer that one should finish a race by any means possible unless they are physically or mechanically unable to do so. In my case, there was no means left, short of riding a flat another 6 miles to the pit and finding a tube. And if you don't know me, I'll tell you that I'm not Aaron Gwin.

Standing by the finish, I watched as the lead trio of the 19-29 age group, the same trio that I was in, battled for the win.

Salt in the wound.

I wanted to do anything but be there watching those guys race for the stars and stripes jersey. But for all of the sulking and pouting I wished I could do, none of that would have made the situation better. This bike race gave me lemons, and I could neither make lemonade, nor say "F**k lemons!" and bail.

Instead I was left to deal with my disappointment and endure the bitter taste in my mouth for the car ride home. But, if there is one thing that I've learned in my journey over the past year and in working with my mindset coach, Mario, it's this:

Failure is not an indictment of your abilities nor of you as a person. Rather, failure offers you the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and improve.

That's a tough lesson to learn. Many of us grow up trying to be perfect at everything we do, trying to not make mistakes. And when we inevitably mess up, it can be hard to pull ourselves up and move on.

The important lesson is that there is no shame in failing. The mechanical (i.e. flat tire) doesn't make me less of a rider... though maybe I need some more time on the mountain bike trails... it just means that some factor outside of my control affected the outcome of my race. Rather than letting failure break you down, see it as a feedback. For me that starts this week, by going to the shop and buying tires with better sidewall protection.

Failure and fear of doing so are a natural parts of growing and learning. And more often than not, it's those moments that we can learn the best lessons. Losing a shot at the national title only makes me want it that much more. It will spurn me on to more training, better preparation, and more focus. This lesson in disappointment is a hard pill to swallow, but it also has empowered me to not fear failure. And with that, my chances of succeeding are already improving.

Yours in the Process,