Bike racing season is finally in full swing. I am finally healthy. Not up to racing form yet, but healthy which is a start. I spent the past few weeks recovering from my second cold of the season and instead of pushing it really hard on the weekends, I just made sure to keep my mileage up without taxing my system.
There is a fine balance in getting ready for race season. Push it too hard, and you get injured or sick. Take it too easy, and you get popped out the back of the peloton like exhaust from a tailpipe. You have to find a happy medium that allows your body to get strong, but also builds in recovery periods.
This past weekend, my team was in Tucson for a three-day stage race. Three days of racing is always a challenge. Especially when you have had to hit the ‘reset’ button a couple of times in training due to illness and colds. It’s like starting all over with your training, and being put to the test about a month too soon. I knew the races were going to hurt, and after the challenges I have hit the first part of this season, I was worried I would not be able to finish strong on my limited training base.
I pushed it on the first day time trial (TT). This is an individual race against the clock which sets the rankings for the next two days of racing. Do well in the TT, and you have a chance at winning the overall. Don’t do well, and you will be working to make up time the next two days. I wound up doing OK at the end of the day placing in the top third of my category.
The next day was a 60 mile road race. There were a ton of people in my division and the road was packed shoulder to shoulder. Our team captain made a point at the beginning of the race to tell all of our team members to push it and get up to the front where it would be safer and where we would have a chance of winning. “You may have to push it into the wind, but at least there are only a few guys in front of you to contend with, instead of 100.” He said.
Here is the thing with riding up front, you not only have to be aggressive to get up there, you have to ride just a little harder than everyone else in the pack to stay there. You don’t always have a draft, and you run the risk of burning yourself out before the race is over. Given the 60 mile distance of the race, I was a little hesitant to get up to the front in fear that I would not make it to the finish. Combine that with the fact that I am a fairly defensive (not aggressive) rider, I found myself riding about a third of the way back in the pack the majority of the race. My team mates were a few wheels in front of me, and I lacked the courage and faith to get up there with them and work a little harder.
I was OK with my decision to play it safe. Afterall, I was just coming around on my fitness, and I was not at the level yet of my other team members. I would never have survived out there alone.
After the race, we were all talking about the experience, and my team captain called me out on playing it safe. “You need to get up front Tim. You are strong enough to not play the safe card. It is easier up there and you are never going to get stronger riding in the pack”
I was upset for getting called-out on the carpet. I was just coming around fitness wise, I knew what I was doing, and to get called-out for riding what I thought was a good race really pissed me off.
“We don’t all ride the same” I told my wife. “I didn’t have it in me to ride in front today. I needed to just finish the race for my own mental state.”
I took a few breaths, laid on the couch in my hotel room and thought about the whole thing.
Perhaps he knows my potential more than I do.
I talked things over with my team captain a little bit later, and told him that I realize I am not super aggressive in the pack. I was not confident in my fitness yet. I had some things to work on. I apologized for not being a good team-mate.
“It has nothing to do with that Tim” he said, “You are a strong rider. Strong enough to be up front. We all need to push ourselves to be better, to get stronger, and to not play it safe. Anyone can play it safe, but if we are going to win these races, we need to be strong and aggressive. You are a great cyclist, and you need to be confident and ride like you are strong, even if that means getting outside your comfort zone.”
I realized that my friend had just spoken truth into my life. He held me accountable.
I think about things like this from a spiritual perspective. It is really easy for me to play it safe in this world. Most of my friends don’t really buy into the whole ‘Christian’ thing. It is easy for me to just float through life and not really pay much mind. I try to live pure, share my faith and show love to the people I am around, but that is not always enough. I have done an insane amount of research on the legitimacy of what I believe and why I believe it, but is that enough?
Sometimes we need to push outside our comfort zone to grow and get strong. Sometimes we need people to hold us accountable to do so. Just like my captain did in my road race last weekend. It may be hard to swallow, but in the end we can grow from the experience. I have spent a lot of time this year thinking about accountability. My wife does a great job of keeping me focused spiritually, but I also know I need to reach out to other Christian men to speak truth into my life. Otherwise I think I will just be playing it safe in the pack.
The third day of my race, I really put myself out there. I rode aggressively and stayed in the front. I launched attacks and successfully recovered when the group caught me. I showed myself and my teammates that I had it in me to do well. I grew from the experience. Being accountable is not the safe route, but it will make us strong. And I want to be strong. Especially when it comes to my faith.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.