Nixing the "What Ifs" and "I'm Nots" of Event Participation

Decorah Time Trials '15
Photo Credit: Tyler Rinken
Many new riders eventually become curious about local and perhaps not-so-local bike events as they get more involved with cycling.

There is something for everyone out there based on what type of riding you enjoy: road, gravel, endurance, mountain, fatbiking, triathlons, etc.

The biggest question of them all is "Do I do it?" and many times a person can easily psych themselves out, especially if they are new to riding.

If I had not convinced myself to participate in events, I would've missed out on some rad experiences that allowed me to meet new people and ride new trails. The ability to challenge myself has and continues to give me insight to myself and my riding.

I'm not the fastest and that's okay; I have not entered an event with expectations of a podium finish. I haven't officially trained for any event I've participated in (tho I will be racking up miles for Chequamegon 40, however that is to ensure I finish!) My plan is simple when attending events: go for the experience and finish the race, nothing more and nothing less.

So often I hear individuals stating any of the following-
"I'm not very good."

"I just started riding."

"I'm not fast."

"I'm not a racer."

"I'm too nervous."

"I haven't ridden those trails before."

"I don't want to hold people back."

"I don't want to finish last!"

"I'm not competitive."

If we always lived our life fearing the "what ifs" and "I'm nots" we surely wouldn't be enjoying much. I'm sure there has been a point in your life where you analyzed changing a job or making some sort of leap that was career, move, and/or relationship based. The "what ifs" and "I'm nots" are very loud, but did you make a move? Did you pursue a career that bettered your life? Did you find a partner who makes your world spin in a miraculous way? Maybe you found the perfect 4-legged companion. There are so many opportunities that we discover because we battled the "what ifs" and "I'm nots"- and for some they were goals accomplished and other times a lesson in growth.

Frozen 40/20
Photo Credit: TMB Images
There is no harm in participating in an event that you feel you might not be 100% ready for. Frankly, I never feel 100% certain on any event! I have the worst pre-race nerves imaginable, and one could tell me a thousand times "You got this." It doesn't matter that I can ride most of the local trails, I still get jitters. But...I do not let those jitters stop me. As for the competitive side of things- I do my best to keep the mentality that I'm competing against myself. I can be in a race and still have fun regardless of how I do. Coming off of my first year I had nothing prior to compare myself or my results with. This will change each season, but I refuse to have that be my primary focus.

When you do something you are uncertain of, it unravels another layer of your self. These opportunities are fantastic learning experiences- which can often surprise you. Speaking about events- there is always going to be "the first one" and that aspect never goes away. The first race will always be the hardest, it's the leap of faith that you must take in order to experience something outside your comfort zone. Look at an event that excites you and see if you can have a friend come along and join or at least be a supportive spectator. You have greater success at a local event of knowing someone and it may feel less daunting than an event that is hours away. You have to figure out what works best for your mentality, and only you can decide that.

It's best to be logical and not bite off more than you can chew at one time, otherwise you may find yourself feeling down. Goals are something to work towards! If you have hardly ridden 40 miles, don't sign up for a 40 mile fatbike race unless you can devote time to condition yourself to ride long distances in winter. Try the 20 mile one first, which is usually easier to work towards for mileage and cold-weather acclimation. If you have never done a century or anything remotely close, wait to sign up for a long-mile endurance event until you've attained longer miles in the saddle that are above/beyond your usual "weekend warrior" set.

The more events you attend, the more you'll learn about what you like/dislike and what you might want to try in the future. Talk with friends or other riders you admire who do those events- they may be able to give you some helpful suggestions and tips!

There are some things to think about when you're participating in an event, these are a small sampling of what I've learned and observed. 

1. Be polite, being an arse just ruins it.

2. If others ask to pass, allow them to, but when you're at a safe place to do so.
You do not want to put yourself or others in jeopardy, most people want safety first- give acknowledgement that you heard, that's always nice. There will always be the person who will pass you before you have a chance to get over. Brush it off and don't dwell.

3. I personally do not recommend listening to music with earbuds when racing, especially if you have a mass start. (I don't promote listening to music on rides, period.) I found having my ears clear to hear allowed me to pick up on sounds behind me easily- which resulted in my letting people pass me before they had to ask. It's always a good thing to be aware of your surroundings- you will likely find you are more perceptive than you thought!

4. Being last is not a bad thing and sometimes people actually try to be last! I assure you that people will not look down on you for finishing last. I was last once, and no one told me that I should've stayed home. I was given props and kudos for simply being out there in the first place, especially as a first season rider. People find it impressive when new riders attend their first event, you'll find many try to make the experience positive for ALL who join- not just the podium finishers.

5. DNF is not a bad thing, either. Showing up and doing the best you can do is all you can ask. I've known several people who tried their hardest but were not able to finish. This doesn't mean you failed and it doesn't mean you're a bad person. Sometimes things happen- learn and come back to it again. Many people experience DNFs, you aren't the first nor the last.

6. Even if you feel like you can't eat anything at all...find something to eat! If you're like me and haven't perfected how to intake sustenance during a race, having calories in beforehand will help a lot. Know what works best for your gut, finding out what GU Gut Rot is afterwards isn't so fun. If you are persuaded by baked goods, try some Skratch Cookies. You can make them however you like and add yummy things like nuts or chocolate chips. I'm also a fan of Clif Bloks- as you can tell, I'd much rather have something to chew than just swallow.

Night Shift & 31st Birthday
7. Hydrate! When all else fails, fall back to fluid. Hydration is vital and learning how to hydrate well for yourself can be a challenge. I'm still challenged by it! Find what works for you- some use drink mixes for additional electrolytes and nutrients and others use plain water. As with food, it's all about experimenting to find what works. I would rather use a Camelbak for liquid vs. a water bottle, but sometimes a water bottle might be the better option.
I'm still perfecting wintertime hydration.

8. The most important suggestion of all- Have Fun! I have not been to an event that has not been fun or that wasn't enjoyable. Once you get going, the tension will lesson and it will seem more like a bike ride vs. a race.

These are some thoughts that I've come up with as I enter into my second season of sporadically attending events. Making the decision to participate at events on a local level and beyond has been a very positive thing for me, and I'm sure you will find that it can be an eye-opening experience for you as well! Throw away the worries, fears, and concerns and just do it- you just might surprise yourself and find yet another reason to love riding bikes!

If you find that events aren't really your cup of tea when it comes to participating, no problem! If you enjoy all the other aspects of the events, consider volunteering. Many times people who put on events look for assistance: timing, course set-up, registration, social media, and much more. Connect with the group that organizes and see what's possible! It's a super way to become more involved with the community.