Monday, February 13, 2012

Handbook for Handling Fear

Since the first day I started training to race a bicycle, I thought there was a chance I could make it Pro.

The scariest thing about trying to care so much about something or someone is the fear that right now may be your only chance.  The fear that you are getting too old and second chances sounding as likely as economic stability, start to make decisions that are merely based out of insecurities.  We begin to make our decisions based on what we think is safe rather than what we really want.

To dramatize things--we've gone from the age of "Anything is possible!" to the age of "Why bother?"  Every professional athlete is doping.  Everyone who gets married gets divorced.  Your savings are just going to get wiped out by the stock market.  There are no jobs for college graduates, especially dream jobs.  There's always some political war overshadowing non-oil related humanitarian crises.  Everyone is just looking out for themselves.  So, why bother?

I blame the internet for making the world and everything in it so transparent.  Everyone can figure out exactly what they are capable of, take no risks, and proceed to live a very safe... boring life.  But that's a choice, so the internet can't be blamed.

I blame friends who tell others they should go do something, take a chance - a risk, when they can't themselves.  Our friends seems to know what would be the best choices for us and make it sound so damn easy to do.  But our friends are just too scared to do something themselves, so they can't be blamed.

I blame parents for telling their kids they can be anything they want when they grow up.  You can't just be anything.  You can be someone.  But you need something to be anything.  Our parents probably didn't become anything as they were promised, so they can't be blamed.

The something you need is belief.  I don't mean thinking how you can be something - that's too calculated.  I definitely don't mean accepting what others believe - that's conforming.  I mean that unhinged, fearless, dream-like state of focus that is required to deliver the existential claim to oneself or someone else.  "Believing-in" is very powerful and has a way of spreading to others once the result of overcoming is witnessed.

At Bunny Hop (Local Mid-Atlantic Criterium) a couple years ago my then teammate Chuck Hutcheson pointed me out during our team meeting before the race and told me exactly what he expected me to do that day.  He told me that when there was 10 laps left in the race, roughly 10 kilometers, I was to attack as hard as I could and give everything I had to break away from the field.  At this point I still was unsure if I had what it took to race against other elite riders and normally my pre-race instruction was to go race hard.  I thought I was good enough but I hadn't bridged the gap between thinking I could and believing I could be good enough.  This was the first time ever, or at least substantial enough for me to consider as such, in a sporting event that I was chosen to be a play-maker.  Twenty four years of wanting to be a go-to guy had accumulated inside of me creating a feeling much greater than thinking I could do it.  I had dreamed of doing it.  At the end of the meeting as we headed to the start line I started to believe in myself and nothing was going to stop me.

I could barely keep this secret to myself all race as the cyclists around me jockeyed for position and for their own motivations that day.  Could they sense that I knew something they didn't?  Had the other riders gone through this existentialism before, or were they all out there thinking they could do the exact same thing every other rider was thinking they could do.

It was time.  Ten laps to go and the field was all together.  We came around turn two of the three corner circuit and I hopped out of my saddle and opened up my final sprint with about ten kilometers of racing to go.  I looked back underneath my shoulder a few times and saw as riders responded trying to bridge the gap.  I kept sprinting.  Once I saw the field regroup I found my seat, put my head down, and mashed the pedals as hard as I could with no intention to ever slow down again.

By the time the field realized what was going on, I was 200 meters from the tail end of the pack with the lap ticker counting down quick.  Rival teams hit the front and began their chase in haste as I saw with crossed eyes 5 to go, 4 I think, just 3 more laps.

I remember old Bike Rack teammates on the side of the road roaring for me to keep going and the rider known as Sensei course marshaling telling me I could 'do it'.  The secret was kept safe, I had already done it.  I believed in myself and did something that before I would have thought I could have done, but been too scared to try.

As I came through the start-finish line with one lap remaining the field came roaring by with my teammates perfectly positioned to take the sprint for 1st and 3rd.  I came by some moments later in 64th place and rolled through the parking lot where a junior rider who had been watching the race told me how awesome 'that' was and how he hoped he could ride like 'that' someday.  He will, if he believes he can.  I hope I have something to do with that as Chuck's simple direction had to do with me realizing something much greater than having the ability to race at a high level.

Bunny Hop, May - 2010

From that day forward I found myself getting more and more opportunities to do what I thought I could do the first day I started training for a race.  One of the team managers, Tom Buzas, offered me one of the coveted spots to race in a few NRC (domestic pro) races such as Clarendon Cup, Basking Ridge, and Wilmington Grand Prix.  The Bunny Hop race was in May of 2010.  In a month I'll be racing Tour Do Interior De Sao Paolo in Brazil, a 5-day UCI (international pro) race.  I'm back to thinking I could 'make it' and no longer believing it.  

I'm too scared to quit my job to give the amount of attention needed to physically and mentally train, rest, eat, and meditate on the possibility that my friends think I can do.  That my power numbers when compared to numbers I see on the internet tell me I could do.  To my parents still telling me I can do anything.  Now I've had an untimely setback with my knee that has me even more resistant to believe I can do it.  Of course I still think I can because I have calculated what I could do.  But right now, I'm having trouble believing it.  

It took writing this to realize how stupid fear is and remember how awesome overcoming and achieving things because you believe in yourself is.  I lost the race at Bunny Hop, and it was only Bunny Hop.  But to me, it let me believe in possibilities and in self-belief and even the power of others' belief in you.  It's not only true in bike racing.  You will BE happy in relationships if you believe you are.  You will DO what you think you can if you believe you can.  Change is hard, risks are scary, losing hurts, and the safe-bet is easier.  Our insecurities derived from these things only articulate the value and beauty in overcoming, and believing-in ourselves.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Go West Young Man

Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country
-Horace Greeley
  • Washington, DC rent is too high.
  • I disagree about the food - it's pretty awesome.
  • Who doesn't develop allergies when they move here?
  • Tim Brown's morals are deplorable.  Cross-training is over!
  • Good luck in California Brownie. We'll all miss you.

From left to right (Marcus Floro, Tim Rugg, Tim Brown, Matt Ringer)

Well-known Mid-Atlantic cyclist and good friend Tim Brown is leaving us for the other side of the country.  Brown has been my teammate for as long as I've been racing and I've been his for as long as he's been racing.  We both started racing in June of 2008 for The Bike Rack as Category 5 Novice bike riders.  We both moved to the elite national team, Battley-Harley Davidson, as development riders in 2010.  In 2011 we had outstanding seasons making our mark as a couple of the most determined and rapidly developing riders in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond.  With skills complementary to each others riding styles, I imagined we'd always be riding on the same squad and maybe going pro together one day and cleaning up as "Tim Squared", "The Tim Towers", "Ruggles and Brownie". 

Today was an often ignored reminder that cycling is secondary to a job and making a living.  Brown has got to go where the work is... and "where he can surf" (dumb).  I hope the Mid-Atlanctic Criterium Champion of 2011 will take his fast finishing speed to the next level on the Los Angeles velodromes.  I'm just sad I won't be there to be a part of it.

Tim Rugg and Tim Brown dominating Greenbelt.