I lean my bike into the turn, sliding slightly on damp leaves and pray that I can correct it rather than continue to go sliding into the roots and rocks littering the trail, which would cost me precious seconds. My heart rate speeds up even more and my breath hitches ever so slightly as the tread on my tires catch and I speed unscathed out of the turn. I smile slightly, but quickly bear down as I work to turn the pedals faster and concentrate on cornering smoother. I think I hear a twig snap somewhere on the trail behind me, making me pedal harder than before. I concentrate on the trail in front of me rather than lose precious time and possibly crash by looking back. I am the rabbit being chased by the hounds…at least it feels that way. The fear of being caught by my competitor behind me or the excitement of chasing down the racer in front of me fills my blood with adrenaline and makes me ride better than ever.
One of the most common questions I receive from other women is when and how did I start racing. They are always shocked to discover that I didn’t start cycling until my early twenties and entered my first race only a few months after that. Even after I tell the story of going over my handlebars and face planting in front of a group of spectators during that first race, the women still show the curiosity and the want to race, but they continue to insist that they aren’t “ready”. So, when are we ready to race? My answer is right now! Sure, we may not be in the best shape of our lives or we still can’t make that particularly gnarly obstacle on a trail, but if we keep using those excuses to prevent us from making that first step, we will never be “ready”. By making that move and just racing, I found my fitness increases quicker and my bike handling skills develop in leaps and bounds. Why is that? Because you’re no longer thinking about pushing hard, you’re just pushing. You’re no longer thinking about how to get over that rock, you’re just pedaling over it. You’re no longer thinking about it, you’re just doing it!
So, racing may help your performance, but why else do it? Happiness of course! Unlike other competitive sports, there isn’t millions of dollars to be made in the sport of mountain bike racing. We are racing because we love the sport; we love the people and probably just love being outdoors. Have you ever had a competitor pass you and encourage you to push harder? I have. Have you ever had your competitor come up to you and boast to everyone what an amazing race you had and tease you about how bad your crushed the rest of the field? I have. Who does that? Mountain bike racers do, we do. It’s a sport that not only challenges your physical fitness, but also your mind. It teaches you that no matter how hard you push, you can always push harder. It teaches you the grace and humility of winning and losing. Even better, it introduces you to an array of amazing people who live lifestyles worth experiencing. So, next time that little voice tells you that you aren’t ready, ignore it, and just race.