Frequently, people ask me the question "why do you race your bike". From an outsider's perspective, it's not always easy to understand why I go through all the effort to train countless hours, travel across the country, and spend more time than I dare to admit thinking about or working on my bike. It's easy to question why I race, and to be fair, we all race for different reasons with different goals. But the more I question the "why" the more I find peace in my answer. Because cycling gives me purpose.
Cycling defines so many aspects of my life. It has taught me to chase dreams, set goals, and never settle. While working a full-time job, cycling is my release. It's my sense of freedom after being confined inside four walls for 8 hours a day. It encourages me to let go of the stress of life and focus on one pedal stroke at a time. I look forward to my time on a bike, whether it's on roads, trails, or a trainer, because I know it is a constant that will always make me happy.
Because cycling is love.
Let's be honest, unless you are one of a select few of bike racers in the US, cycling is not an occupation. It's a hobby. The majority of elite female athletes do not make a livable salary in cycling. We work full-time jobs and juggle long work weeks with long training weeks. We race our bikes because we love the sport and believe in what we do. We race our bikes because we enjoy the endorphin rush that comes through competition and we want to push ourselves to be the best we can. It's not something the majority of us do because we want to make money or are searching for eternal glory. We do it for the same reason that amateur and masters racers race, that media spends countless hours running up and down a course covering the sport, and that support crews pull on their coveralls to spend their weekends checking tire pressure, orchestrating travel plans, and ensuring that their racers have the best race possible. Love.
Because cycling is my community.
The best people in my life I have met through riding bikes. It’s what brought me out to Stillwater, Oklahoma in 45 degree Fahrenheit weather to race the Mid South 100 Gravel Grinder. It’s what motivated me to ride (and hike) 100 miles in torrential rain, through ankle deep mud whilst carrying, what felt like, an 100 pound bike. The fact that despite adverse conditions and miserable weather, the entire town of Stillwater was out on course cheering us on while we slogged our way through cow poop, frigid cold streams, and peanut butter mud was motivation enough to keep going. It’s what has me pushing myself past my limit and going so deep into the pain cave that it often feels like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Love for the sport and the community is the reason that I clear my weekend schedule and take vacation days at work to fly across the country to race my heart out for a shot of personal glory. Because cycling has taught me what matters most.
My race at Mid South 100 did not go as planned. Races rarely do. The first hour, I questioned whether I was going to finish. My breaths were shallow, my heart rate rapid, and I could not for the life of me control my breathing. Asthma attacks are never fun, but they are even less fun when they're at the start of a very long race. My Easton Overland teammate, Caitlin Bernstein, and I had agreed to ride the race together. But for that first hour of gasping for air and mainly inhaling red clay, I did not think it would be possible to stay with her. My legs were already frozen from the icy rain and the lack of oxygen entering my body was only exacerbating my fear - I couldn't breathe. If there is one thing that cycling has taught me, it's the power of the mind. Mind Over Matter. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't find my inhaler. But I didn't want to quit. I powered on. We hit a technical section around mile 20 and my concentration went from my breathing to my line choice. I quit focusing on what I couldn't control and started looking towards what I could. My heart rate dropped. My breathing slowed. I no longer felt like a fish-out-of-water. My race was starting. We soon reached a group of female riders, and for the first time that day, I knew we had a shot of doing well. Mid South was only my 3rd gravel race.
My favorite cycling discipline is cyclocross. I love riding in adverse conditions, but typically only for 50 minutes at a time and with multiple bike changes. 100 miles in grueling conditions is a little different. That being said, I'm comfortable riding in mud and have the mindset to power through it. For the next 5 hours, Caitlin and I slipped and slid our way through the red clay - utilizing puddles and streams to clean our tires and drive trains and chasing down the competition in front of us. We got into a rhythm and I was smiling, laughing, and telling myself that "we are doing this for fun". The more racers we passed, the more confident I felt about our result for the day. Caitlin and I are stronger when we are together and the confidence boost of having my best friend on course with me was motivation enough for success.
7 hours in and we hit mile 90. Thirteen miles left. Almost in the clear. We motored on - grinding our way through the rapidly drying clay - praying to not get stuck. My wheels were spinning. I pushed on my pedals. My chain dropped. My crank arms stopped turning. Chain suck. I told Caitlin to leave me and finish her race strong. She refused. She didn't want to leave me in the mud with a non-functional drivetrain. For the next 45 minutes, we pried at my chain, attempting to free it. Multiple people stopped to help us. The chain wouldn't budge, the crankset wouldn't come off. I was stuck. I begged Caitlin to leave me and finish her race. Again, she refused. We watched racer after racer pass us. Our race was over. We began walking together in search of a support Jeep. Our day was over. Or so we thought.
After 15 minutes of walking up hills and coasting down hills, our Team Manager, Matt Hornland, appeared in the distance. Our luck was changing. I was so relieved to see him, and he miraculously freed my chain! We rode the next 12.5 miles together. Chatting, laughing, congratulating each other on surviving an epic day. I was sad to have had my race end 13 miles early but results aren’t everything. Because the truth is, in racing, no one really cares what place you finish, or who beat who in which race. It’s not what matters. What matters is that I answered my “why”. I went out there to see what I was capable of and fought until the very end. Whether I achieved my goals or not, I left the race feeling happy and hungry for more.
What matters is that when I am asked: "why do you race your bike" I can provide an answer that is personal and meaningful. I race because I love it. I race because the people I have met through cycling are the best people in the world. I race because cycling has taught me, that despite all the good, the bad, and the ugly in the world, we are in this together and, ultimately, we will come out stronger.