‘Cross diary 31: in praise of having a crap time

September 26, 2013 at 11:17 am | Posted in cycling | 8 Comments
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Well. My ‘cross season didn’t exactly get off to a blistering start. Remember that water crossing at Keighley? I womanned right up and rode into it. My front wheel didn’t come out; I did a slow-mo faceplant, picked myself up bashfully, and rode off worrying slightly about the grinding noise coming from my gears. Two recce laps later, the chain jumped off for the third time and jammed solid. DNS. Never mind! I thought. Wakefield next week; I like Wakefield. But the Gods of Snot laughed at my mortal aspirations, and sent down a LERGY upon me, and lo, I DNSd for the second week running.

In between these events I had an ace time with @michgreig at the Velodrome. Most of the day passed in a blur of grinning selfies and sectionable antics, but she didn’t find the riding very jolly.

mich & me

Lowering the tone in the velodrome caff

I love Michelle’s writeup of our day because it does something unusual: it’s honest about having an awful time on the bike. Mostly, judging from twitter, we’re all out there SMASHING IT and being AWESOME. Challenging ourselves, pushing ourselves, (wo)manning up. Of course, we can’t set new PBs or bag QOMs or ride further, faster or grimmer every SINGLE day. So on the other days, we tootle along through the bluebells on lazy café rides. The sun shines, we have lashings of ginger beer, and arrive home tired-but-happy. The odd bad day on the bike is explained through illness, or overtraining, or (occasionally) the weather (though blaming hailstorms for DNFs generally results in a sea of responses invoking Velominati’s Rules #5 and #9). Even the bad days are good, because we’re learning stuff about ourselves and fine-tuning our goals and… you know.

The subtext of all this is clear. We’re lucky to be bike riders; to be able to roll out of the front door and have fun on two wheels. This is abundantly true. But the flipside can be feeling isolated when you hate it.

The other day, I tweeted about how warmups make me want to cry. How I feel terrible for at least 30 mins at the beginning of every bike ride, and want to climb off and curl up in a ditch. (The last CX race recce I did, I thought I must be ill, I felt so awful: leg pain, chest pain, head pain. I was riding round in tears.) People came out of the woodwork to tell me this was perfectly normal; they all felt like that. So why had I never heard anyone say it before?

Jo Burt sent me his lovely piece on the fear of going out riding. I nodded compulsively all the way through. Lois sent me hers about giving up. Ditto. I wrote last year about DNSing through abject terror. We can’t be the only ones feeling like this. Why is it so rare to read about it?

Failure - The Thing You Experience Before Being Successful

Some of it it must be that weird combination of relief at stopping and selective memory. Every cyclocross race I do, I ride round thinking, ‘This is NUTS. Why am I doing this to myself? God, this is awful. Never again.’ Then it’s over, and within minutes I’m all, ‘Well, that was fun!’

Some of it is the desire to forget the bad bits, to present a happy face (the psychologist Naomi Baron calls this ‘my best day’ in relation to Facebook status updates). In terms of sports pyschology, this is probably important; Jo McRae writes on psychological self-sabotage and ways of staying positive about your riding. And nobody wants to be the one who brings everybody down.

But endless pressure to be positive is tiring and alienating. I moaned recently that I’d been riding all summer and Trying Hard and everything, and I was STILL crap. I got taken to task by a couple of people for letting the side down. In their eyes, if I said *I* was crap, I was not only putting lots of other women off riding when they needed encouraging, but also dissing anyone who wasn’t as good as me, by default.

But everyone has terrible days: days when they can’t get it together, their legs don’t work, and they want to give up. For some of us, these days are far and few between; for others, they’re depressingly familiar. Sometimes, we finish; but sometimes, we abandon, and we don’t have an excuse. Sometimes, we feel the fear, and manage to do it anyway; sometimes, we don’t, and anyone telling us to MTFU just makes us sob uncontrollably.

miffy the fuck down

Merckx The Fuck Up? Or Miffy The Fuck Down?

So this is to say it’s OK to fail. It’s OK to give up. And it’s OK to write about it. No, it’s necessary to write about it. It’s all part of riding bikes, and being part of this odd, lovely little community where people share their experiences and support each other. Happy/ crappy* riding, y’all… (*delete as applicable).


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  1. Rode out last Sunday for the first time since late July, when I broke my foot.

    0km sensations: so good to be back out in the breeze, spinning along and cornering low.

    >30km sensations: god, I’m crap. This is actually much worse than I thought it would be. This is really hard. It’s like starting over on the bike. It’s like losing a year’s worth of weekend condition. My legs are goo and my chest is heaving and these cobbles are killing me and I was sooooo good back in July 😦

    I know … glass half full!

    • Oh no! That’s so hard. When I used to run more, I was off the road for a year with a foot injury. Coming back was sooooo slow. Run for five minutes… Run for ten… It WILL come back. Take it easy. Good luck!

  2. I much prefer when people tell it like it is. Cycling (and life) is not all rainbows and unicorns. Good stuff.

  3. Not just in racing either. Years back I realised that I was having a crap time commuting on the bike because I was bloody scared because drivers kept trying to kill me. No real answer to that one (except move out of London, which is what I did) …

    • Ah, yeah, that’s very familiar. I always found commuting by other means in London was so awful that I was relieved to get back on the bike… but that was quite a few years back.

  4. It takes a different sort of [wo]manning up to admit this sort of thing, but I’m glad you’ve done it. When you’re mixed in with all of those people out to Have Fun doing the Stuff They Love it can be hard saying that, actually, right now, for you, it’s not working. As kids we’re very good at saying stuff sucks, I wonder when we lose the ability?

    • Thank you for that! It’s odd, isn’t it. I suppose one of the things we teach kids is that it’s often important to persevere with stuff that doesn’t seem to be working, but some of us internalise that to such an extent that we feel it’s NEVER ok to give up. I think that’s certainly true of me – not sure how general it is!

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