There is a moment in nearly every competition where I ask myself why I am there and what is to be gained. My answers run the gamut from "because" to deeply philosophical internal debates, but mostly it just comes down to a commitment to perform my best. Endurance events are funny, though, because the why will only take you so far and the what is usually minimal gain from maximum investment; once you come up against those realizations, it helps to focus on how and just get it done so you can start recovering. This is especially important with a busy competition calendar.
My last race involved no running at all, or at least that was the plan. It was a 24 hour mountain bike race and one that I was ostensibly looking forward to all year, as I wasn't particularly happy with my performance the last time I attempted it. The problem was that this was largely an ego-based choice and it did nothing to help me with my higher stakes races that would take place in the weeks to follow. So I was trying to take a measured approach thanks to the valuable lesson learned at my last stage race, again involving mountain biking but with the added rub of a 50km ultra marathon that came after the ride, all preceding what I would have called an A-race duathlon event.
At least I thought I learned a valuable lesson.
That didn't stop me from having a spiritual crisis up on the mountain in between laps, as I wrestled with whether my 24 hour race was worth risking the rest of my season on or not. It should have been an easy answer ("No.") and that should have been that. But with the rain pouring, the mud thickening, my bike failing, and my injuries mounting, I found myself debating the matter in my mind and finding no definitive answer.
And that is what I can't help thinking about now. After the stage race, I managed to develop a hairline fracture in my calcaneus (basically, a heel break) and also plantar fasciitis (a ligament strain in the foot that usually ends your season). I'm not going to dwell on those too much, other than to say that both needed rest and an aggressive rehab plan if I was going to make the turnaround in time for my next A-race; instead, I found myself in the mountains with cycling shoes on trying to ride in a 24 hour event that, truth be told, meant very little to me in the grand scheme of 2016. At best, it was a goal.
And you all know what I think about goals.
My mission was to qualify for the world duathlon championships to take place in 2017. Nowhere in that sentence will you find 24 hour mountain bike race. But I did have a goal of out-performing my 2015 24 hour attempt, which seemed well within my grasp.
Until my heel broke.
Until my ligament tore.
Until a cold mountain rain came.
Until the trails went from challenging to unridable.
Until the mud rendered this so-called mountain bike race a mountain bike hike.
That's when I asked myself why and what. I was only there to satisfy my vanity--nobody cared how I performed in this race because I had already made it clear that it was no more than a goal to perform better, but not nearly the mission being successful in duathlon was to me. What was to be gained can largely be summed up as nothing more than ego validation and I had to determine if that was worth the cost?
Because with the trail conditions, nearly every rider was forced to hike certain sections of the roughly 17km of mountain trail in order to complete the course. The mud made certain climbs impossible without blowing your wattage to get up them and after 80km of riding, I was forced off my bike six times in the next 33km.
With a broken heel.
And a torn ligament in my arch.
Why and what? And the answer that came back wasn't one that justified either. This race was not a mission; it was not worth the cost. So I did something that I had never done before and took a knee. In other words, I quit.
It's been weeks since that moment and I still don't know how I feel about it. I vacillate between being disappointed in myself for not completing the full 24 hours, but also proud of applying the lesson I wrote about previously only weeks after my mistake. On the disappointed side, I came in 26th out of 36 riders overall, and tied for 11th with two other riders out of 15 in our age group. A below average performance and one not worth mentioning, but I mention it here because I feel like it somehow makes it seem like less of a failure to acknowledge it openly; to share it with the people who have opted to read about my competitive process.
I still have two races ahead of me, both of which are in jeopardy because of my injuries. If I make it to the starting line in each instance, I will be able to take pride in arriving at the right decision you see being contemplated in that photo that allowed one or both to happen. Full contact decision making captured in a moment of critical analysis and negotiation with myself; a moment I will never forget because of the outcomes connected to it and the photographic evidence that accompanied it. A battle of reason against ego that resulted in the confirmation of a personal truth I already knew and believed.
Missions before goals. Always.