By Rebecca Rusch
As athletes, we are conditioned to scrutinize past results and performances to squeak another percentage of speed from our bodies. But as you examine your 2013 season and set 2014 race goals — and look forward to a potential spot in the Leadville Trail 100 MTB — don’t forget to experience the present.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. — Buddha
I like this sentiment and agree with it wholeheartedly. Telling you not to dwell in the past or dream of the future may not seem to fit as you plan your 2014 race goals and enter the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. As athletes, we are conditioned and trained to scrutinize past results, power meter numbers, previous times and performances and painstakingly study the details in order to learn and perhaps squeak another percentage of speed out of our bodies. We are also trained to set future goals in order to keep us focused on the difficult daily challenges of consistent, intentional training.
I embrace looking forward and back to keep me motivated, striving to be better. Both of these strategies go entirely against what Buddha recommends. I’m certain Buddha wasn’t a bike racer and surely never dreamed of training with a power meter in order to earn himself a nifty Leadville belt buckle. I know you are thinking, “Wait a minute, you told us before that we have to set goals to stay motivated!” Yes, I did.
But this year I also learned that it’s every bit as important to focus on what’s happening in the present; our lives are happening right now and can end at any moment. In 2013, I mourned the loss of three cycling friends whose lives ended too soon and so unexpectedly while they were riding their bikes. One of these friends left this world just a few days before the Leadville Trail 100. The news shook me to the core and completely changed my race experience.
As a four-time winner, defending champion and women’s record holder, obviously all expectations were on me to once again bring my “A” game and challenge an increasingly elite field. However, my experience at this year’s LT100 was entirely different than previous years and I was forced to implement a Buddhist sort of attitude as I lined up for my fifth year. I needed to do this in order to find a way to finish the race and give my all on that day. I knew that other women on the line were gunning for me and chasing the course record. I knew all eyes were on me to see if I could win again.
After the devastating news of my friend’s bike crash, the wind left my sails and suddenly trying to ride my bike fast above 10,000 feet seemed like a ridiculous goal. The year of preparation, visualization, riding in the rain and cold all seemed pointless wastes of time. Perhaps I should have just been riding with Bonni and other friends more often, I thought. They didn’t care if I held the Leadville course record or not.
My days before the race were spent moping around Leadville, heavy hearted. Riding the course alone, going through the motions. Instead of doing hill sprints in preparation, I’d stop at my favorite places and look out at the scenery wondering why I was there and feeling that I should go home to mourn properly with my community.
A conversation with my boyfriend and attending the athlete meeting finally helped me understand my purpose in being there. My presence at Leadville was bigger than a time on the clock and my own grief. Greg told me in no uncertain terms that no matter what, I needed to line up and dig deep to give it 110% like I always have. He made it clear that just as I try to inspire others to do what seems impossible, this was now my own challenge: to follow my own advice and not give a half-hearted effort. If I didn’t give it my all, I would disappoint myself and anyone else who looks to other riders for inspiration.
It took that one very special person and 2,000 other racers with their own unique stories to bring my focus away from the past and into the present. At the athlete meeting, I looked around at the sea of faces: at the Leadville staff, the racers, friends, strangers, and the support crews and I found the inspiration I so desperately needed to line up the next day and go as hard as I possibly could. Greg said, “Forget the time splits, the results, the expectations and just go and do what you know how to do. Race your bike.”
I did just that. I rode that magical race, with a heavy heart but with renewed motivation and the acceptance of just riding in the moment. You all know the end of the story. I finished third and my course record was broken. But I won. I felt elation and success as I rolled onto that red carpet. I was crying and shedding tears for Bonni, but also tears of joy for being privileged enough to get to ride my bike in the Race Across the Sky with the biggest family I could ever dream of.
As you look back on your season at your successes and perceived failures, take the kernels of knowledge, smile at the memories and move on. As you plan your 2014 race season, look for races and events that make your arms tingle with excitement and intimidate you at least a little bit. As you set goals and evaluate, take a little time here and there on your daily rides to embrace Buddha’s advice and just enjoy riding in the present moment.
Technically, I did not achieve my goal at Leadville this year. On paper I lost. In reality, I won. I won because I didn’t give up. Greg wouldn’t let me and neither would you. Thanks to all of you who gave me inspiration this year. I look forward to seeing you on a start line or trail somewhere in 2014.
I’ve included this video link because it was one of the most intimidating things I did all year. No spectators, no other competitors, just me, the bike and a random goal I set. This was very much the way I rode Leadville this year. Just me, the bike, a start and a finish.