"Second place is good, I can be happy with second place," I thought to myself. "Second place is top three, innit?"
That was me as I began the last lap of Sunday's Beginner 45-plus Indie Series Mountain Bike Race at South Seatac Park. (That's a mouthful.) Located within spitting distance of SeaTac airport, it's a lovely spot of greenery with loads of winding wooded trails, and big jumbo jets taking off so close you're just waiting for your toupee to fly off, never to be found again.
Back to the race, I was in the lead and pulling away, I was pretty sure, but for whatever reason, my default was to assume that at some point something was going to happen wherein my pursuer--in this case, Eric Evanson--would pass me by, take home the victory and all glory would be his. I'd be second. And that'd be fine. That'd be nice.
It occured to me that Tom Boonen and Lance Armstrong probably don't think this way. But of course, they're Tom Boonen and Lance Armstrong. Then it occured to me that my buddy John Clark probably doesn't think this way either--I've seen him in races where he's just positive (without being cocky or arrogant) that he's going to catch whoever it is that's ahead of him but who has John's personal bullseye on his back. And almost without fail, John catches them.
Then I remembered talking to my own son Baker, about the cyclocross race he won last year and how, when the kid he was battling with for the lead hit a tree and Bake shot ahead, Bake knew he was going to win. He had no doubts; he just went ahead and did it without giving it a second thought.
So that's what I tried to do: I told myself, "Screw it, I'm going to win this thing." Which immediately felt like an uncomfortably heavy psychological weight had been placed on my shoulders. Wasn't it enough that I was hammering this course as hard as I could--my heartrate averaged 172 for just over an hour--and now I'd added this?! I couldn't imagine the pressure Tom Boonen must've been feeling when he'd ridden alone to victory at this year's Paris-Roubaix. (But of course, he's a professional, highly paid and a world-class athlete.)
But it was also exciting because to me, it was new territory. Probably in lots of things in my life I've said, "Ah, good enough; it's not the best I can do but second (or third or whatever) is still pretty good." How many things have I missed out on because I compromised by not giving my best effort?
So I rode hard, focused, really concentrated and only had one moment when it almost slipped out of my hands. Swooping up after a quick dip I turned right where it felt like the trail should go, but instead found myself momentarily tangled in the barrier ribbon; the race course went left. It was a kick I needed for it really forced me to focus even more intently for the race's final 10 minutes or so. I ended up winning by about a minute, the two guys on 29ers taking 1-2 in this race. Huge props to Evanson who was riding a single-speed. (And here, I'd been impressed with myself for riding the whole thing in my middle chainring.)
Winning is nice, but I think what's even nicer is learning something about myself. That I don't have to settle for something inferior if I think I can do better, or be better.
This was my first Indie Series race and I was quite impressed with how they run things. Among other things, every time you ride by the race announcer, he gives your name and tells what place you're in--with several races going on at once, it was the only way I knew I was near the front. It was only my second mountain bike race ever but the first one where I really tried to be competitive. (Boggs 8-Hour was a great event but more of a survival thing for me.) Thus, my reasoning for racing in the Beginner division.
(For a previous blogpost about the time I won a 5K running race--which also appeared in "Runner's World"--go to: http://mcqview.blogspot.com/2006/10/win.html)