Heading into this weekeend’s enduro, I’m thinking about the fruits of my labor since the last one, and what I will experience over 60 miles of the never-before-seen trail. I visualize focusing on getting to reconnect with my motorcycle and enjoy myself in nature, pushing through the day’s challenges and attempting to ride calm, cool and confident even when my bike misbehaves. Best case, “she” may even impress me. Worst case, it’s a cold, rainy day, and I have plenty of tear-offs.
The crowd is the gathering place of the weakest; true creation is a solitary act. – Charles Bukowski
A 1987 New York Times article – “The Racer’s Edge: A Strong Psyche” quoted an issue of Psychology Today magazine: “There seems to be no slowing down our on-going love affair with the car,” and it’s the same way for me and dirt bikes. I’ve had “an enchantment” with motorcycles ever since I can remember; it’s how I was drawn to my profession and one of the many reasons for so many miles on my truck.
The article quotes study after study of what it takes to be a champion “things far greater than time, money and desire … and much more than a lucky break,” and the distinct psychological strengths necessary to drive competitively: “a champion driver is easily distinguished by his mental and personal characteristics, testing higher in such categories as self-sufficiency, calmness, intelligence and emotional stability.”
Another study compared the mental differences between novice drivers and nationally licensed sports car racing drivers at the Sports Car Club of America driving school – “The licensed drivers had higher abstract ability, more emotional stability, more highly developed consciences, more boldness, more self-assurance, more tough-mindedness, more resistance to emotional stress, more creativity and higher leadership potential. These differences are all the more remarkable because the novice driver trainees possessed an almost identical profile, differing only in terms of degree on each of the traits.”
You don’t need a study to tell you that championship enduro racing does not appeal to most people, (mainly just the 800 riders who pre-enter every race months in advance.) Enduros are long and tiring with unpredictable conditions and a huge amount of alone time, which is precisely why it suits my nature.
Lately, I’ve found myself opting out of group rides in favor of a solo session. After all, I don’t need anyone to ride my dirt bike for me anymore (except in Colorado); I know where I’m going, and I’m in complete control when I’m by myself as far as speed and distance are concerned – sometimes, riding with others becomes more of a burden, especially when I only get one on-the-bike training day per week; either I’m in the underdog situation, or I’m barely breaking a sweat.
In Florida, the pros of riding by myself in the woods outweigh the cons. Unlike in the mountains where I won’t ride solo for fear of falling off of a mountain never to be seen again, the biggest problem with riding the Florida sand by myself is having to pick my own lines while avoiding the four-foot-deep whooped out quad trails. This search for the smoothest, fastest line, I’ve noticed, makes me feel like I’m in race mode when I don’t know what to expect around each corner. When I’m training behind someone faster than me, I can naturally settle in and let my focus be on my line choice behind the leader without wasting energy determining our direction. Out front, I’m forced to lead (and believe in) myself.
“…many are probably wondering if they could do it. No doubt some of them could. And no doubt they are special and few.
It’s been a whirlwind month since I posted, from competing in my first Supercross race to covering the Atlanta Supercross live from the press box inside the brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium after the NEPG cancelled my enduro, I’ve been getting some much needed seat time in the rider’s seat. There’s a certain “meditative aspect in the classical relationship between man and machine,” in that “You’ll feel much better if you get off your ass and go ride a motorcycle. Even better if you do it well.” – Ride Apart
The goal of the mindful rider is to reach the level where the precise action at the right time becomes second nature, the right move without thinking about it. – Meditation by Motorcycle – Finding Nirvana in a Curve
For my first-ever Supercross Amateur Racing event at Raymond James Stadium last month, even though I only completed less than 5 miles in 15 laps and burned ~200 calories, including one practice, one heat race and one main event, it was one of the hardest, most daunting tasks I’ve ever encountered, when I’m used to racing 60+ miles straight.
Out of my comfort zone on the supercross track, most of which taunted me – think: turn, jump, turn, jump – from the peaky triples to the hard-packed whoops, the obstacles forced me to dig deep over all of the jumps I was rolling. It’s like Malcolm Stewart sending it over the quad at the last Supercross; it’s the last thing he was thinking about: “Let me give it a little bit more gas and see what happens.”
“After I did it, it was kind of like one of those things that you do something you’re like man that was kind of sketchy, but then somebody else starts doing it and now you’ve opened up a can of worms where now you have to do it, so i wasn’t too stoked on it … probably if i didn’t do it, no body would have done it.” – Malcolm Stewart on PulpMX
Sitting on the starting gate inside the same stadium where I watched my childhood heroes battle back in 1998 and, years later, watched many of my college’s football games and looking up at the Raymond James Sign that 40,000 people saw the night before, my chest swelled with pride knowing I was capable of more than I even may sometimes be aware of – from cornering to passing in traffic. When the gate dropped, I felt no pressure to perform and tried my best to combine all of the techniques I’ve learning over the past (gasp!) 29 years of riding, knowing I would soon have to return to my everyday life and put it all behind me, even if it was just to wake up and run a 5K the next day.
“Among men who rise to fame and leadership two types are recognizable — those who are born with a belief in themselves and those in whom it is a slow growth dependent on actual achievement. To the men of the last type their own success is a constant surprise, and its fruits the more delicious, yet to be tested cautiously with a haunting sense of doubt whether it is not all a dream. In that doubt lies true modesty, not the sham of insincere self depreciation but the modesty of “moderation,” in the Greek sense. It is poise, not pose.” – B.H. Liddell Hart
Before the underdog Eagles took home the Super Bowl win, I took home a third-place trophy in the Women’s Elite class at Round 1 of the National Enduro Series in Sumter, S.C.
Ray Newton Photography
What a day to remember. Turns out, waking up Monday morning after celebrating my accomplishment of feeling like one always feels after racing a 60-mile enduro – if you don’t know … – I actually finished fourth even though I was recognized on the podium with a third-place trophy the day before.
Oh, well. I’d achieved my goal of a top five finish, and that alone motivates me to put in more effort for the next one. See, you learn a lot about yourself racing a 60-mile enduro, like how I need to do more squats and lower back exercises, and the vice grip machine I bought to use at my desk worked wonders on my grip!
You learn a lot before and after the race, too, from how many snacks and bottles of water to bring, to what muscles will start cramping first and which part of your body will ache most the next day. I wondered what it would be like to NOT be sore after a race as I dreamed of riding my motorcycle for a living one day and training on the bike more than once a week.
Throughout the race, I challenged myself to stay tuned in to the world around me without letting my mind wander off like it did exactly 365 days before when I broke my arm there last year. The track was made up of generous pine rows that were so tight in spots I struggled wiggling my handlebars through. I benefited by staying calm and focusing on my surroundings and body positioning on the bike, trying drastically to move high up on the seat and force my front end around the tight corners. The course provided a variety of obstacles for me to become more competitive in multiple areas, specifically soaking wet log crossings, which will make a huge difference once mastered at speed.
This time, my mindfulness-like attention training helped me to stay connected and balanced on the bike, which made me more confident in my riding ability, and rewarded me with that short-lived third-place* finish, and only one giant crash of the day.
*Even though I ended up fourth, I impressed myself with my ability to stay calm and not overthink, especially in the midst of a cold, wet and rainy day. I was honored by my pit crew’s support; enduro spectators only get to see their rider for about an hour total across the 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. contest.
With a month until my next race, it’s time to dust off the ol’ pedal bike, after my dad reminded me that mountain biking is how he “got fast.”
For me, I got fast by training with someone faster; with seconds between our times at more than one of my five checkpoints, I’m full of gratitude and especially encouraged to stay as close as possible and finish out the rest of the 10-round season successfully.
Throwback to my summer ride in Colorado with Seat Time Adventures
Today marks 29 days until the start of the national enduro season in Sumter, South Carolina, and after a season of rest and recuperation, including a recent frigid ride in the mountains, I’m looking forward to returning to head-to-head competition and getting back on the podium. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and preparing for this upcoming season, imagining all of the obstacles and how I’m going to overcome them. Just the thought of returning to racing is energizing and gives me something to focus on, even if, in full disclosure, the odds are long that I’m racing for the win; I’m still going to try, and my perseverance will show. Racing a 60-mile enduro is the one activity I’ve found that taps into my reserves of effort and motivation and helps me produce the energy for what I need to succeed, whether it’s negotiating better in the turns, adapting to obstacles or finding the capacity to make every second count. I never know what I’m getting myself into at the start, but I know I’m capable of anything, and that’s the best part.
To celebrate my birthday this week, I took myself twice in the last four days to the same place I’ve been riding for 20 years and headed back to my comfort zone for the first time in over month. One would think that riding around the same trails for more than half of your life would get boring – heck, even I’ve thought that before – but I’m luckily looking back on two of the best sand whoop training days I’ve had all year.
At first, it felt strange, like I didn’t really belong anymore, since I’d been steering clear of the woods lately and practicing on the motocross track. Frustrated and resistant, it was hard to stay interested in my tough, singletrack training, despite two months until the start of the 9-round 2018 National Enduro series. (Did I mention I was riding without barkbusters?)
But, as I listened this week to the Tim Ferriss podcast with Walter Issacson, I saw how it was a lesson in stepping outside of my comfort zone and a new experience for me to be questioning my skills in these woods. It was almost as if I was riding with a chip of experience on my shoulder, and I found myself at a clear crossroads wondering what to think; I couldn’t stop self-evaluating.
Looking back, I just wasn’t warmed up yet, because I turned a corner and became curious again when my bike hooked up coming out of a corner and I seat bounced three whoops in a row, which made me feel like Wonder Woman, and I really wanted to make up for lost time.
“…if you can be interested in everything, if you can be cross disciplinary, then you can see the patterns of our Cosmos and how we connect to it.” – Walter Isaacson
It’s taken me over a week to recover from the shock of finishing (and podiuming) the Lead Belt National Enduro in Park Hills, Missouri, a place that I’d visited prior but not for this: round seven of the Kenda AMA National Enduro Series Powered by FMF. The infamous enduro was dustier than usual – which didn’t take much getting used to; it was what the dust did to the rocks – I’d heard rumors of these rocks – that threw me off, making them soft and slick. My grand master plan was to finish the race because the last national I entered resulted in a broken arm. So, this was my redemption race and, boy, was I in for a ride.
I showed up to the riders meeting without a row assignment, but I quickly learned fate had me starting on row 41 along with three others: a pro, A 40+ and C 50+ rider. We hit the first section and into the woods, getting up to speed on the slippery singletrack, where I drew confidence from some of the biggest names in the sport who were undoubtedly struggling in the dusty conditions but still staying ahead of me. I could tell it hadn’t rained in a while, but I focused on playing into my strengths and not pushing too hard to cause a crash or a mechanical. The terrain varied from tight rocky sections to off-camber singletrack. In the end, I started stronger than I finished, and was sitting in second place after the first and second tests, but struggled in the last 3 sections where small mistakes cost me precious time, especially when holding my own waiting for the pros to pass (in the 5th test, one actually clipped me when he went by, which sent me and my bike into a dry creek bed where he left me with a, “Sorry!”)
Overall, I finished 208th overall out of 442 and third in the Women Elite class, just 23 seconds behind second place (205th overall) and 30 points behind series champion, Tayla Jones (130th overall.)
I came into the finish, after following the live scoring on my phone during the resets, anticipating a second place finish but I was still overjoyed with a third and my first pro podium, which I sacrificed since I was committed to work on Monday and we had a 15-hour drive back to Florida.
On the way home, I wondered what made the difference: if it was all of the extra time I’ve been spending at the gym on the rower before squats and shoulders, or the amazing Alfredo pasta I demolished the night before, or the Pedialyte® Powder Packs that I was turned on to, or my brand new tires, or my summer riding vacation in Colorado, or, or, or … all of the above.
The best thing about enduros is that the difficulty is not based on a man or woman’s perspective; it’s the very best offroad riders in the country mixing it up against the clock (even though the Women Elite class runs the same course as the National “B” classes; we’re not required to complete the last section.)
My success, I realized, called upon my skills (a little luck) and the help of my team, topped with being in touch with my bike – I had to stop and take air out of the rear tire TWICE – and thinking ahead to bring a spare set of gloves in my Camelbak, knowing I get distracted if my gloves loosen up – the tighter the better!