January 1st and many of us are in the goal-setting mode. Whether you call it New Year's Resolutions, goals, a training regimen, most of us want to "be better". But what does "better" truly mean? Is it winning more races? Biking more hours? Commuting to work more days than last year? Beating your Strava nemesis? As cyclists, we are (in general), a healthy population. Many of us are established enough to afford a bike. Some of us multiple bikes. We pay entrance fees to races, join teams, buy the right clothing, get the right gear all in the pursuit of becoming better. Yet despite all of this, the racing scene can often rob us of the initial child-like joy we all felt when we became cyclists in the first place. We strive to win, yet winning sometimes leaves us emptier than before.
Recently, it's come to my attention that many pro-women cyclists just...don't have friends. I've actually heard this from several women who are higher up--women talking about themselves. And this makes me very, very sad. It seems that as women (perhaps this is the same with men), the higher you rise in the ranks of competition, the more isolating it can be. Training takes over and human interactions can dwindle. Which is funny because I just assumed that it was a happy club up there for Cat 1 and 2's. Kind of like flying first class.
I envisioned a really pretty tent to the side of the race coarse filled with wickedly fast, gorgeous women relaxing in those weird compression thingies that pump oxygen into their legs and brains, while drinking Skratch mixed with low-calorie champagne and making friendship bracelets. Maybe for some, but for others, it's a lonely road. The enjoyment of the sport seems to disappear. You're probably thinking, "Oh, poor pros. Lonely at the top, eh?" But this isn't just a problem in the upper ranks. Anybody can lose the love of the sport as they become more focused and competitive. Anyone.
My friend, Sue recently suggested a book she'd read regarding this topic of "better". The book is titled True Competition: A Guide to Pursuing Excellence in Sport and Society. The Amazon.com description says "this book offers a blueprint for maximizing the potential of competition to foster excellence and enjoyment." My favorite part of this description? The "ENJOYMENT" part. Sue would know. She's a general bad-ass. Breck Epic kind of gal, triathlete, rock-climber, etc. And always (as far as I've seen) with a smile on her face.
The book strives to redefine what competition is and should be. Unlike the more typical and often socially destructive form of competition—which they call "decompetition"—true competition brings out excellence in participants, fosters positive character development, and leads to lasting enjoyment.
The authors propose that competition itself is not problematic; rather, they question how competition is sometimes envisioned, interpreted, and implemented. They provide suggestions for achieving positive outcomes from competition, including creating challenging yet supportive environments in sport programs and teams, fostering the well-being of athletes, and encouraging athletes to handle various situations.
I haven't read the book yet. It's on my list. I fear competition so much that even putting the book on hold at the library just about gave me hives. I have been wrestling with this dilemma for a while: how much "better" do I want to get and at what cost? Let's all reexamine what "better" means to us this year. A primary goal I have is to maintain my love and enjoyment of the sport. I urge you to do the same no matter what level you compete at. Tap into that feeling you had as a kid the first time you pedaled on your own. Wind rushing by your face, goofy smile on your face, feeling the sunshine on your face.
*And finally, I'm throwing out one simple challenge to each of you: make a friend at a race or a cycling event this year. Make the effort. Get out of your own little world for just a little bit. Take a risk. 2014 will be better for it.