Average: Why Are We So Afraid of That Word?

Author, Cheri Felix rides Fruita

Another weekly column from our guest writer Cheri Felix

Sometimes when I am talking about how great my three kids are I make sure to joke that although they are amazing that they are average kids. I mean this to say, yes they are clever and dedicated and excited about school but that they are normal average kids. People always laugh. Nervously. And when I talk about me and my mountain biking obsession (let’s call a spade a spade), I’m always sure to say that I’m an average mountain biker. Some people take a pause at this point. Especially if they’ve ridden with me or seen the photos on Facebook or heard me talk (endlessly) about my bike. And for some reason it’s so hard for people to hear others talk about themselves as average. Because I guess we’re all supposed to be above average or amazing or elite or fill in the blank.

When did average become such a bad word? I mean, when I talk about my weight, I like to say I’m about average in the weight department and when I talk about my looks, I use the word average too. When I describe my height, I aspire to average. I’m 5’3”. I’d also say I aspire to average when it comes to cleaning the house, flossing my teeth and keeping my car clean. And that all sounds okay but when it comes to abilities and knowledge, we all seem to want to be above average or amazing or incredible or gasp p-e-r-f-e-c-t.

Average is defined as the result obtained by adding several quantities together and then dividing this total by the number of quantities; the mean. For my purposes, that might mean if I am riding with you and you, I’m above average. If I am riding with you and you, I’m average. And yes, sometimes if I’m riding with you and you and you, I’m way way below average. And of course it depends on terrain and altitude and let’s even throw in time of the month. These I would call variables (although you might not) and these can change and so can the results.

This summer, I was racing short track and I got my butt handed to me on a less than silver platter. Last place. That had not happened in a long time. And my oldest girl was deeply affected by this and she started to cry and said, “I don’t want mommy to come in last place.” My husband tried to tell her that mommy doesn’t mind coming in last place that she goes out and tries her best. I would add that losing is never fun but at least I’m out there. And, losing doesn’t mean I suck. It just means, everyone else was better than me (that night). I can accept defeat. I can accept that I’m average. Because being average in this town isn’t half bad.

What’s my point in case it hasn’t been clear? Only a handful of people get to be exceptional. Only a handful of people get to be Michael Phelps and only three people get to stand on a podium. Forget the labels. Forget the podium. Forget your inner critic. Just ride your bike. Because you can.

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that's too bad, too. I mean

that's too bad, too. I mean face it, the majority of us are sitting here in the big fat middle of the bell curve.

I had the honor of racing with Cheri in Winter Park this summer. Let me tell you something - that particular category and age group we both race in is THE most competitive women's MTB category - you merely have to look at how statistically bunched the paces / times are - losing a minute or 2 in a 20 mile race can mean the difference between the podium and seventh place. Okay, that's normal in a men's field with thirty or forty guys, but in a women's field with 10 or so? That's pretty unusual. And not to mention those courses are TOUGH. I used to think I was a decent MTB racer just because I could trounce on my fields in the midwest; boy was I ever wrong.

Just putting a number on and showing up to race in this region shows considerable mental fortitude. These are HARD races and HARD fields here. I have nothing but respect for Cheri. Keep at it!

I don't race, I ride. And I

I don't race, I ride. And I don't care if I get passed (although I do admit to feeling good this year at 52 after 4 years of road biking when I finally started passing people). It's the fact that I'm doing something I love. Why does everything have to be a competition? When I was in high school, people were in the band because they loved it, or in plays because they loved to act, but now everything kids are involved in is a competition. I don't mean to say that every participant should get a trophy. In sports, sometimes it is about winning and losing. But there are so many things that we should just enjoy. And even if you did come in last in a race, you were far ahead of many folks who were just sitting on the couch.

Thats OK

Cycling in general is classy sport from what I can see. We all ride on different teams and when the gun goes off its all out, but after everyone is generally friendly and can care less where you finished. There are other sports i.e pro football where I often see questionable sportsmanship. Personally I have alot a respect for any rider that toes the line before a race because I know how much physical and mental preparation it takes.

You're not the slowest

You say "everyone else was better than me that night." Actually, only the ones who showed up were faster. There are lots who don't show up who likely would be slower.

One of the problems with bike racing, unlike running races, is that many of the "average" or back-of-the-pack racers get discouraged and quit showing up after a while. Especially in a road race, it's not all that fun to get dropped early and finish the race on your own. If you can't be competitive (e.g. in front), a lot of people can't face being there.

I wish we could find ways to encourage slower racers to keep coming out and improving to the point that they can stay with a group (for the most part) and have fun. Writing about your experiences is a great way to show others that there are reasons to race besides "winning."

Excellent idea!

Thanks for a fun and insightful piece. In a land where competition seems to dominate almost everything from sport to money-making to having the brightest kids on the block, it's easy to get caught up in the "need to excel" And you're so right, why is being average, being normal considered a bad thing--good question.

Glad you asked it, you've got me thinking. We're in the midst of making a move to Boulder and I've been feeling just a bit intimidated by my lack of "outstandingness". I'm just an OK hiker, just an OK swimmer, just an OK slow rider, just an normal "wanna-be" athletic person. So thanks for the article, it's given me hope. I think now there's an "average" chance that maybe I will fit in.