I DNF’d and I’m Neither Proud nor Ashamed
Perspectives on road racing by a newly-minted Women’s Cat 5 racer
By Gypsy Garcia
There. I said it out loud. AND in writing. I DNF’d a race, due to nothing but my own fault. I can’t blame it on a mechanical, or a crash, or rogue squirrels executing a perfectly orchestrated tactical assault at Mile 13. I actively chose to accept the “dreaded” Did Not Finish result on my official 2017 USA Cycling race resume at the Boulder Roubaix last weekend. However, I am neither proud nor ashamed. Because I wish to encourage more women to line up with me on race day by reducing the “intimidation factor,” I’m sharing a few of the lessons I took away from my first race experience of 2017 and my second road race ever.
My excitement about being one of the few in the currently small (but hopefully growing) category of USAC Senior Women 5 (SW5) racers far outweighs any regrets about my performance. Yep, I’m a newbie and I failed to complete my race. As I approach road racing as a currently overweight, middle-aged cyclist, everything is a learning experience for me. I can only learn when I commit to showing up.
Have you ever noticed the Universe has an impeccable sense of timing? To prove my point: One of my non-cyclist gal pals has a beautiful tattoo on her forearm. When I saw her recently, I asked her to translate the Arabic calligraphy inked between her elbow and her wrist. She told me it was shorthand for a quote by Robin Sharma: “There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. There is no such thing as a negative experience, only opportunities to grow, learn and advance along the road of self-mastery. From struggle comes strength. Even pain can be a wonderful teacher.”
With that said, let’s consider an alternate definition of “DNF”:
D – iet and N – utrition
I am not an early morning eater. In fact, I’m not an early morning anything. While I did eat a reasonably nutritious breakfast on race day, I failed to consider that my modest 7am breakfast would be insufficient to sustain me for two-and-a-half hours of constant effort … and I wouldn’t even start pedaling until 930am. A better approach would have been to eat a reasonable breakfast and continue to eat small but nutritious, calorie-smart snacks until about 30 minutes prior to the race start. Because I didn’t plan my nutrition correctly, at approximately 10 miles and 30 minutes into the race, I bonked. It took me another 4 miles to recover enough from my nutrition mistakes to regain my ability to think clearly and put a little power back into the pedals. It took me the remaining 4 miles of the first lap to realize I’d never make it through a second lap. In the spirit of recognizing it as a lesson learned, I made my peace with it. And just when I had, a friend of mine who was also racing “magically” appeared on her bike right next to me. (Didn’t I say the Universe has an impeccable sense of timing?) We finished the last few miles of the lap together, discussing the lessons we’d learned that day and smiling all the way back to the start/finish line.
F – itness and training
In late 2016, I met with a very good coach and I invested in a formal training plan. It was my intention to train with purpose for 90 days prior to the race. However, I overestimated my mental readiness to commit to a structured training plan and it showed in my performance on race day. I barely trained over the winter, I started out too fast at the beginning and I did not keep enough energy in reserve to carry me through 37.4 miles of racing on a combination dirt and paved roads. (Note: Although I’m a SW 5 racer, I chose to race in the SW 4 category. I won’t be a beginner forever. I wanted to get a good idea of where to set my goals and what I can expect as my fitness and skills improve. I needed a benchmark from where to start.) Moving forward, I’ve hit the reset button on my training plan. I’m committed to structured, endurance training with some (super-fun and super-hard!) TRX Suspension training thrown in for good measure. It’s too late for me to gain anything but marginal improvement between now and my next races in mid-April, but it’s improvement, just the same.
I realize some women who choose not to race racing might be wondering why I even bother, if I’m going to come in last (or slower than last.) Why pay good money for entry fees, bike maintenance, gas and travel costs, only to leave the race with my name at the very bottom of the timing results? I’ll tell you why.
I show up for the camaraderie and I stay for the challenge.
I encourage you to line up with me on race day. If I know you’re there, I’ll do my very best to introduce you around to the folks I know, to help you find the registration tent and the porta-potties, and to help you sort out your number and your timing chip. I’ll even help you spot the photographers on the course so you can smile for your badass race photo! (Because YES, if you are bold enough to race your bike at any speed, you ARE a badass.) And if I happen not to be racing or spectating that day, I know any number of women racers who are equally happy and willing to help get you and your bike up to the starting line.
If I can do it, so can you! Let’s GO!!!