Winning Isn’t Everything…

By Jessica McWhirt

For two of my teammates, Lisa and Brittney, the Lookout Mountain Hill Climb was a focal race. They wanted to do well (don’t we all) and I wanted to be there for them for it. 

Lisa asked if I’d pre-ride the course with her. Riding Lookout isn’t the same as racing it. We went over different strategies:

  • Clipping in fast at the start
  • The best line to take through the hairpin turns
  • Where the course flattens out
  • Positioning herself in the pack
  • Finishing 

I’m no professional and I don’t pretend to be. I gave Lisa what little advice I could offer her. 

Brittney raced Lookout last year and was anxious about her results for the race. I can call myself a “semi-pro” at stress and anxiety when it comes to race results (maybe just life in general). I struggled last year focusing more on results than the journey, personal goals, and overall improvement. 

I gave her the words and tips I needed to hear last year. We talked about personal goals for the race instead of “not coming in last.” In helping Brittney decide that she was going to clip-in flawlessly at the start and PR the finish, I helped myself. 

I realized what I was telling her, I still needed to hear. We can’t focus only on results. I decided I’d work on my FTP during the race, instead of “I want to win.” 

A couple of years ago, I listened to The Dirt Field Recordings with Lindsay Bayer – manager and racer of Hagens Berman Supermint Pro Cycling – and toward the end she said what I needed to hear:

“Winning isn’t everything. I thought winning would validate all my hard work and make me feel like my life was going in a good direction that I wanted… even if I won everything – that’s the crazy thing about cycling is – whoever won last weekend is irrelevant by the time this weekend’s race starts. And so, you can win everything, but unless you never stop winning, people are going to forget about you so you better make sure your life doesn’t suck when you go back to it.”

If I raced this past weekend and made the podium the same people wouldn’t care and the same people would. I’d get a shoutout in my team’s e-newsletter. If I catted up to a 2, it’d be the same story: some high-fives, maybe dinner, double-digit likes on Facebook. Most people would keep scrolling through their feed for something more interesting.

I act as if I’m a professional but I’m far from it. Clocking in the training hours, checking TrainingPeaks for my current form and training stress score as if it was the holy grail. 

I’m not special. I don’t get paid to race. Quite the opposite in fact. I pay a ton of money to race. I pay for my team kit, team fees, race registrations, bike upgrades and fixes, transportation. I’m even Vice President on my team and I’m on the board of directors for the Bicycle Racing Association. To say cycling is my passion may be an understatement. 

Not a single person will be adversely affected if I don’t race. No one’s betting on me to win.

We train… for what? What are we trying to prove to ourselves? That we’re worth it? Will winning validate us as a person? Will it prove that all the training we’ve completed was worth it? Do all the aches and pain show our competition we can handle pain? Does this make our lives meaningful? Will we be relevant? Like Lindsay said, if our lives suck outside of cycling, what do we have when we don’t win?

Do you have a life that sucks outside of cycling? If so, work on it. 

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