Five-month progress report as a collegiate cyclist
I’m two weeks into my first season of cycling. Whenever my friends (who are just as surprised as I am that I now ride a bike competitively) ask how my races have been, I usually just tell them I’m having a great time and racing is wild and I love my team and all that. But there’s actually a bit more to my cycling journey that I want to share, because maybe it’s a perspective others can relate to, or maybe it’s a perspective not often considered.
See, I’ve been very consistent about losing my races.
In my most recent race this past weekend, I got dropped so hard there was not a rider in front or behind me in sight. It gets eerily quiet when you’ve fallen this far behind in a ride; at times it felt less like I was in a timed race and more like I was just doing some drill to practice hitting the apex over and over again on my own. The ladies of the pack took off like Tron after the first lap, single-file in a stream of colors against the pale horizon. There was absolutely no chance I could have kept up with them for a thirty-minute sprint. I lasted five, at most.
Just the day before, I was racing for an hour in the pouring rain at 7:00 AM. I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I couldn’t use my brakes, and I couldn’t tell if it was rain or sweat or snot or tears dripping down my face (it was probably all four). I loved every bit of this heavy downpour circuit but I was bummed to discover that if you’ve been lapped enough times, you don’t get to finish your final lap.
A week before that, I made it through 12 miles of a race before I found out there was a second lap, and I just dropped out, utterly defeated with a cookie in my mouth because one of my teammates tried to bribe me to continue on with the race. It was the perfect case of mind over matter: I couldn’t wrap my mind around making myself go through the same brutal three-tier climb twice. (Until the same race next year, I should say.)
You would think that the 2019 collegiate cycling season has been off to a bad start for me. But after these first three races, I have noticed that each time I come in last place in my category, I fall in love with cycling a little bit more. Not because I particularly enjoy losing (ideally I would not be losing), but because racing itself is quite possibly one of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever taken on. It is at these races at which I have lost that I found myself riding my bike in immensely breathtaking landscapes, from the frosted mountains in Pearblossom to the shrub-speckled hills stretching alongside Highway 15. It is at these races that I’ve ridden past my team emphatically cheering me on to keep going, when all I wanted to do was clip out and lie down on the concrete and take a week-long nap. It is at these races that I have met the friendliest fellow cyclists from different parts of California, who ask to add me not on Instagram but on Strava because kudos mean more than likes. It is at these races that I have surprised myself with what I am mentally and physically capable of, and have gone home feeling more motivated to do better next time, every time. It’s weirdly paradoxical—I didn’t truly fall in love with cycling until I started racing (and started losing).
I used to be nervous about racing—about getting dropped, about being last. Nobody wants that, and despite what my track record suggests, I don’t want that either. But with both of those things happening to me at every single race I’ve ever been in, I’ve had a shift in perspective, and now I can tell you that there are worse things in life than losing a race: I could be not racing at all. I could play it safe, stay stagnant in where I am physically, cruise around comfortably on my own by avoiding racing altogether out of the fear of letting my team down and embarrassment about my beginner speed and strength. But I would much rather be squeezing in rides before my morning lecture, waking up at 4:00 AM for team road trips to race in the middle of nowhere, and catching sunsets and searching for tacos on post-race recovery rides with my teammates—all in the pursuit of becoming a better cyclist. I’ve noticed it’s what makes me happiest nowadays.
So I am going to keep racing, and who knows, maybe I am going to keep losing. But I will never be ashamed of the amount of losses I’ve incurred, because I know it doesn’t even compare to how much I am gaining from cycling.
(Much love to my teammates on UCLA Cycling and Sam Boardman & Jess Cerra)