This past Saturday (May 24th) was RACE DAY and it was extremely exciting for me! I competed in my first Mountain Bike race in 13 years. The fact is, I should have been competing in more races but I have made excuses time and again on why I “don’t like to race”. (The truth is that I didn’t race because I didn’t want to look bad).
So, for today’s post, I would like to recap for you the prep leading up to the race, the race itself, and what I’ve learned from the experience.
Racing & Conditioning
Back in April of 2013, my physical health was miserable. I was overweight, had no energy, and fighting off a 4-month head-cold. My health finally took one last hit when my doctor told me to “stay home and do nothing for a week” in late April. It was then that I determined to get healthy and in shape. I started riding my Mountain Bike 3-5 days a week as hard as I could. By mid-June, I had lost 10 lbs and I started to feel pretty good. I kept up the exercise all summer and into the fall (keeping the 10 lbs off and not getting sick anymore). By November (when the snow started to fall) I decided that I didn’t want to repeat the cycle again (good health for 7 months and bad health for 5 months) so I committed to staying healthy and in shape all year so I could ATTACK the Mt. Bike trails in the spring. So when the snow started to fly I took my exercise inside, literally to my basement.
Here’s what I did for November and December:
- Elliptical Machine for 40-50 min a day / 3-5 times a week
- 200-400 sit-ups / 2-3 times a week
- 100-200 push-ups / 2-3 times a week
It was a really simple exercise program and it was free!
I also started to watch my calorie intake more and cut back on the number of sweets in my diet. Again, I kept that 10 lbs off and didn’t get sick at all during the late fall and early winter.
When January came I decided I need to get into the local gym and take my exercising to a new level. I kept the schedule the same of exercising 3-5 times a week but now that I was at a gym I spent more time on my workouts (about a 1.5-hour average workout). It was about this time that I watched a Men’s 33 Bible Study on the topic of why guys don’t compete. In the study, they brought out the fact that many guys won’t compete in things if they fear HOW they might look to others – and the truth is, that was me. I decided I needed to get past myself and just compete (win or lose). So I signed up for the Conquer the Village bike race.
By this time, (Late February) I was down another 5lbs (for a total weight loss of 15lbs) and feeling great. I kept up my routine at the gym, pushing myself as hard as I could with the weights, treadmill, and espresso bike.
My three-month membership was up in April so I went back to the basement and outside as much as possible. At this point, I started watching what I was eating a little more and even dropped another 10 lbs in the process (for a total loss of 25lbs). Again, feeling great and strong.
In May, I really started training for the race as much as I could by getting on the bike and riding the course as much as possible. It was a very cold spring so I couldn’t ride it as often as I thought I would but I still managed to get out and ride whenever possible. As I rode the course in the weeks and days before the race I was confident I could finish in 1 hour 15 min. and was going going to push myself for a 1 hour 5 min. finish (that time should put me on the podium).
On Saturday morning of the race, I arrived about an hour and a half before my race began. As I approached the check-in table to register I was asked if I was nervous at all – and honestly, at that moment I wasn’t. However, as I was getting ready and doing a little people-watching I noticed all the high-end bikes the other guys were showing up with. I started to think about my 16-year-old bike and all the “old technology” on it. I started to think about these other racers and that I really shouldn’t be here – “I’m only going to look foolish on my out of date bike.”
Then I realized I need to just go back to my Jeep and read my Bible. I am currently reading through the Soul Detox devotional on youversion.com (it’s a great devotional). Right away, God gave me two verses for the day that I needed (gifts from Him). The Biblical reading for the day was from Romans 12 and the first verse that caught my attention was this:
Romans 12:2 (NLT)
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
That’s exactly what I needed! “Terry, stop thinking about what the other racers have and all their stuff. Just race and have fun. The world would have you think that you always need more, better, and that enough is never enough. Don’t copy the world’s behavior… Be transformed by the way you think.” Wow! That was great advice and exactly what I need.
As I continued to read Romans 12 I came to the next verse that caught my attention:
Romans 12:21 (NLT)
Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
“Okay, stop everything, God.” I thought. “God, what are you doing here? The name of the race is Conquer The Village and the passage in Romans is telling me to not allow evil to conquer me.”
Here’s what I thought. God has been moving/guiding me over the last several months to get me to conquer my fears of competing. Now, I see that I am starting to worry about the stuff I don’t have (i.e. a nice/new bike) and I’m starting to focus on that – God is reminding me to stay focused on what got me to this point (hard work and the bike I was on). “Terry, just ride your race, give your best and enjoy the day – don’t take yourself too seriously.”
“God, thanks for that truth.”
My family showed up a few minutes before the race with some signs, hugs, and expressions of “Good Luck Dad!”. I love my family and am very thankful for their support. I rode over to the starting line and listened to the pre-race instructions. In just a few moments we would begin.
With this being my first race in several years I really didn’t know how I would compare to the other riders; so I decided to start off in the back. I knew I would be able to pass several riders in the one-mile climb so I wasn’t too worried about my initial positioning. When the horn sounded we all tore off, and the race was on!
My race was a 3.75-mile loop done 3x. The course consisted of one major uphill (the FIRE Road) with 2 secondary hills in other parts of the loop. There was also a stretch of about 1 mile of gravel and/or paved roadway. So all in all it was a varied experience.
As we all started off on the paved portion of the course I quickly shifted up into my highest gears, passing several guys along the way. There was still a pack of strong riders in front of me and I was determined to not lose sight of them – “I will catch them on the climb” I thought to myself. As we turned the corner, the paved road gives way to the start of the single-track up-hill climb. The total climb is just about 1 mile with 3 spots in the climb of steep grades. Right away I was able to pass two more riders and I stayed on the back tire of another ride – “I will not drop off!” At this point, I’m starting to breathe heavy; yet, in rhythm and I’m starting to get comfortable with the race. I comfortable in the saddle and start pushing through this first long uphill.
About half-way up the FIRE Road, there is a section of the road that is washed out and filled with sand. The race coordinators did their best to prep the course but you could only do some much – and, this is an MT. Bike Race so there will be some tough spots. But, it was at this sandy spot that I was able to pass the next rider. If you had any momentum going into the sand, this section of the climb would suck it dry. You have to be in the right gear to get through it and the guy in front of me was not. I was able to pass him on his left and set my sights on the next rider (about 50 yards ahead).
As I reached the top of the FIRE Road I clicked my bike into some higher gears as the racecourse weaved through the top of the ridge. Again, the course went through a few sandy areas and this is where I encountered my first crash – nothing significant – basically, I caught up to the next guy and he couldn’t get through the sand which in turn slowed me down causing me to basically fall over. I quickly got up, pushed my bike up the sandy hill, and jumped back on – keeping this guy in front of me within sight.
Not much drama now as the course meanders down and around the various trails of the Old State Hospital grounds of Traverse City. As I head back to the start/finish line I get the first glimpse of how I am doing – I complete the first loop in just under 20 min. which means if I keep the pace I should finish within my set goal. I’m feeling pretty jacked now!
I push and click up into the highest gear my bike has, look behind me and take off down the paved section of the course. I’m on my second lap now and I am feeling strong still. As I approach the FIRE Road climb I shift down into an easier gear ratio and prepare for the uphill. There is absolutely no one behind me and just a few guys ahead of me now. Near the top of the FIRE road, I come to a few “Hike-a-Bikers”; the climb is starting to take its toll on these racers, I pass them and keep climbing. At the top of the hill, I remember the sand trap and how I fell the first time around. I make the necessary adjustments to my gears and muscle through it. Towards the backside of the second loop, there’s a section of the course where you have to climb some stairs – there’s actually a path you can take to get around them, but regardless, it’s an obstacle that you have to navigate. On my second lap, I get passed by one biker at the stairs and I also pass a biker here. The problem with this spot is that if you are not prepared for this short stair climb you will be in the wrong gear and will have to jump off your bike. That’s what happened to the guy in front of me – he got caught in the wrong gear which then caused me to have to stop for him while at the same time another younger rider came up from behind and ended up passing us both. I jumped back on my bike, encouraged the guy that got stuck, and pressed on.
The third and final lap. This is it, as I approached the start/finish line I looked at the clock and see that I was at 42 min. now. My second lap was a little slower than my first lap but I was still in good shape to finish within my goal of 1 hour and 5 min. Again, I click and push into my highest gears and start pumping my hardest. Sweat is starting to drip into my eyes and sting. My leg muscles are starting to burn and my breathing is starting to get heavy again. I got one more grueling climb on the FIRE Road, the backside of the course, and then the finish. I know I can finish I just have no idea where I stand now in the race. I can see ahead of me another racer, he’s wearing a white jersey. I am determined to catch him but my stamina is starting to fail. I start to push up the FIRE Road keeping the next racer insight; I glance over my shoulder, no one there. I cannot catch this guy on the climb but I don’t give him any ground either. We keep pressing on; peddling, pumping, sweating, and grunting. At this point in the race, exhaustion starts to set in. The little mental notes I made about the racecourse in the days leading up to the race start to vanish from my memory. Mentally, I am getting tired, I am starting to lose my edge. I’m hitting ruts and rocks that I meant to ride around. I have to think and stay focused. As best I can I remind myself that this is a race. I have to give it my all and not look back with any regrets. I keep the guy in my sight – he’s pushing, he’s sweating, he’s competing.
He hits the big downhill before me and I lose sight of him. He is wearing an all-white jersey and as I finish my descent of the hill I still don’t see him. Several bystanders on the course are cheering me on – I don’t know who they are but I welcome the encouragement – I start up the final (smaller) climb and see the white jersey guy near the top. As he reaches the top of the climb he will only have a mile left to the finish; I realize it’s now or never if I want to catch him. It’s at this point, his chain comes off and I am able to overtake him at the peak. Just as I pass him he jumps back on his bike and pulls back ahead of me. “Don’t let up”, I think to myself; “finish strong.”
As I round the last corner of the race and see the finish line I also see my family and one of my good friends, cheering me on. I have so much pride going through my mind (not a vein type of pride); the pride that I’m extremely blessed to have a great family and friends encouraging me. With that, I cross the finish line having given my best.
Accomplishing My Goal
After crossing the finish line I ride over to the side and catch my breath. I didn’t get a chance to see my final time so I really don’t know how I finished. I catch my breath and head over to my family and friends. What a race, I feel good about racing and I am so thankful my family was there to be with me. Several minutes go by and my friend Doug asked how I think I did; I’m not quite sure so we head over to the timetable to see where I finished. As we looked over the results I was blown away. I realize I finished 5th overall and 1st in my age group. My overall time was 1:04.08 – I beat my goal by nearly a full minute! What’s more, I won the race on a bike that was 16 years old – that’s sweet victory!
What I Learned / Going Forward
The Conquer the Village Mt Bike Race was an awesome experience for me. I am so glad I competed in the race for several reasons. First, it helped to keep me focused during the winter with my exercise routine. Second, I took on fear and competed. Third, I got to enjoy the race day with my family. Finally, God helped me to stay focused before the race; not worrying about what others have and being content with what He has blessed me with.
Going forward, I hope to compete in at least two more races this summer – a 5k race with my daughter and another Mt Bike race later in the fall. I am also (slowly) saving for a new bike and when the time is right I will upgrade.
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog today. My hope is that something I wrote has encouraged you. Is there a fear you have that you are not facing? Don’t let fears control you; face them with truth, friends, and family. You might surprise yourself with what God allows you to accomplish.