By Syd Schulz,
CTS Athlete and Pro Athlete
Packing for a race weekend is almost an art form. Should you bring that extra tire or just assume you won’t flat? Did you remember the coffee grinder, and your tooth brush? What about a pair of long pants? It might get cold at night. And extra socks — lots and lots of extra socks.
Remembering to bring all the physical stuff is hard enough, but most people also waste a lot of time meticulously packing something else — their suitcase full of excuses.
Maybe you haven’t been training enough. Maybe you had the flu. Maybe everyone else has had more time to pre-ride the course. You don’t really have the right bike for this course. So-and-so is sandbagging. The course is too “pedally” (a complaint unique to enduro racing). The course isn’t pedally enough. (Sidenote: Can we at least agree that we would all be better off if “pedally” had never become a word?)
You stand on the start line and unpack your excuses with the other racers, to see how they measure up. Oh, drat, everyone else has at least two excuses, too. What a drag, you’ll have to come up with more than just a measly 3-5 next time, if you really want to be competitive in the pre-race excuse marathon.
After the race, when the moment to analyze your performance comes, your excuses are already pre-prepared and you don’t even have to think about it. You know why you performed poorly. I mean, you expected it beforehand, so it’s not a surprise and that makes it much easier to take. You did the best you could with your training, on the wrong bike, on a terrible course. You can give yourself a pat on the back, right?
Here’s the thing. If I’ve learned anything in the four years of racing mountain bikes, it’s a) that pros are by no means immune to the excuse marathon, and b) there is always an excuse if you look hard enough. The key is to stop looking.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t dissect your performance later to figure out what went well and not-so-well. It’s just to say that you shouldn’t pre-determine your narrative with a suitcase full of excuses. Go into the race open-minded and then later, if necessary, find reasons instead of excuses.
Reasons are objective and after-the-fact. Reasons are the things you discuss with your coach in your race post-mortem. Sometimes reasons are positive (I did well because technical riding is my greatest strength), but they can be negative as well (I wasn’t prepared for a course that technical). It’s understandble to have a sub-par race when you missed some training due to having the flu. It’s okay for a course to not suit your strengths. And it’s okay to acknowledge this, especially if you are doing so with an eye towards self-kindness (don’t beat yourself up for having the flu!) or improvement (now you know what to focus on).
Excuses sometimes share the same facts as reasons, but that’s where the similarities end. Excuses are something to hide behind. The are often trotted out beforehand, and their very existence has the power to alter the end result. Unlike reasons, excuses are always negative and they are highly, highly subjective.
You have excuses when you’re scared, and reasons when you’re strong enough to look at your performance objectively.
So, for your next race weekend — pack your toothbrush, but leave your excuses behind.