Sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge when you get to the end of something, especially when it’s been a good thing. It’s a mark of finality, and it can be really hard to commit to. Yet the fact remains that it’s been six weeks now since I went for a training ride, and I’ve tried, and failed, nearly every day to write about an end.
So I’m going to start with a beginning, which was sometime way before I ever touched a bike.
In my hometown everyone runs a 10K on memorial day. Usually over fifty thousand people (no joke) show up to run, walk, or wheel themselves around six miles of city streets, and the number of port-a-potties required is obscene. If, for some reason, you’re not running in this race, you’re cheering from the side, squirting the passing horde with your garden hose, belly dancing, or just drinking beer from your sidewalk. The air force flies over the finishing stadium, and various local companies donate sandwiches. Best of all- the top times from every age group get their names in the paper.
The Pro’s can knock out the whole race in under half an hour, and you practically hear bones rattling as they propel their skeletons up the final hill. Everyone else falls in somewhere behind that, and the 8 year olds, when I was one at least, shoot for an hour.
We weren’t even the youngest ones out there; as soon as a citizen of Boulder can walk, they’re encouraged to run. And as soon as they can run, they’re encouraged to run faster than everyone else.
So this race was the first thing I ever trained for, because when your legs are like 18 inches long, 6 miles is a pretty epic distance.
We had a fitness club at my elementary school for this purpose, which is how a certain two-mile-loop around the building came to be swarmed three nights a week with jogging children. We got prizes for miles logged, and sometimes there were face-staining popsicles afterwards. We ran in the rain, we ran in the sun, and some of us learned how awesome it feels to do just one more lap than the next person.
Each year on the night before the race I’d pin my number on a carefully selected T-shirt, lay my thoroughly beaten sneakers next to it with reverence, and go to sleep nauseous with anticipation.
That much has never changed. Whether it’s soccer, or ski racing, or biking; I’ve always laid out my things the night before competition and gone to sleep nervous. Prepared or not, excited or not, the hours until go time always slip by.
And then you’re in the midst of your moment of truth. I’ve often proven myself good enough, sometimes exceptional, sometimes not, and the positive feedback of doing things not everyone can do with their bodies has effectively kept my insecurities at bay. So it went from one race a year to one race a month to one race a week, sometimes more- and now looking back I realize that roughly every weekend since I was 11 has contained a “night before”, and some subsequent measurement of my physical progress. I’ve been competing for my entire conscious life.
And I wish I could say I grew out of it on my own. I wish I could say I realized, of my own volition, that my dependency on racing for personal worth had become a limiting factor in my life. But the truth is that I just started to suck, and it forced me to look at why I do any of this in the first place.
Injuries played a part in the sucking. Mechanical and financial support played a part. Health played a part. Essentially I just realized I don’t have what it takes to continue to compete with girls who do, and that I’m not willing to make the necessary sacrifices to get it.
Then I just fell out of love with organized sport altogether. Suddenly all the medals and stripey jerseys and sponsorship deals in the world couldn’t tip the scale against the people I got to come home to afterwards. The ones who were there whether I got the medal or not. I realized that the energy I’ve put towards maneuvering a 22lb machine through the woods, while not wasted, can simply benefit myself and others elsewhere now.
I still believe in racing. I’ve experienced so many unique and incredible things through the sports I’ve chosen to practice, and many of them wouldn’t have been possible without buying in, to a certain degree, to the drama of competing. I’ll never forget walking in the opening ceremonies at Mont Sainte Anne. I’ll never forget pinning my number on a national team jersey for my first world cup. Because of sport I’ve made friends all over the world, and I know what it feels like to be cheered at in German, French, Spanish and English all at once. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Yet at the same time I’m excited to move on, storing what I’ve learned in this life of competition for later challenges. For the first time in forever I’ve got spare time, I’m not tired of myself in the morning, and I’ve even got a joerb- I love it there, although they expect me to be exhausted after carrying dishes around all night. All I can say is that they’ve clearly never tried to chase Georgia Gould around a race course.
From now on, expect this blog to be, truly, about playing outside. ‘Cause that’s what I’m doing, and that’s what it’s all about!