Sometimes I don’t really know what to do with this blog as it’s mostly read by people who are utter strangers to me. Should I let it all hang out and talk about my innermost feelings? Should I limit it to specific topics? I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this but so far I’ve pretty much just written what I happen to feel like writing at the moment.
I mention this because I’m not having the best showing at this mountain bike race series I decided to try. I signed up to try something new and to see if I could make racing fun. I’ve never been into racing and I really had to grit my teeth to show up to race, but I committed to doing it so here I am, doing it. I have some personal thoughts and feelings about this racing experience that aren’t really the most positive, but I don’t know that it’s going to help anyone to read about those thoughts, and besides, do utter strangers care about this sort of thing? Well, if you don’t, then don’t read, I guess?
Actually this won’t be about my innermost innermost thoughts; those are none of your business. It’s just that this race series has got me thinking about why there are a billion men who show up to race and hardly any women? Will I show up to race once this series is over? Why or why not?
Well, first off in the “why not” category, racing has yet to become fun for me. My friend Rebecca, who is a pro racer, always texts me after races with things like “wahoo! That was SO FUN!” and I wanted to go have fun too. I thought maybe it would be exhilarating and empowering or something, turning an ordinary bike ride into a whoop-de-do of joy. Instead of fun, though, I complete these races in a complicated state of perplexity, effort, and distracted non-race thoughts, all covered by a so-far-unrequited hope that at any second I’ll start having fun. I’m supposed to be competing; trying to chase people down and/or prevent them from passing, closing gaps, engaging the killer instinct, all that stuff. Instead, though, I really just can’t muster the ability to care. It’s really weird.
So for this weekend’s series, I thought I’d try having some race goals in mind to see if I could focus a little more. I decided on 1) show up; 2) try a little harder than last time; 3) actually race, like, don’t pull over and STOP for people to get by; and 4) finish. Once I registered, though, I was forced to add another goal: 5) finish in under two hours, as there was a time limit on this race. I thought I might have had a chance to just barely squeak it out, as this was a long course of about twenty miles, but those hopes were immediately dashed when I developed a severe gut-ache barely into the first lap, and fought it the rest of the course. But I completed goal #1 by showing up, and I was more or less happy with my goal #2, as I did try a little harder this time and subsequently actually stayed with the group for most of the first lap before lapsing into lassitude and letting them pull away. I also completed goal #3, and only let people pass me when they were super jackrabbits anyway and could pass easily on singletrack. People of lower divisions just had to wait until they could find a wide spot. ha! Competitive fire IS inside me, sort of. I also only snuck one, maybe two glances at the great view off the bluff trail and tried to focus on the race instead of how awesome the water looked all whipped by the wind. So, I did try harder, so goal #3 in the bag.
Goal number four and five…uh…this is where we get creative. My fourth goal was to finish, and my fifth to finish under two hours. Well, the course was a lot harder than I expected and I had major problems with my nutrition, my gut ache staying extremely severe the entire time so I couldn’t take in any water or food, and really didn’t want to do a third lap, so I decided that when I finished my second lap I’d ask the race marshal if I had time to do another lap and if she said no, then I would happily quit and just take the DNF (changing it in my mind to a DNS; something I learned from Jill Homer, which means Did Nothing Stupid). I was relieved to see the marshal standing in the finish chute giving me the “time to quit” sign, as it was getting darkish, my gut hurt, I was having a bad bike handling day and I’d fallen down a slope once already which really isn’t like me, I was tired, my legs hurt, and I was ready to be done. But instead of giving me a DNF, the marshal bumped me down to the two-lap Sport division as she’d done with the other racers who she’d cut off at two laps. So, technically I guess I did finish and if you stretch the truth I did finish under two hours.
Even though I met most of my goals I still wasn’t very satisfied with this race which leads me to want to say things like “I am just not good at racing” and in my darker moments “I suck.” But those aren’t very useful thoughts and besides it gets really dull listening to people be down on themselves. When people constantly go on and on about how much they suck or how they are scared all the time and how they aren’t having fun, it really gets on my nerves, so I try to take my own advice and not dwell on those feelings. Does “I wish I were faster” count as a positive comment? Sigh. Perhaps I’m not meant to be a racer, but Rebecca just told me “whatever, even if you do badly it still makes you better.” Which I can’t argue with, because I sure as hell don’t ride as hard when I’m out la-la-la-ing around the trails for fun. Know why? Because a 36-hour race-induced gut-ache is not at all fun, and I ride mountain bikes for fun. Oh dear gods of mountain biking, let racing become more fun.
Anyway so this morning I had another race, the short track race of the series. I had been up pretty much all night, with my gut ache from last night’s race persisting until about nine this morning. I didn’t think I’d feel good enough to race but at the very last minute I decided “screw it, I’m going” and tossed everything in the car, to register juuuuust in the nick of time. I’d had nothing to eat as my stomach had only just recovered, but I figured it was short track, only twenty minutes long, so I could manage to survive.
And I did survive, and I actually did okay for like two laps, enjoying the singletrack on the course. Eventually the creeping lethargy slunk back in and when people passed me, I didn’t much care. I had a blast on the singletrack and no one could get by me or pull away on that, but once we hit those devastatingly dull giant wide ski trails, all motivation got sapped by the totally uninteresting route and I just spun up the hills until I got to the next fun singletrack part or until someone told me I could stop. That really seemed to be the longest twenty minutes ever. Eventually I stopped, had a doughnut and some coffee, chatted briefly with a few people, and tried to watch the Expert race but once it started to rain I couldn’t maintain any interest in the proceedings and just went home.
Seeing as how I didn’t think my tum would allow me to race, I didn’t have any race goals for this one but “show up” is always tops on the list so I guess I met that one. I was pretty pleased with that first lap in particular actually, so maybe someday I’ll be able to repeat it five or six times and then have a better race experience.
So just one more mountain bike race to do until I can quit forever, having given it a fair go. Or I can continue to show up and try to have more fun. Hopefully I’ll do the latter and it will become more fun.
But back to what I was saying about why there are so few women at the races. I don’t have good answers for you. From what I observed, it’s hard for anyone to feel comfortable as a newbie in the elite race crowd, and I didn’t see a ton of people going out of their way to greet anyone new. This isn’t a criticism of the club, but I wonder if they ever get tired of racing against all their teammates – and if so, maybe they should all try to make sure they are friendly to new people. There’s little motivation to show up for races on your own, suffer just as much as the elite racers, and do your best only to find that no one really cares because they are only watching their friends. That’s no one’s fault, it’s just something for clubs to be aware of as they are built.
I noted that the only cash prizes were for the Expert division. Well, there are really only three women who compete in the Expert division with any regularity (since I got unceremoniously booted back to Sport because I was slow on Friday) so it’s not really very suspenseful, but most women race the Sport Division which has no prizes. So during one of my laps (instead of focusing on the race, natch) I pondered ways to get women beginners, newbies, and young girls to show up to race. I wondered if I could get some of my clients from Geargals to send swag for the girls who come to race. It would help women feel more welcome and included, and maybe keep coming back to race enough that someday the Expert division will be full of women, not just a contest between two of Anchorage’s top racers, like it was today (cool to watch, but sad there were only two).
I also noticed that there were no young junior girls at the races. There are a few younger teen girls, and more than a handful of under-ten boys, but no young girl racers under sixteen (? I’d guess, I’m not a good judge of age but the two junior girls were at least in their teens). The little junior boys were all kitted out with expensive bikes, fancy SIDI shoes, full sponsored team race outfits, the whole nine yards – and there were no non-team kids at the race and no young girls at all. This makes me sad for a lot of reasons. It tells me that in fifteen years the kids that are there now, being given thousands of dollars of equipment and lessons, will be the ones showing up to the races and forgetting to talk to the newbies. The kids – especially girls – who want to get into mountain biking but don’t have parents giving them fancy bikes and clothes don’t really have much of a prayer to get seriously involved in racing as a junior. I kind of think if you don’t have that kind of parents, you don’t have much of a prayer in sports at all, but I digress.
Let’s bypass what I think about the major advantages kids with high-income parents have in sports, and focus on why they were all boys in this series. How come fewer parents with daughters are buying expensive bikes and bike gear to get their kid into the sport? What gives? I don’t have a kid and I don’t have a way of answering it, but I hope that the readers might have some input here. If you have a daughter, what sports do you encourage her to participate in? Do you even try to get her involved in sports? Why or why not? Does your daughter express interest in sports? If not, do you try to change that?
In short, please tell me your ideas about this latest “where are all the women” quandry.
I’m gonna go lay down now, because my stomach STILL hurts. But that’s part of the fun of racing, surely! Whee!