Racing: Nothing Will Ever Feel as Good

Jan 25, 2014 at 22:25
by Amanda Batty  

The recent PB poll here (and the associated comments) on the site got me thinking: why do I love racing? Why is hurtling my bike down a treacherous trail while the clock is ticking away so much fun?

The gears are still grinding away trying to complete the answer, but these are some of the conclusions that have surfaced from my internal inquiry.

I love going fast, yes. And is this going to sound selfish? Absolutely. But having an entire track that has been roped, walked, and cleared off, one that's basically reserved for me and me only for a moment of time, is, in one short word... Priceless. I have an almost-guarantee that the track is mine to do with what I will while the world pauses for just a moment. No one will be stopped in the middle of the trail, no one will be pedaling up it, I'm allowed to go as fast (nay, encouraged) as I can physically afford, and the chance that it's a trail I'll enjoy is extremely high. It's the ultimate chance for freedom. It's the one minute in time that I get a hall pass from the universe to actually fulfill my hell-on-wheels personal fantasy.

Photos by Exposed Imagery during the Reaper Madness Downhill ProGRT Round 1 Race at Bootleg Canyon.

Second is the progression factor. Let's be honest for a second: I am not immortally perfect at riding a bicycle. I am not a robot and I don't know everything. I haven't conquered everything, which means there's ALWAYS room for improvement, which I've recently discovered an addiction to. Racing drives improvement and progression. In fact, showing up to a race and being absolutely terrified of a course is, all at once, the best and worst feeling in the world. In that second, I'm keenly aware that I am lacking. Right then, I lack so much. I can feel the weight of my inadequacy crushing down upon my shoulders. My ego takes a blow and the fear seeps through my soul.

But the fighter in me is exhilarated by all of this strong stimuli.

At this moment of realization that I'm totally in over my head, the hopeful little light inside of me questions the possibilities of the situation. A glimmer of hope ignites. I begin questioning my fear, and those feelings of dreadful inadequacy. It's part of a race course, so it must be at least SOMEWHAT feasible. Someone, somewhere has done it. Or they've at least THOUGHT about doing it. And in that split second of hope, in that momentary reflection, joy is born, because this is another learning opportunity. It's another notch in my bike skills belt, another chance to improve. In fact, it's forced progression. Because what's the alternative to not learning that feature or section? Not racing? Walking it? Yeah, right. I don't think so. And so there I am, simultaneously scared out of my mind and excited and thrilled and hopeful and worried. A giant stew of raw, human emotion.

And so I commit to that progression. I always do. Sometimes it HAPPENS. I step up, conquer that shit and move on, like a bike-mounted Bonaparte sweeping across Europe (yes, I did compare myself mountain biking to a French military legend. That just happened.) and emerging victoriously, glowing with pride and spewing gleeful epithets. At other times, coaxing is required, from myself or the occasional race buddy. One of us will usually be able to talk my brain into thinking that scaling and riding or dropping this terrible obstacle is a great idea. On the rare occasion (such as my vey first ProGRT national circuit race), it has been during my race run when a feature is required riding to avoid a DQ and it's more of a do-or-die situation where my body says, "hang on, kids!" while my brain is screaming "we're all gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie!!!!!!"

Racing the Pro Women s DH at Sea Otter.

No matter what the situation is, that forced progression inevitably happens. And it is always an adventure, especially as the things that truly scare me seem to be rapidly growing in size and risk level. There is always room for another skill, better maneuvering.

But that improvement comes because of the human capacity for adaptation. Our bodies and minds are BUILT to adapt. That is how our DNA and species survive. Evolve or die. And it's not always a huge feature or one blatantly obvious trick spot, either. The more frequent demand is the adaptation to hostile conditions, like twelve inches of mud or loose volcanic shale slabs the size of turkey platters. At home, we slowly and gradually adapt to the moon dust and the fallen logs and the usual debris during a regular, old-fashioned ride with our boys (or girls), but a race track evolves rapidly over a weekend of abuse. The trail that we walk Wednesday night in the beautiful twilight Alpenglow is a much different beast come Sunday morning. It has usually grown into a different trail entirely as rock gardens suddenly appear, trees seem to pop out of the ground and slick mud puddles dot the landscape like daisies in a mountain meadow. And we have no choice but to ride it.

There is no other trail or another option. This is the course, dammit, and we'll race it.

And so we are, by nature of the sport, forced into a skills evolution for physical survival. We learn specific course markings and visually seek out those rare features that won't move -- massive boulders the size of tanks and tree stumps that signal our turn initiation; these objects become our safe havens of consistency in a world turned upside down.The rules of this game constantly change, and our minds and bodies follow because it's not about the competition anymore; it's about survival. In this setting, at this moment, our minds and adrenal glands and endocrine systems are crying in loud alarmist tones 'adapt or die! Adapt or die' and the emergency exit lights in our flight systems illuminate while oxygen masks drop from our proverbial hormonal ceilings and the pilot speaks calmly into the intercom of our brains. The other racers and athletes no longer exist, because we're too busy focusing on not wrecking this plane.

Photo Ralph Lederer Photography

Now. Imagine all of the above, but sped up like a video in an editing studio and condensed into one weekend. We're on a time crunch, and in that crunch we must show up, face the fear, explore the possibilities, embrace the challenges, master the newness, ride on hope, adapt to changing conditions, endure the inevitable 'emergencies', evolve some more and then RACE the actual competitive run! It's a highly concentrated experience with stimulus overload on a time table that exceeds the standardized rate. It's a goddamned drug.

It's a state of altered reality that comes with a happy ending. Every single time. It's like heroin for the life junkie.

Because during all of the above insanity that is racing, we also have one more thing going on, but externally: new friends. People. A strong community of riders and individuals who are all dealing with the same. Exact. Feelings. We know each other, even though we might not. We can sympathize and commiserate and delight in those same experiences because we feel similarly. And so we bond. Some groups catch onto the competitor vibe, while others latch onto the 'we're just here for the beer' motto. But we all know what that finish line feels like, and what that progress feels like, and the pressure of that warp-speed hourglass experience is, and we bond. We build friendships and relationships and occasionally? Even romances. Some of these connections last for a few days through the weekend while others will extend beyond that and onto new seasons and into multiple years, then lifetimes. And these are the threads of a race weekend. These are the very ties that bind us together into the same crazy cloth.

This is racing. And there's no better feeling in the world.

Race antics in the lift line.
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50 Comments

  • + 29
 Best writing on pinkbike in memory. So good. Thanks. Makes me think I might actually race sometime. Sounds like fun...

For me, mtb is what the article says racing is and that's why I love it so dearly: "LIKE HEROINE FOR THE LIFE JUNKIE"

Riding a bike hard is like mainlining life.
  • + 12
 That is a hugely insane compliment, and not one I'm sure that I'm worthy of, but thank you. That's extremely kind of you; glad you enjoyed it. Smile
  • + 4
 you hit it,every word,that is why i race for one moment in time nothing else matters.
  • + 3
 Excellent write up (and I am usually very lazy to read med-to-long articles but the good compliments just made it impossible not to). It is a shame that racing is not de-centralized enough so to be very local and accessible to every type of rider (or rider condition regarding money and time available). It is also a shame that a lot of government organizations (for instance, Valencian Comunity in Spain) don't help the biking community but instead prohibit building and riding trails in most areas, and this holds back the sport and of course racing too.
  • + 3
 It might be a hugely insane compliment but to me you are really worthy of it. Best PB article I have read!
  • + 5
 Damn it I love your style of writing... take me as your apprentice! Oh and the content was excellent as well, put together in... I din't know talking writing about DH can be so sensual... yup! Thank you for entertaining me by writing and sharing it - Cheers! Big Grin
  • + 6
 Thanks, WAKI! Smile And sure -- you can be my apprentice anytime!
  • + 5
 I liked the fact that you pointed out that it's priceless to have that track for yourself. Every person on the sidelines is rooting for you...the team, mechanic, sponsors, whatever that got you there vanishes, and it's just how fast you can make it down. Great perspective. And being on the same mountain as Gwin is like running on the same track as Bolt or Gay...it's amazing to have the opportunity to compete against the best athletes of the sport.
  • + 4
 for me its not just about racing, but simply just being on a mountain bike. You always get that rush of knowing your not in control as you slide down a huge drop or glide over a mossy stump. There is just a kind of fizz you could say that once you start you can't stop, whether your a racer, rookie or just doin it for the hell of it. So in other words... "GET OFF PINKBIKE AND GET ON YOUR BIKE AND RIDE!"
  • + 3
 That was a DH romance novel - all that's missing is the drama of flatting 3/4 down the run or the lusty Antonio having an affair with your carbon V10's greased bottom bracket cup. Maybe a shirtless Gwin rides by on his clydesdale stallion whilst playing "sweet child of mine" on his flute. But watch out - Antonio is back, and seeking revenge for his cut brake lines at national champs. Never mess with Antonio. The End?
  • + 1
 A shirtless Gwin and someone named Antonio ruthlessly plotting? Sounds as though you should be the one writing here! Wink Maybe you've opened the door to a new genre: the MTB daytime soap opera.

Well done! Smile
  • + 4
 As the Rotor Burns. The Young and the Clipless. Too many possibilities…
  • + 4
 This was amazing, it was so well written, and even though I don't race DH, I can still relate to many of your reasons for loving racing.
  • + 2
 Well then, I'm just happy I can give you a bit of insight into the drug that is DH racing... Maybe tempt you into signing up! Smile
  • + 2
 for me, it is all about having fun and catching up with a bunch of mates and enjoying something we all love. The crew I ride with are all members of the same organisation I work for, and we are spread all up and down Australia's east coast. It is also a way for me to escape the demons that have been haunting me from my service to this country. I find it therapeutic to jump on my bike and go for a roll down a hill, and when I am racing my mates as well as the clock, the concentration factor kicks in a lot more and I am 100% focussed on nothing but beating the previous guy down the hill.
  • + 3
 Nicely put, Amanda. I like the part about being built for adaptation, learning. Looking forward to seeing you at a couple UT DH events.
  • + 2
 Thank you! And of course, I'll make it to as many as possible -- that's where I cut my teeth, and where a piece of my racing heart will always reside. Smile I'm excited for you to race this year! It's going to rock!
  • + 2
 This is profound writing! The things you said can't possibly be said in any better way. I think every last person on pinkbike will agree that racing is our "hall pass from the universe".
  • + 2
 Awesomely wrote, anybody who races better be able to related down to this tooth and nail cause if the cant..... Your not really getting the full potential out of racing.... Anyways well done, ambatt!
  • + 1
 Hey, thanks. Smile Lots of riders may feel differently at different times, but in the condensed atmosphere of racing, it's not always visible until we sit down and reflect on it. I'm just stoked you enjoyed it and that PB posted a poll that started my gears working. Smile
  • + 2
 Yeah absolutely i do not understand in the slightest why im at -1 for props but i agree its awesome hahaha!
  • + 1
 wow, you have literally described my subsequent experience every time I give Craig some frogskins and prepare for another sunday's decent on Snakeback or Armageddon! "We are gonna die" I think I was the most calm, the first time I followed Randy over the Water Fall. Etcetera, etcetera.

Awesome piece and thanks for the feedback on Angel Fire.
  • + 2
 This is the kind of article that's made me sign up for races this following year.

I love riding my bike, but I look forward to trying something new and pushing myself harder with it. Smile
  • + 2
 Good article Amanda. I did my first dh race last summer. Besides the adrenalin rush and feeling proud of myself all I could think of afterwards was wanting to do better next time.
  • + 1
 Ohhhh, yeah. I've felt that many, many times... But it gets you back out there!
  • + 2
 I can sense the passion in what your write! I'm lucky enough to know you as the person not just the writer and know everything you pour into DH...well done
  • + 2
 Inspiring article, between work and school I have an on going battle with my motivation to get into race shape. Articles like this help me remember why I am doing it
  • + 1
 Sometimes I forget to stop and reflect
  • + 2
 I think we all do occasionally, which is why I was so amped when PB posted the poll... It got me thinking, and allowed some time for reflection, which is an underrated part of what we do.
  • + 2
 It really is, pretty good timing to with winter depression setting in for some riders......although I've always liked mud
  • + 2
 Awesome article makes me even more stoked for my first year in the utah gravity series that you dominated last year. Hope to see you there!
  • + 1
 I definitely will see you out there! Can't wait! Good ol' BH is calling my name, for sure. That was (and still is) one of the toughest venues I've ever raced.
  • + 2
 Loved this, your article got me motivated to sign my name down for my first set of races. Time for training!
  • + 2
 You can't even know how happy I am to hear that... Really, you've just made my month. So pumped for you to give it a go!!!!
  • + 2
 Outstanding writing Amanda! You captured it so well. I hope to see more of your writing in the future!
  • + 3
 its like poetry you could not have put it better
  • + 3
 So inspiring, amazingly writing,
  • + 2
 nice piece! I never really thought about how rad it is to have the whole track to myself=)
  • + 1
 Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Reflecting on these things is almost as fun as racing... Almost. Wink
  • + 1
 Amazing article Amanda. You really captured the essence of racing. Good luck in 2014!
  • + 1
 Thank you, on both! Smile I hope you have an excellent year as well!
  • + 3
 noooice.
  • + 2
 Mikey Haderer feels good.
  • + 2
 Nice writing, exactly how I feel about racing and I just love it!
  • + 2
 A truly amazing piece! This one has moved me!
  • + 2
 nice, very literate
  • + 1
 Props for the guy in the line with race number 69!! ^_^
  • + 0
 yeah that guy in the speedo is lame!
  • + 0
 I'm gonna stick my crank arm up your Batty, Amanda.
  • + 2
 That's the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me. What a gem.

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