How Racing Bikes Taught Me About Everyday Life

Debora Adam found lessons in racing bikes
Debora Adam found lessons in racing bikes

By Debora Adam

2013 was the first year I was fortunate enough to race just about every week all season! Folks ask me: “Why on earth do you race/ride those long miles? I could never do that.” I can say with certainty that it’s been an awesome learning experience and I want to share my take on how racing teaches me about everyday life.

I asked my dad once why he would drive across the country on these long trips he used to take. His reply? “Well, it gives me time to think about things.” I take that to my cycling experiences and when I go on these long rides, it gives me time to think about things. When I race, I find myself completely focused and living my fullest life in the moment. It’s like meditation for me.

Push yourself beyond what you think you can do

My mom would say: “Know your limitations and then go beyond them.”

In my personal life, I think back to when I was a single parent, working full time, and earning my Bachelor’s degree. Did it seem impossible at times? Almost. Was it a struggle? Absolutely.

Before I began racing bicycles, I would think to myself: “Oh that (fill in the blank) appears to be impossible. I’m too old, too tall, too weak, too big (another fill in the blank here).” I used to think about my limitations and stop there.

While racing, I have pushed myself both mentally and physically to places I didn’t think were possible, yet I did it anyway! I recall thinking to myself, “I’ll just try this and see how it goes.” Whether it’s the sprint at the end of a criterium, or just keeping up with the main group in a race, it can work! The first time I completed a time trial, I was not sure what to expect. I followed my coach, Mark Deterline’s instructions on how to successfully do a time trial and remained focused and it worked! I discovered that I love time trials, not because they are easy, but because I push myself to go beyond my limitations every time I participate in one.

Get along with others and play nice

At work, I need to cooperate with others on my team, be assertive, and take the lead sometimes. Some of the best ideas result from teamwork collaboration. I don’t need to be best friends with them, but to get along and discuss ideas goes a long way for a successful project implementation.

Teamwork in racing and in life propels the individuals involved further and more efficiently than just racing or working alone. During a race, we can take turns at the front to be more efficient and share the ‘burden’ of wind. Cooperation can be done without being loud and obnoxious.

Increased confidence

My very first road bike race was an exhilarating experience, yet I didn’t know what to expect, or the best way to do some things. Some of the more experienced racers were willing to share advice and kindly let me know the best way to do things.

As I gain experience and confidence on the bike and in races, I can pass my experience on to other women who may be just starting out.

During training, I practice ways to improve bike handling so that when I’m riding in a pack, I’m smoother and safer.

While at work, I have learned to practice speaking up! I used to be silent and invisible resulting in my being passed over for opportunities and recognition in my career. When I speak up and participate, I can share my insight on a particular subject to which I have experience and expertise.

Be prepared

Where is the nearest exit? If a racer went down right in front of me, what would I do? Are there cars or trucks nearby? Do I have a safe exit path, or am I in the middle of the pack and if so, what would I do? If I went down, how would I handle it? (I’ve heard I’m supposed to roll, versus put a stiff arm out to catch my fall). I’ve also heard that since a crash is inevitable, I need to practice ‘falling’ in a safe, grassy field.

In my personal life, I need a savings account for ‘what if’ scenarios. My solution was to set up an automatic transfer from my paycheck to my savings account. When I suddenly need dental work done or new tires for the car, or (more importantly) a big repair on my bicycle, I can turn to my savings account to pay for it (or help pay for it).

I’m worthy!

Getting out and exercising is healthy and it relieves stress. There have been few times in my life when I was not able to exercise. During those times, it was very difficult because I rely on staying active to feel my best.

I’m worth taking care of, and what better way to start than to be healthy, physically as well as mentally? Bicycle racing is a physical and mental workout where focus and strength are key components of success.

Setting goals and following through

These athletic events go best when there is planning and training to prepare for them. To prepare for a road bike race, I need to ride my road bike. To prepare for a hilly race, I need to practice my hill climbing. To participate successfully in a long distance event, such as 100 miles, or more, I need to do longer rides to get my body used to the rigors of long distance.

Years ago, I wanted to move from driving a forklift to working in Information Technology. I found out what was required to get there and completed those steps to a much more satisfying career in IT.

To lose weight, I need to set goals and follow through on the steps to get there. Yes, it takes some sacrifice: all my friends will tell you how much I love cookies. But, I don’t have them very often because it is not in line with my goal of keeping my weight at a healthy level.

Lots can happen during a race/life

When I was hit by an automobile while riding my bicycle back in 2008, all the conditions were perfect: Only one car on the road, me and my friend on our bikes, wearing bright colors, weather was good, road conditions were good (and yes, we were on the correct side of the road). The only exception was the one car on the road where the driver was not looking in the direction of travel and ran right into me.

You could be having an awesome race, be on track for your first place finish and get a flat tire or someone crashes into you while riding in a pack.

Conversely, you may have the chance to hop on a wheel of someone who initiates a breakaway and stay with him or her! Or you may be the racer who successfully sprints first across the finish line.

Anything can happen in life, even when all else is as good as it can be. You may be the healthiest person alive and cancer show up in your body. You may be the best, most efficient employee at a particular company and you lose your job because the company is sold or goes out of business.

You may be the best parent ever, and your children could make decisions that may or may not be in line with everything you taught them.

Savor the journey

While a podium win is so much fun and I see athletes achieve this hard-earned reward, if that’s all I focus on, it’s like fast-forwarding life to get to the ‘good stuff.’ What about all the good stuff along the way? Seeing old friends I’ve raced with previously, the laughing and visiting at the beginning of a race, (maybe even a little trash talk) during the neutral rollout, when I can still carry a conversation. What about the sound and feel of a smoothly rolling peloton, where all the racers are working together and we are going fast? Let’s not forget, even before the race happens, the visit to my Local Bike Shop to get my bike tuned where they greet me by name and keep my bike humming along like the well-oiled machine it is.

As in life, I want to savor my journey. How many times have I heard: “You only live once…” Yeah, and it appears that the older I get, the faster time goes by! I look forward to milestones, such as holidays or birthdays or special vacations. But, if I skip the journey to get there, I’m really missing out on lots of good things, such as the planning that goes into the special vacation or setting up a surprise birthday gift for my loved one.

When I train for events, I get to go for a bike ride along the way. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

So, why do I race? Why do I ride? I’m living life fully.


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