We spend our entire lives avoiding last place. Losing hurts, winning feels good…seems simple enough.
But in June 2013, I did the unthinkable…I asked to be last place…hoped for it, actually.
What happens when you can’t even get last place?
It was my first cycling road race. I finished my first criterium the day before (in 2nd to last). Prior to those races, I did a few cyclocross races and a time trial. I quietly finished in the back in each of those races telling myself it’s the nature of being new competitive cyclist. But it was this very first road race that would result in unbelievable perspective years later.
I just started riding a bike a summer or two prior to joining the Scenic City Velo women’s cycling team. I lined up for my first go on the open road with three other women who had racing knowledge. And I was married to a very talented cyclist, so I while I was quite nervous, I felt okay about lining up.
Y’all, I got dropped from the race like it was my job. I had no idea how to respond to race dynamics and there was no hiding my lack of hard work on the bike. Plain and simple.
The other SCV women waited at the finish for me, they were so supportive. And Spencer met me at certain points around the course to cheer me on. But I was so far back in the race that they missed me in results. Yes, I put my bold, competitive, spirited ego aside to finish the race in last, only to not see my name in results the next day.
Begging for DFL (Google DFL if you don’t know what it is)
Yep, I put my tail between my legs and emailed the race promoter – begging to be included in the results – explaining it was my first road race and I needed credit for kit reimbursement requirements. He was polite, fixed results on USA Cycling, but I would have loved to see the look on his face when he opened an email from someone asking to get credit for being last.
You can’t hide behind BS (surely you don’t have to Google BS)
In sports, cycling especially, there are no shortcuts. It’s one of the reasons I love sports so much. You can’t win just because people like you. You can’t BS your way on the podium. If winning is what you want, you have to earn it. You have to work hard for it. Sure there are some instances of human error that can create exceptions, but for the most part…generally speaking…if you’re a “race favorite” it’s because you’ve put in the work and achieved the results.
Coming full circle
Coming back to the SCV women’s cycling team has forced me to reflect on how far I’ve come since that first road race. I found myself
nearly in tears the other day talking about that first road race while trying to encourage one of my teammates who is new to racing (we have a lot of conversations about finishing last). This was days before we were both going to toe the line of two very challenging races.
“I can’t believe I asked to be DFL,” I laughed while holding back tears (seriously, I can’t squeeze a tear while speaking at a funeral, but I can get emotional about bike racing, OMG).
The conversation turned to her reassuring me that I was a different racer now. She reminded me of the facts…I’d been training hard and doing everything I could to be properly prepared for these races. That’s the thing about cycling…I’ve found myself surrounded by some of the most brilliant, high-performing, fair, just, and supportive humans I’ve ever met.
Needless to say, she had her facts right. I was a different racer last weekend (finally). I worked hard, and
I achieved great results in both races…beyond what I’d ever achieved in previous races.
But…I guess I had to see those results for myself…