Zen On Dirt

To race or not to race, an endlessly fascinating question


I was wandering the Saturday morning farmers’ market the few days ago with a friend, catching up on all the things that had happened since our last coffee get together nearly a year and a half ago. We were talking about me leaving Crested Butte and everything that went along with that, and she said something along the lines of: One of the things that you’re good at is making a logical decision and then fully believing in it.

And generally, that’s a very true statement. When something isn’t working for me, I feel like I’m really good at laying out the facts and deciding if the issues can be remedied or compromised on, or if it’s time to walk away.

Thus far, I don’t regret any of the things I’ve walked away from.


But I’m struggling with walking away from racing.

On one hand, I really have accomplished everything I set out to accomplish, and more, tons more.

On the other hand, I had to walk away not on my own terms. After this summer, I’m thinking with a fair amount of certainty, my health issues from last fall had little to do with the actual act of racing long distances. Having it be not entirely not my decision has haunted me at times.

Scott and I spent a good bit of time on the CDT talking about racing. I fluctuated wildly between ‘I’m done racing. I’ve checked enough boxes. There’s nothing left that really inspires me to train’ to ‘Maybe I’ll train for a run at the Kokopelli’ or
‘someone needs to do the Triple Crown gracefully’ or, most recently, ‘If Justin did his CO 14’ers duathlon in 34.5 days, I wonder how fast I could do it.’


On the CDT, I’d spend days making lists of pros and cons of each idea (we pedaled a lot, there was a lot of time to think). Training for Koko would be a devoted winter of training for short stuff, which would kill ‘fun’ riding, but it sure would be fun to get skinny and fast again, and I’ve yet to have a clean run on that route, but the route pretty much is terrible and it’s really not bikepacking. Triple Crown…I’ve seen it all, but the challenge would be to see how fast sustainable would be, could I keep my head together riding routes all summer that I already knew? Would my body hold up? But it would kill the entire summer and most likely most of the rest of the calendar year and there’s not much in terms of exploration going on there.

I’d love the idea of doing the events, but the leadup and recovery from each squashed any real ambition before we got anywhere near Waterton.


And then the 14’ers challenge. Combine bikepacking with mountain climbing. I’d have to learn new skills, like, umm, running downhill. I’d have to get over my fear of exposure to do Capitol and the Bells. Little Bear sounds downright sketch as do the traverses between Crestone and Crestone Needle. But it’d be new terrain, I’d spend the summer climbing mountains instead of riding bikes every day. I have this romantic image of running free across ridgelines…probably the same way that people who race the Divide have an image of being swept down smooth dirt roads with the wind at their back.

But I’d be forced to learn new skills. I’d be forced to stretch personal comfort zones. I’d see new places. And committing to a project like that is the best way to make sure goals like that are achieved.

But it would be a month+ of solid effort. It would be 2+ months of recover. It would be a lot of dirt road riding and climbing 14’ers with hoards of people, neither of which I like. So why am I drawn to it?

Can’t I just go find long ridgelines to run and not be in a hurry and take pictures?


Sometimes I feel like I need to just say: I’m done racing. Put it out there on the Internets to make it official. Make going back not even an option. Accept that I’ve squeezed every last ounce of personal growth and challenge out of racing my bike and that it’s time to move on. Time to find a new form of art.

As Jefe put it: Maybe it’s time to stop racing through life and time to slow down and enjoy it. (I’m paraphrasing on that one.)

And I decide I’m going to declare done…but then I see Jill’s report on the Tor de Geants and think, Gee whiz…that looks neat. I wonder if I could hike 200 miles?

In the end, I find my complete indecision about what to do fascinating and I’m pretty stoked that I don’t actually have to make a decision about any of it tonight.


6 thoughts on “To race or not to race, an endlessly fascinating question

  1. It’s funny — I wrestle with these questions myself, and I’m not even fast! But “racing,” at least to the best of my ability, has ongoing draw. There’s something so compelling about those inward explorations that racing encourages, especially racing in a more familiar situation. I had such a vibrant and enriching experience completing the ITI on foot this year. There’s a reason I haven’t written much about it yet — too difficult to put into words, and from an outside perspective it was a long boring slog.

    And yet there’s also the pull of outward exploration, of seeing something new. I have a month next summer to do with whatever I please, within a reasonable funding range. Right now I have two options at the top of the list — fat biking in Iceland, or riding the Tour Divide again. Why would I even choose the latter over the former? It defies reason, and yet there’s so much intrigue to it.

    As for ultra-hiking, give it full consideration. I’ve been a decent hiker through my life and thought I’d fall into ultra-distances naturally, but I was wrong and it’s been one heartbreak after the next. If you’re already uneasy on knife ridges, exposure, scree fields, etc., imagine what it will be like under more extreme sleep deprivation, at night, in the rain. I used to think I would try things like Nolan’s 14 someday, but now I question whether these are just beyond my capability and dangerous to try. Anyway, you could be great, but definitely take it seriously if you go down that path.

    Good luck! Selfishly I’m rooting for you to do the Triple Crown next year. 😉

  2. I think about racing sometimes. I’ve been in one bike race, and I have a few good stories, but also the reminder that my knee doesn’t like it and I like what I do otherwise. Any chance you can talk Scott into planning four month exploration rides every summer? That should put this question to rest. Ride hard, see new stuff, sleep outside.

  3. Life’s too short to put any sort of limits on yourself. I believe that “racing” grows a person in a completely different way than slowing down and taking everything in. I say don’t feel like you have to ever stop doing either one because as soon as you set it in stone you will regret it. Look at a ton of the great athletes out there and how many times they have said, “I’m done” and returned to do it again. I say if you feel like racing 10 years from now, then do it.

  4. I have to chuckle at the title of your blog and suggest you rename it “Look at Me on Dirt”. You have created quite the online shrine honoring your self-centered lifestyle and underying narcissism. What if you did something with your bike for the good of humanity and really took the time to reach out and encourage others? This is not zen. It is an online log of you indulging in your little whims and woes and ‘gee whizzes’ of wondering whether you can go top the latest feat you just read about in the daily bogroll…

  5. Jill – I get the dilemma about the exploration that comes with racing on known terrain versus exploration of new places. I’m constantly asking what’s to gain from either venture, emotionally, physically, mentally, and weighing the risk versus reward. I work really hard at nailing down the motivations for anything before I do it and decide if those motivations are good/worth it. Why do the Triple Crown? Why go traveling? Why get out of bed in the morning? All valid questions.

    I’m a big believer in the whole psychology of “If you have a goal to reach, you’re more likely to learn the skills than if you don’t have that goal,” which is the appeal of the 14’ers challenge. I’ve been wanting to have more mountain climbing skills for a long time. Knowing myself, I won’t motivate to even try to get over exposure fears without an incentive. Human nature. Eszter nature. It’s also so left-field and different from anything I’ve ever done, it’s intriguing.

    Nicholas – I don’t know if I can do another 4-month singletrack tour. That was four months of getting my ass kicked all across the country. Glad I did it? Definitely. Would I do it again? Hells no. But, I do know that if I try to do similar things year after year, I get bored. The goal (for me) for the CDT was to live off the bike for an extended period of time. Would I do it again? Sure. Am I in a hurry to? As of right now, I really like easily accessible food and water.

    Tanner – Truth. It’s always easier to say DONE! and then not think about it again, and in some situations, it’s the way to move forward. But in this case, declaring done affects nothing but my mental state, so there’s really no reason to do it.

    World Trekker – Howard Thurman once said: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

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