Friday, July 15, 2011

Burn Your Bridges

I realize that most of us are more familiar with the phrase "Don't burn your bridges." In some cases that's sound advice. If you quit your job, you might want to avoid acts such as: leaving a photo copy of your back-side in everyone's office mailbox, or replacing all of your bosses family pictures with new and improved pictures of yourself photo-shopped into them, or top shelving the toilet in the ladies room. With that said, there are occasions where one should in fact burn their bridges.

I read a book for business many years ago that was titled Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It was something of a business/self-help book published in 1937. In it Hill wrote briefly of ancient Greek warriors:

“A long while ago, a great warrior faced a situation which made it necessary for him to make a decision which insured his success on the battlefield. He was about to send his armies against a powerful foe, whose men outnumbered his own. He loaded his soldiers into boats, sailed to the enemy’s country, unloaded soldiers and equipment, then gave the order to burn the ships that had carried them. Addressing his men before the first battle, he said, “You see the boats going up in smoke. That means we cannot leave these shores alive unless we win! We now have no choice – we win – or we perish!”

Now I'm not suggesting that you set your bike on fire, but I am suggesting that you approach every race with this mentality. I'm no stranger to being dropped in races. I'm no stranger to asking myself mid-race "why the hell do I do this?" In a race with laps or circuits, I'm no stranger to looking longingly at the start/finish and thinking of an early exit. I can't tell you how many times I've been in the middle of a race, or the first two laps of a 'cross race and just wanted to pull off of the course, but I don't. It makes me crazy to see people that were in the middle of my race, all of a sudden resting on their top tube. It sometimes makes me crazy because I'm a little jealous, but usually I just can't understand why you would drive to a race, pay an entry fee, gas money, put your life on hold for the better part of a day and then just quit. Sometimes there are legitimate mechanicals that will force you from a race, but watching my teammate run over the finish line at this years Black Fly carrying his bike with a tube around his neck was impressive. Watching another teammate run 3/4 of a lap at the Ommegang CX race after rolling a tubie was impressive, and both were crowd favorites to say the least. It would have been very easy for either of them to throw their bike on the ground and walk away in disgust, worried about a poor placing on the results sheet next to their name. "Forget it, I'll take a DNF, that'll look better . . . "

I came extraordinarily close to dropping out of last years Cobb's Hill 'cross race. I didn't want to be there, my season wasn't going well as a Cat 2, and after a crash on the first lap, I was in second to last place. If there hadn't been a few of my friends there cheering me on (heckling), I would have quit for sure. As the race went on I started getting into a groove and passing some locals. At the end of the day it wasn't a great race, but I was glad that I'd stuck it out. Now 9 months later I can't even put my head in that negative space and I'm REALLY glad I stuck it out.

My point, if I have one is this: Approach every race as if it's a point to point race. No matter where you are in the race, no matter how many laps it is, or how bad you are feeling, finish the race. Approach the race like your boats have been burned. Finish or perish. This may sound a little trite or mellow-dramatic, but if you hike to the top of Everest, you can't stop there. You need to get back off that mountain because you're only half way there. Sometimes we need to do some mental gymnastics to get through a race, so approach the race as if you can't quit and I'll bet that more often than not you'll finish.

I'm probably preaching to the choir here though because I know that most of my friends and fellow racers reading this are the same people carrying their bikes over the finish line with tubes around their necks.

'Cross is just around the corner . . .

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