18 Hours of Fruita

7 05 2009

Written by F4 Coach Scott Gurst

Those of you who have been around F4 for a while know that I really like to share experiences I’ve had that I think will benefit others.  And, I like when others do the same, too.  It’s a great to hear about others’ triumphs and failures.  It tends to normalize the experience that we are all going through, and provides and opportunity to learn from others’ experience.  Of course, as many of you know, I’ve done my share of writing about my failures (e.g. Leadville Silver Rush, Philly Half-Marathon) and successes (e.g. Desert RATS trail race).  (Unfortunately, people seem to be way more entertained by my failures than my successes.)

I’m not really afraid to share my failures with you, because I’ve begun to do a better job of handling failure.  Failure is a necessary part of the learning process, and can provide opportunity for growth, if you can manage to not look at failure as a reflection of who you are as a person.  Like anything else, failure is just data.  And if you can manage to “fail forward” (thanks to Tom Leahy for that one), it can build characteristics of endurance (ability to tolerate failure) and resilience (ability to bounce back from failure) that will serve you well along your journey.

I had another one of those experiences this past weekend that I wanted to share with you, because it fell nicely in line with all the things we have been talking about with regard to goal setting.

I had the opportunity to participate on a 4-man team with Scott Fliegelman and some other friends in the 18 Hours of Fruita mountain bike race.  For those unfamiliar with the format, the race starts at midnight on Friday evening, and runs through 6 PM on Saturday.  The goal for the team is to do as many 6-mile laps as possible in 18 hours.

To be honest, though I was excited about the race, and getting back on my bike, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of coming into it only a few days removed from my honeymoon, and having done almost no mountain biking this year.  I already was pretty sure that I would be the slowest one on a very fit team.  I had done some biking on my honeymoon, but certainly nothing quite so strenuous.  I had some experience in these kind of endurance races, but hadn’t done one like this in over 5 years, and wasn’t sure I had what it was going to take to do my part, and not let my team down.  Running races for oneself has it’s share of pressure, but that pressure can become magnified when there are other people counting on you.  It’s not that I was worried that I would be too slow, it’s that I was worried that I would be able to hold up my end of the bargain, and not cause others to have to do more work that I couldn’t do.

We arrived early enough on Friday to set up our campsite, and get out for a warm-up lap to preview the course.  I had heard that each lap would take about 45 minutes.  Doing the math, that meant that I would have to do 6 laps, and get a little over 2 hours break in between.  It seemed manageable, especially in light of the fact that as we were riding the course, it was turning out to be a really fun, rolling cross-country loop around a lake with not a lot of extended climbing or descending.  We finished the lap at a casual pace.  When we arrived back at the campsite, I asked how long it had taken.  “About 30 minutes …”

Suddenly, I realized my math was all wrong.  We had finished a loop in a little over 30 minutes, and we weren’t even racing.  At 30 minutes a lap, that meant each person would do 9 laps, not 6, with only 90 minutes of rest in between, not 135 minutes as originally planned.  I stood outside my tent, looking at the darkening sky, doubting that I could ride hard for 9 laps of 6 miles each with only 90 minutes of rest in between.  Plus, the word was that the weather was supposed to become somewhat unpleasant during the race.  I was, in a word, uncomfortable.

That’s when my coach-head kicked in.  Though it’s easy for me to preach good stuff to you, it’s much harder to remind myself when the time comes.  Luckily, I’m getting better, and this time, I caught myself.  “Discomfort is good,” I reminded myself.  “It’s the place where there’s an opportunity for growth.”  So, I started going through things in my head.

First, I was worrying about things that were out of my control since they were things that happened in the past (the amount of biking I had done, the race occurring after my honeymoon, my level of bike fitness).  I couldn’t change those things, so, I decided to dismiss those worries.  Second, I was worrying about things that were out of my control, because they hadn’t happened yet (having to do 9 laps, with only 90 minutes of rest).  I had no data to support whether or not I was capable, so, I decided to dismiss those worries.  And I was worried about the weather, which I have absolutely no control over.  I’ve dealt with weather before, so, I decided to dismiss those worries.

Rather than worry about things that were out of my control, I decided to set some goals for myself, things that I could control.  But how to set goals when you have no idea how long it’s going to take, since I had not done this race before?

I went back to the real reason for doing these things in the first place.  The big picture goals.  I asked myself what kind of person I wanted to be, and how I wanted to respond to the challenge.  And based on that, I set the following performance targets:

To ride to the best of my ability for the whole 18 hours.

To ride with confidence.

To be consistent across the whole 18 hours.

To be self-reliant.

To serve as an energy-source for my team, and not an energy-suck.

These were all things that I knew I could do.  And knowing that helped me relax almost immediately, because I no longer was carrying anxiety about things over which I had no control.

For me, the last one was particularly important.  It’s easy when your in an uncomfortable place to be high-maintenance, and look to others to help you feel better about yourself, or absolve you from your shortcomings.  Self-doubt can rob much needed energy from yourself, and from your teammates.  Instead of being able to focus on the task at hand, your brain is filled with unproductive thoughts that provide no value whatsoever.

Not only did I not do that, but I actually wound up feeling like I had energy to give to my teammates, continuing to encourage, support, and keep everyone focused on the task.  I was still the slowest one on the team, but as the race progressed, I gradually got faster, gained confidence, and stayed consistently strong.  Every time I began to have doubts of whether I could complete N more laps, I reminded myself that all I had to do was the next lap, and while I was riding, just focus on riding the best I could.  I also began to get better at figuring out how to make the best of the 90 minutes I had between laps, cooling down, eating and drinking the right things, getting quality rest, and warming up again for my next lap.  It actually became an enjoyable process, and rather than feeling rushed, it began to feel like time was expanding to the point where I was easily able to do what I needed to do, and still spend a few minutes hanging with my teammates.

Setting up a few specific performance targets enabled me to just focus on the specific actions I needed to take in order to make those things happen, actions that I knew I was capable of performing:

turn the pedals

pick slightly faster riders, and try to keep up with

enjoy the thrill of riding fast

don’t allow negative thoughts to percolate

no negative self-talk!

continue to eat, drink, rest

be prepared 10 minutes early for my lap

take care of personal issues on my own

only ask for help if I couldn’t solve a problem myself

give positive feedback to my team

As a result, I had one of my best race experiences ever.  I finished the 9 laps, had a great time with my team, and still felt good at the end of the race.  Despite a lot of uncertainly going into this race, it was great to be able to have a learning experience, and still be able to chalk one up in the “success” column.  (Apologies to those of you who were looking forward to another exciting “failure” story.  If you’re interested, I can point you to a couple of good ones.)  J

Hope that helps …

– Scott




One response

8 05 2009
Pam Landry

Hey Scott,

Pushing through discomfot to the learning experience that frequently awaits on the other side is reserved for only very special types of victories in my book…..Nice Going!


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