Expectations… sometimes they are our friend and motivate us to do well at things we care about, and sometimes they are our enemy in that we feel let down if we don’t meet them, or we simply fear not meeting our expectations. Worse yet, perhaps we fear not meeting OTHERS’ expectations.

Yesterday, I was riding with a lady I am coaching who is new to mountain bike racing.  She was going to try her first race and said to me, “What if I get last?”  I got the impression that she was a little intimidated to race in fear of letting herself down, or disappointing those who have expectations for her to finish in a certain time.  I know she won’t get last, and I simply said to her, “Well, you have to start somewhere.”  When trying ANYTHING, we all have to start somewhere – it’s about being okay and accepting of yourself, wherever that starting point may be.  It’s fun trying something brand new because you don’t have a backlog of experiences to compare yourself with.  It’s fun to try to have NO expectations.

I started thinking about my first bike race.  I knew nothing about mountain biking.  In fact, my first mountain bike race was one of my first 15 or so mountain bike rides EVER (Yeah… I’m competitive…gotta compete, gotta do it!)  I was shamed (i.e. “What, are you SCARED?!”) into going by a coworker at the time who got me out on some of my first mountain bike rides.  I didn’t own a jersey.  My bike was a 300 dollar, 40 lb full suspension bike with probably 60 psi in the tires.  I wore a 100 oz camelback, and I might have even been wearing weight lifting gloves.

I got to Sandia Peak for the Watermelon Classic (it was 2003, I think) and I got there pretty late and definitely did not warm up.  It was the State Championships for New Mexico.  I saw there were 5 women in the beginner category and NOBODY signed up for sport.  The difference was the sport race was a lot longer in distance.  What did Type A overachiever competitive Sonya do?  Duh.  Sign up for Sport.  If I finished, I’d be State Champion…and I was going to finish.  My expectation was to finish.  Had I ever ridden the course?  Nope.

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Well, I was crowned State Champ for sport that year by default.  The funny part is how the race went down.  I wish I had a race report.  From what I remember, my bike wouldn’t shift.  I did a lot of walking…maybe as much walking as riding. I couldn’t get up the hill.  I wonder how fast I even came downhill?  I might have even cried, but I don’t think I did in THAT race (yes, I have cried in some bike races…but now it’s usually b/c I’m having so much fun or I’m so excited to be finishing…but I have shed tears of anguish in the past).  I didn’t know anything about race nutrition and probably bonked.  The race promoter that day probably had expectations… expectations that I definitely did not meet.  The race took me about FOUR hours for what should have been 1.5 -2 hours.  When I finally crossed the line, everyone was gone. There were maybe 3 cars left in the parking lot, the wind was blowing, things were quiet. The only person who was there was the race promoter, waiting for me, but man, I had a blast!!!!  Determined?  Yep.  Stupid? Probably.  You gotta start somewhere.

I had so much fun that I had to enter the next race in the series at Sandia Peak, which was a hill climb.  I needed to ditch my 40lb bike, so I went to a bike shop.  I told them I was going to do a mountain bike hill climb and I needed a new bike.  They sold me a Specialized Enduro.  Jerks…  A Specialized Enduro is basically a big travel bike, and NOT ideal for hill climbing or XC racing.  But hey, it was 30 lbs(10 lbs lighter than my old bike and 3x the price) AND I was mesmerized by the disc brakes.  It was badass!!!  I was so proud of my new bike, and couldn’t wait to race it because it was “light.” I was later made fun of after a pro racer lifted my bike. I finished a race and was so ecstatic. I remember he lifted it, looked at me and said, “you raced THAT?! WOW! And you’re still smiling?!” haha. That’s riiight.

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I raced all year on the Enduro and some of the fondest race memories I have are from my first year racing when I had no clue.  I wore that 100 oz Camelback FULL for a hillclimb.  ha!  You gotta start somewhere.

I got a little smarter for my next race, which was in Los Alamos, NM.  The Pajarito Punishment.  I did some reading on racing, AND I had a real jersey.  Heck, I even had some nice hand-me down shoes.  It was so fun from what I remember.  It might be the most fun I’ve had in a race, rain and all.  Endo and all.  Blood and all. I have no idea what place I got, but mountain biking became an addiction, and the coolest thing ever. I signed up to race for the UNM Cycling Team.

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The start of Crash Looney.  You gotta start somewhere.

7 years later, I know A LOT more about what I’m doing…most of the time :)  I’m still trying to meet new expectations…. and sometimes try my hardest not to have any for myself…. and I’m still learning, looking back at myself on even a weekly basis and laughing at the stupid things I’ve done along the way.

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Fear of failure is still there and it always will be, and I face that fear regularly. Sometimes you have to swallow the fear, smile, and just pedal.