ON VISION AND KEEPING EYES UP
Eyes up. This has become my mantra as an amateur enduro racer, and this body position is the hallmark of an experienced rider.
I grew up cross country racing in the early 2000’s, in the heyday of XC racing. I was immediately attracted to the sport for so many reasons – I loved the community, the challenge, I loved bicycles – and it hurt. A lot. And I enjoyed that pain, learned to embrace the suck. I learned to go deep inside myself, and I spent so many of those hours in thought – planning, problem solving,thinking. Always thinking.
XC racing was a mass start event,and it was all about going hard off the line to get a good position- a “holeshot’ or getting in front of the pack was best. But this presented a challenge, as going hard off the line meant you needed to go hard to stay ahead of the pack, to keep from getting passed. It was all about mental games, as most races started with a hill climb- and I remember so many races where I was hunched over, staring at my front wheel, suffering, using all of my mental toughness to keep turning the pedals. To go deep inside myself, to find that inner strength, to embrace the suck, to love the suffering. To hurt more than the racer beside me, drop 3 gears as I crested the hill,crush their soul, and cruise into the single track where I could catch a brief rest before hammering hard again.
And these experiences of sport shaped my life- I learned that success could be attained by hard work. By putting your head down, grinding, suffering, because you believed in a goal. This drive got me through 3 levels of paramedic education, innumerable night shifts, the suicide of close friends, the loss of a relationship that mattered so much to me, the death of my father. Head down, drive. Sufffer. Embrace the suck. Success is found in a linear path, grinding slowly forwards.
But now I have gravitated towards enduro racing, which is a stage race format where most stages are descending more than climbing, and often races are blind, meaning the racer has never ridden those trails before. And you are racing the clock on each stage, not trying to stay ahead of other riders. This demands for a different style of riding.
To be a competitive enduro racer, you must be fit, for sure, and willing to suffer. The days are long, hot, and demanding. But more importantly, you must be smooth and efficient, able to maximize your descending speed on varied terrain. One cannot be successful staring at ones front wheel- one must be looking ahead, making high speed decisions, and not worrying about the front wheel. The terrain one’s front wheel is on has already been assessed, the line choice made – it is simply up to the body to execute the plan, allowing the mind to look ahead and make new decisions. This means it is essential to keep the eyes up, scanning the terrain a head, keeping the shoulders square with the fall line, charging ahead. I constantly verbally cue myself when I feel myself getting scared or tired, and looking down : Eyes up. Shoulders square. Charge.
And I’m learning that life is like this. When I keep my eyes up, I see so many things that I would have missed if I was looking down, suffering. The world looks different. I see beauty I never saw before – can appreciate the varied terrain in new ways, can appreciate the intricacies of life not as something I need to suffer through, but as a challenge to be appreciated. I see others ahead of me, others to look up to. And there is so much beauty above me that I missed out on when I lived looking down. Do the hard times sill hurt? Yes, a hell of a lot. But the view is so much better.