Why I Race: A Memoir

I’m 39 years old and I’m finally learning how to race my bike. ~Katie Compton

I’d like to start by expressing gratitude to all of you who read my last post. I thought it was so silly when I was writing it, and your positive response was a delightful shock. One of the reasons I love the bloggy blog bloggery is that it’s a medium where you never know who the audience will be, and thus it forces you—forces me—to write for myself. If you are a fan of the professional learning/Open/teaching/learning blatherings of this blog, I’m working on a post on planning Welcome Week for faculty. Stay tuned.

Riders ready? Beep beep beep…This post is about bikes!

I got some very good news this past week that will allow me to continue helping my bike team–The Queens of Dirt–put on the first all-female race in Bellingham! Yay! I was feeling beyond panicked about feeling over-booked, stressed, and I was losing sleep agonizing about how I was going to be able to fit everything in. Then everything worked out after one difficult conversation. Deep breath.

Here’s the thing.

Kirsten, our co-caption, Sabrina, who just finished the BC Bike Race (woot!), and I met last week, and we’ve got a plan to make it all happen. The women of the Queens of Dirt are magic. They get shit done, rock my world, and they are all so smart! Every member of the team will help in some way or another, and we all have one job: Bring The Awesome. We put that phrase on the job duties spreadsheet because you know, spreadsheets are too serious sometimes. We all need to share one job and it’ll be to Bring The Awesome.

Speaking of bringing the awesome–I got a couple of essay-like text messages from Kirsten Jensen, and she mentioned a book that she is reading, Start With The Why, by Simon Sinek which I read when it first came out. And like all motivational leadership books for me, there were really useful parts, good parts, mediocre parts, platitudinous parts, and parts that test my patience. Thinking about this book is very timely for me, actually, because I’ve been trying to read a lot of leadership books for a talk I’m doing in the fall, and I’m still searching for one that I love. What I like about Sinek’s work is that his message is grounded in pragmatism about human beings and emotional appeals–people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Yes, and I wish it was that simple all the time.

For the purpose of this bike race, it’s easy to express The Why using one photograph.

Imagine every category at a bike race from Juniors to Masters having this many women.


Queens of Dirt MTB Weekend 2018, Bellingham, WA  Photo Credit Bryce Barry @brycebarry_ facebook.com/brycebarrydotcom website: brycebarry.com

And you see those little girls on the picnic table in the middle of the photo? Those are our Little Big Whys.

We’ve decided that we are going to ask women who race to explain why they race as a way to motivate other women.  Yes! So I’m going to get this party started with a hashtag and a social media campaign.

#QoDMTBRace here we go.

Why do I race?

I race because I love the camaraderie with other women, the act of scheduling my entire week around attending a race, and the conversations that I have with my friends after the race. Before I go into great detail about these three reasons, I need to admit to you, my dear readers, that I’ve never won a race. Ever. My best result is 2nd place with the Seattle Cross Revolution Cyclocross series as a Cat 4, and I got passed on the last corner towards the finishing line. I’ve “won” the Cascade Cross series C and I’ve been on the podium for the Bs–only because I show up the most. I don’t race to win; I race because it’s really frickin’ fun.

Make Frens. I’ve met a lot really good friends at bike races. Turns out most people who race bikes are Good People. A lot of folks show up for their race and leave immediately afterward, and that’s fine, but you’re missing out, man. Sure, you can totally get an awesome workout in before noon, and still have a Sunday for other things if that’s your scene. Or you can do what I do, and hang out to watch other people race and chat with folks. I’ve met a lot of strangers who turned into friends just from hanging out at bike races.

Hot tip: Talk to other women in the lineup. Look closely and you’ll see the really fast women are joking around and talking before the start. They’ve known each other for years. Race face commences just before the start, but prior to that, there’s a lot of banter. Look to your left and right, and if somebody is quiet, lean over, and admit how nervous you are and smile. Everyone is nervous and chatting and joking will help you relax. If you see a woman who is stoic and quiet, let her be. Chances are she doesn’t like talking on the line but she might throw down some Fireball whiskey and party hard after the race. Everyone is different. Me? No surprise, I like to chat, and these days a lot of my friends are faster than me, so I try to make frens with strangers.

When you pass a woman during the race, don’t just say on your left. Be encouraging!  If you have the breath to say so, grunt “Good job, lady.”

And most importantly when you make a new race friend, say “See you next week?”

Time is a Jet Plane. Sometimes it’s really hard to carve out a Saturday or Sunday to race because of the jobby job, amirite? Do you have kids? A spouse who travels for work? Take care of a parent? Are your kids competitive athletes? The list can go on and on to substantiate why you can’t find time to race. It can be expensive. Intimidating. I understand. Believe me I understand.

There is something deeply special me about dedicating the time to a race. I need something to look forward to. Something to plan for that’s just for me. I’m hopelessly devoted to the Cascade Cross series in Bellingham, so barring some disaster in my life, I’m going to be a season pass holder for life and support my local series. I used to race the other two series in Seattle regularly, but I got a little burned out with their early season schedule. September is glorious for the high alpine hiking or mountain biking, so I’ve adopted a new philosophy that helps me. If it’s a dusty, flat, grassy crit-like course, I’ll prolly stay in Bellingham and mountain bike. Or I’ll hang out with my hiking friends. If I’m coming off three weeks of non-stop work travel, I’ll go to spectate and sit out a race. If the weather forecast is looking treacherous, muddy, and cyclocross magical, I’ll consider driving down the I-5. I never miss Enumclaw and Woodland Park because I love love love those courses.

My entire weekend–and thus my work week–is shaped around being able to make these races in the fall.  I can’t sustain this pace all year, but every autumn, it’s on, y’all.

Hot tip: Do you have kids? Talk to the race ladies who have older children. Chances are they have some lesson learned that can help you, especially if you and your spouse race. I’ve seen children passed as batons between races, and I’m really impressed with how many families pull off racing. When I see the kids who go from toddlers to junior racers in a full-on family affair, I die from all the cuteness. Those Skuut Bike races are adorable defined. Most of the fast ladies I know have kids, and they will talk your ear off on how to train while having kids.

I love Race Reports: A Memoir. So what’s just as fun as racing? Talking to people after the race! Save for the races when my Mister has a mechanical or DNFs (so grouch-tastic), I love talking to him about the course and his race. All my lady and dude racer friends? Love hearing about it. My team will post race reports and I read and respond to every single one. Love it. One of the reasons I love cyclocross is the hecklers.

How was my first race you ask? Well, I crashed really hard and slid down the flyover near where the Hodala team gathered it was probably the worst–and best–place to crash–right in front of a team of drunk smartasses. Get UP, lady! They yelled. This isn’t slip-n-slide, this is cross! What are you doing? Etc. I had a lot of mud on my feet so I was having a hard time getting back up the slippery muddy ramp, so I felt like I was struggling in front of them forever. They were yelling all kinds of inappropriate things, and it was cracking me up. So, I looked at them and yelled, “SCREW YOU!” and oh my gawd did they cheer. When I came back around the next lap, they cheered me on and I overheard one of them say, “Here’s The Screw You, Lady.” Go Screw You Lady! Screw you!

To this day, I’m so glad they were too drunk to remember that nickname.

Hot tip: Everyone crashes in bike racing. It’s okay. Check your body, check your bike, and if you can, get back on it and pedal. As you race, take note of who heckles you and give it back ten fold. For years. Keep it family friendly if there are kids around and be vicious to the sandbaggers. Heckling is an art.

These are my three reasons and quite honestly, you’ll need to find your own. I can’t tell you how to live your life. I can tell you that I’ve seen racing empower women and girls and grow confidence off the course. I’ve seen women cry because they had so much fun and didn’t think they could finish a race. I’ve seen women go from Timid to Total Killer in a few years. I’m inspired by every woman who shows up to race in a sport dominated by men.

I know plenty of women who aren’t very competitive but they love racing because it’s silly and fun. You do you. And when you hear a woman talk about her love of racing, you can say “ME TOO!” to her without craving a gin & tonic when you say that phrase.

If I had to distill why I race, it’s because it’s fun comraderie with really cool people on bikes. I like a good party, Good People, and bikes—all three come together on race day.

If you’re in the area, I hope you will consider joining us on September 22, 2018 at Lake Padden for the first ever and (hopefully) annual Queens of Dirt Mountain Bike Race. I’m hoping that the fun you have on this day will get you excited about #CrossIsComing and you’ll Bring The Awesome to our local series.

All participants who register for QoD Mtb Race prior to August 15th will be entered into a raffle drawing race day for a full entry to QOD Mtb Weekend (value $350, see photo above)! The weekend is magical because we have some of the best coaches in the NW (and Asheville, NC) show up to teach their hearts out.

Here’s how you sign up. Check out our page on Bike Reg: https://www.bikereg.com/qodmtbrace

Do you want to share your Why as a bike racer? You don’t have to windbag it up like me–you can do it in a Tweet! We’d love to hear from you. Respond below, email us, post to FB and Insta using the hashtag #QoDMTBRace and tag @queensofdirt

Thanks in advance to all the Queens of Dirt race and club members, Jack’s Bicycle Center, Liv Cycling , Cascade Cross Series, Bellingham Grind Corps, The Bellingham Parks Department, & Matt Curtis (our photographer) , & Angi Weston/Radical Roots, and everybody else who is going to make this happen.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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