Some Zen thoughts from a mediocre, but content, racer:
Rico, who finished 6th at this week's Weber CX race complains of being a mediocre bike racer. The Samurai heard this complaint while floating happily on his post-race high, relishing in the fact that not only had he finished a race, but finished in the top 10(barely). Upon hearing it, he almost fell off. The Samurai began to think something like: hmmm, if Rico's mediocre, then what am I? . . . does my apparent satisfaction wtih mediocrity make me a Fred? I quickly jerked the Samurai back onto the post-race cloud and rebuked him starting down the non-Zen path. I am happy to report that the Samurai is back on the Zen path and is, once again, well-centered (while acknowledging that the Emperor likewise considered himself well-centered in his "new clothes").
Hoping not to appear so presumptuous as to think that the Samurai can guide racers, to the Zen path or that racers ought to find the Zen path, the Samurai nevertheless offers the following tips, most of which were learned and/or employed in his ever-continuing quest for well-centeredness (the definition of which is not completely known, includes "keeping it real" (whatever that means), but does not include getting down on oneself for being "mediocre"), and many of which are cliche.
Tip 1: Visualize. Visualization is a powerful tool, but only if used correctly. I suppose there is some debate as to how to correctly visualize, but let me share a couple things that work for me. On Saturday, when I lined up, I was slighty psyched out. I was surrounded by lots of fast skinny guys with pro licenses. So I did the following: I pretended I was a VW Bug (a Ford Pinto would also have been acceptable), surrounded by a Ferrari here, an Aston Martin there, a Lambo over there. I won't say who was the Ferrari, etc. because I don't want them to get a big head, or to make them feel bad by getting beat by a VW Bug . . . not that that happened. So as not to not inflate Rico's head and to pay a compliment at the same time, I imagined him as a muscle-y Mustang. Remember, I was a Bug. By visualizing in this manner, I automatically set myself up for success. On paper, as a Bug, I should have been destroyed. Had I been destroyed, it would have been ok -- I'm just a Bug. But, as it turned out, I didn't get destroyed and rode relatively ok. And for a Bug, my performance could have been construed as pretty good, even though I didn't even come close to winning. It was a total win-win situation.
One might ask, Isn't it better to visualize oneself as an Aston Martin? To that, my response is threefold. First, neither I nor you are an Aston Martin. Second, if one thinks as oneself as an Aston Martin, he/she is cocky and deserves to get beaten by a Bug. Third, even if you are Sven, you can't always perform like an Aston Martin should; therefore you set yourself up for disappointment, i.e. non-well-centeredness. As they say, better safe than sorry.
Tip 2: Set Realistic Goals. If you want to be well-centered, the operative word here is "realistic." I've told one of my training buddies that one of my goals this season is to not get lapped by him. In fact, although it goes against principles of well-centeredness, if it ever appears that I'm going to get lapped by him, I will pull out of the race, crash myself, fake a mechanical, or yell "damn you" before getting passed. As you can see, this goal motivates me. That is key. Your goals must not only be realistic, they must stretch you. Ideally, as you hit each of your goals, they should grow loftier. One day, you might find it both natural and realistic to actually set a goal to win. Until then, there's nothing you can do but try and have fun.
Tip 3: Be the Race. Allow me to wax philosophical. The Race is a living, moving, breathing thing. There are the off-cambered turns, the barriers, the wind, the crowds, the cowbells, Gardie and Bruce, the racers (some of whom are Pintos and others of whom are not), the gaps, the chases. As zen masters say, it's best not to work against it, but to work with it. Submit to it and become one with it. As the race evolves, you must adapt. To think a race is simply to be won or lost is dualistic, over-simplistic, and not zen. So long as you have "become" the race, there won't be anything to mope about. Starting to get weird, so enough about that . . .
Tip 4: Pack Your Suitcase of Knowledge. I find that if I am getting schooled, I'm more well-centered if I focus on what I can learn, rather than on what I don't know. If you allow yourself to be awed, no matter what happens, you'll come out ahead because you will have a new tool in your suitcase of knowledge, or, at least, something new to aspire too. In thinking about the race, I was awed at least three times. The first time was during warmup when Bart opened up a fat gap by jumping the horse jump -- a high log stack meant to be jumped during a horse race, not a bike race. The second time was when Mitchell hopped back into the race after a mechanical and promptly threw down, making me and Alex look like we were going backwards. His attack was so cool (and effective) -- right through the spectator section -- that I tried to mimic that same attack on the last few laps. I'll file that one away in the "All Out Attack" file. The third time was when me and Bryce Young, a single-speeder, got locked up in a back and forth battle. I attacked him -- Mitchell-style -- no less than five times in my 44x12, and I couldn't drop him in his 39x17. He was spinning more than 140 rpm. I guess spinning can be effective.
And that's all I have to say about that.