The time a mountain bike was my greatest teacher

by Katie on June 26, 2014

Last year Jeff and I completed our first triathlon. We participated with an awesome organization called Team in Training, while raising money for cancer research. In return they provided extensive training, coaching and community, which was essential for us newbies.

Triathlons–as the name suggests–involve three different sports, and are extremely gear heavy. Between the swimming, biking, and running, there are a ton of supplies involved. Since we were triathlon novices starting out, we basically had to start from scratch and buy a bunch of new gear. Especially in the biking department.

Growing up in Southern California, my experience with “cycling” was on a Beach Cruiser in flip-flops, most likely with a horn and basket. Not exactly the kind of bike you want for a triathlon. Jeff on the other hand grew up riding mountain bikes.

Road bikes are the norm for most triathlons, but they can be very pricey. Luckily for us Jeff’s parents still had their old mountain bikes on hand, and they were gracious enough to let us use them for our race. Jeff had his old bike from childhood, and I rode his Mom’s bike. We were very grateful to have these hand me downs. It meant we didn’t have to invest in bikes we may not use after the race. We assumed that most people on our team would have road bikes, but we didn’t really think it’d be a big deal.

That was before we arrived at our first team practice. We show up, look around, and notice that everyone is decked out with slick road bikes, fancy bike shoes, and bike outfits.

Here we are with our second hand bikes, regular running shoes, and generic workout gear. Feeling totally out of place.

Deep breathe…this was going to be interesting.

At first people thought we were crazy – “You’re going to do the race on mountain bikes??” they asked with good intention, “But they are so much heavier, and so slow!”.

We would just smile and nod. In fact, we didn’t really know how heavy our bikes were. We didn’t have experience on road bikes, so we didn’t know the difference. It wasn’t until people started telling us how hard it was, kept telling us how bad it was, that we (almost) started to believe them.

Sometimes you have to block out the noise and keep peddling.

Riding up the steep hills was challenging for sure, but it seemed challenging for everybody. Were we really at that much of a disadvantage? For us, we were just glad to be participating.

Jeff and Katie with their mountain bikes

As the training progressed, my mountain bike taught me a huge lesson in letting go of my ego. I had to be okay with sticking out, with not conforming to the norm. I had to accept being slower than the others.

I didn’t always succeed at this.

There were many days when I was embarrassed about our situation, wishing we could be more normal and fit in with the team. Not stand out so much. There were times I was so frustrated as people whizzed by me on their super fast road bikes, going much faster than me. I wanted to just blend in.

But it made us work that much harder. And by the end of training, our teammates took notice. They saw us keeping up with them, climbing steep hills and completing very demanding routes. Working our butts off.

They still thought we were crazy, but they respected our determination and hard work. They were amazed at how good we were doing.

By race day we were ready. We both had an awesome race. We had trained hard and prepared, and were super happy with the results. We could have shaved time off with road bikes, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to commit to something, work hard, and finish. And also to raise money for an amazing cause. And we did it on 15-year-old mountain bikes.

A couple weeks after our race, we decided to finally purchase road bikes. By that time we knew we loved cycling and wanted to continue doing it, so it made sense to make the investment. And we learned that road bikes really are much lighter and faster, and better suited for road cycling. And we can’t wait to do another triathlon with them. But we will always remember the time with did the Wildflower Triathlon on mountain bikes. A badge of honor we wear proudly. We learned so much about endurance and strength. But more importantly about acceptance, and humble self-confidence.

It’s normal to want to fit in with the crowd. But sometimes whether by choice or not, we have to stand in our uniqueness. Stop fighting it, and learn to accept and celebrate our difference. We don’t always have to be like everybody else. There is a lot of courage and freedom in that.

Sometimes “crazy” is just what we need to be.

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