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Slow and Steady makes a New Racer

The following post was written by Youran Wu, who joined Live Love Velo in 2014. Youran spent a season as part of the Live Love Velo club, getting to know the other women in the organization and attending clinics and group rides. Then, encouraged by mentors who recognized her potential, Youran decided to try racing in the spring of 2015. Youran wasn’t bitten by the “racing bug” that gets many new racers. Instead, her appreciation of racing grew gradually. Sadly for us, now that Youran is feeling competent as a new racer, she is heading home to China. We all feel very lucky to have had Youran as a friend and teammate these past two years. Youran, we wish you much luck as you begin the next chapter in your life! And now, Youran’s account of her development as a new racer:

This article is meant to present my short, but honest experience in bike racing; despite being different from others, I hope my reflections will help some women who find themselves “lost” in their initial few races.

I bought my first road bike in 2013. I had been practicing Taekwondo for a few years, but I’d started to notice that my brain’s safety mechanism would shut down all motor skills when facing technical challenges; for example, I would run towards shoulder height obstacles but suddenly forget how to jump at the last millisecond. Perhaps I sensed I was getting too old for this. So, I was in the market for a new hobby that would bring me joy and for which I could develop proficiency within a few years. I picked cycling because of a particular person in my life at the time, but I continued cycling because it gives me a healthy dose of distraction from school, cognitive clarity, and competitiveness.

Somehow, I found myself on the starting line of the Woodstock Women’s Grand Prix this spring, with my teammate Melanie Chiu. It was not a cold day, but I was practically shivering, most likely from being overly nervous. My mind kept compiling algorithms to calculate how this race would end for me, but all of them were subsequently rejected because of too many variables and too little experience. As my first race, I didn’t know if I would be dropped within 5 miles, have a flat, have to walk the hills, be involved in a crash, or be exhausted before the finish line. However, I remembered reading posts from other teammates and women racers, who reported having eureka moments after suffering through their first race. “If it’s bound to happen, I hope it does before that 2-mile climb!,” I told myself when the pack was passing the neutral zone. But it never did. It didn’t come to me when I was nervously riding in the pack; it didn’t come when I had to walk the hill; it didn’t come when I saw the Tibetan monastery at the apex of the climb; it didn’t come when I was enjoying the post-ride sandwich. I certainly have a lot of good things to say about the race, mainly towards the organizers and our local host family, rather than something intrinsic to the race itself. This is not how I was supposed to feel. What is wrong with me? Maybe, maybe I am just not a racer.

I decided I should give racing a try a few more times before making any definitive conclusion.

So, a month later, I was shivering again, this time in the central park, most likely from the temperature. It was 5:45am, and I could hardly see the team name on everyone else’s jersey, but I was much more relaxed than the last time. I knew I probably wouldn’t be dropped after 5 miles, get a flat, have to walk up the Central Park hill, get disqualified, or be entirely exhausted. And none of these did happen. But neither did the eureka moment I had been longing for. I remember the hard effort chasing the attacks, while the ice-cold air ran down the back of my nasal cavity, then drop straight to the lung; I remember not being let on someone’s wheel, before I realized this is a races not a group ride. On the other hand, I also remember chatting with new friends with similar minds. However, none of these mattered too much. I clearly did not enjoy any of the pain, while it was happening or after it had happened. This does not make sense, why am I not grasping the excitement and the joy that I’ve heard so much about? Or maybe, I am really not meant to race.

After another couple of races in Central Park, I considered the possibility that I am not a racer like my teammates. Still, I kept racing because the races are making me a much more skilled rider.

Soon came the Kreb Cycle Friday Night Series, right here on Long Island. The afternoon sun and familiar faces made the race much more comforting. Out of the two races I’ve been to, the pace was more or less comparable to the Central Park races, but the attacks were less fierce, and riders were friendlier. I was able to formulate proximal tactics to the dynamics of the race, and was let on wheels by the riders behind me when I showed intention. During the second race, there was even a strategized team effort aiming for the prime. While neither the prime nor the podium was within reach for me, I had my eureka moment! It hit me like a train when I was totally not expecting. I cannot pinpoint exactly when I felt that I’d achieved a basic proficiency as a racer, but now I am confident that it’s a skill I have acquired. I am certain that I want to do more and do better. While I may not love all aspects of racing, as some of my teammates do, I certainly enjoy parts of it.

Looking back at the limited races I have done so far, it seems for people like me, racing is much less enjoyable when it is all about survival; however, it’s important to not get discouraged and quit before giving it some more attempts. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and during a race, being stronger means being more in control, which causes much less mental discomfort than merely trying to hang on. So to every new racer who felt like they do not belong in the peloton, I want to say, you will get stronger, and it will get better!

Women's Woodstock Cycling Grand Prix

Youran, left, with teammates Karen (center) and Melanie.

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