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Yes, you are…
By Tom Demerly.

There are only two types of human contest: Racing and warfare.

Every conflict between men is either a subset or amalgam of those two.

In the United States this Memorial Day Holiday we commemorate those who gave their lives in the most grave of human competitions, warfare. We celebrate their contributions and sacrifices with the most noble of human competitions; racing.

From Charlotte, North Carolina to Indianapolis to the gilded coast of Monaco and at every local 5K and 10K, mini triathlon, bicycle race and diaper dash the world will engage in contests of speed. If you are on this website reading this you are among the ranks of the noble.

You may be doing the grueling DeSoto Triple T stage race triathlon in Ohio- a race longer than Ironman on difficult roads in unstable weather. You may be racing at the Priority Health Tour de Leelanau, a 109.5 mile bicycle road race through Michigan’s wine country. Or, like me, you may be putting the final touches on racing fitness for one of the many events a week or two away in a busy race season. You may also be dealing with the nerves and doubts of confronting your very first trip to a start line. You may be doing any one of those things or some different version of them, but one thing for sure:

You are A Racer.

Standing here in the bike shop I hear some version of this every day: “I am not trying to win… I am not a racer.” You are lying.

Stop lying people. There is some kind of victory out there and you are chasing it. It may not be getting to the finish line first. It is likely something more subtle, something more personal- but you are racing and in that very personal sense you are most definitely a racer. Have the chutzpah to own up to it. Despite your bashful excuses, your self deprecating banter, you are a racer. Give yourself the credit and hold your head high.

I understand why you tell yourself that you are not trying to win, that you are just there casually participating with no regard for the outcome. There is a social taboo against excessive chest pounding and boasting. More significantly, if we build ourselves up even a little we risk the nasty aftertaste of humiliation from a less than splendid performance. So you (and I…) play it safe and lie that you are not a racer. This being the case, when you do cross that finish arch and stop the clock I doubt you shrug off that finisher’s medal or give away that hard fought T-shirt. No, you keep that stuff. You earned it. You won it. You are A Racer. When you cross the line, however sheepishly, you stop the clock. You look at the results on-line Monday morning. Don’t lie. You do it, I do it.

Welcome on board… racer. You wouldn’t have toed the line if you didn’t want to be measured- if you didn’t fancy yourself somehow measuring up. The absolute toughest part of any racing is getting to the start line. If you have done that or are preparing to do that you earned and own the title: Racer. Take ownership of it.

The great cycling journalist Maynard Hershon referred to joining the ranks of the racing community as “drawing a warm blanket around our shoulders”. It’s a comforting metaphor for an often brutish pursuit with a sometimes blurry line between sport and war. People die racing, even in our sport. Another reason we sometimes lie to ourselves that we aren’t racers is because the fraternity of racing sports is a rough and tumble one. Racing is hard. It’s filled with physical pain, emotional anguish, behind-the-back trash talk and fragile, inflamed egos. Perhaps if we lie that we aren’t racers it somehow doesn’t hurt as much or we can avoid all the drama. So, at the 20 mile mark of the run in your first Ironman tell yourself you aren’t a racer and see if it makes your knees hurt any less. Nope. You’re lying. It’s beastly hard and by God, you my friend most certainly are A Racer. Your knees will tell you so- you can’t lie to them.

While you are recoiling from nasty thoughts of appearing foolish in your first triathlon or seeing your kneecaps pop out of your legs during the run of your first Ironman I will remind you of another reason to call yourself A Racer.

Racing is as beautiful as warfare is ugly.

Over the Memorial Day weekend one of the most beautiful and opulent rituals of racing will take place, and as Racers we should identify with its practitioners. The Monaco Grand Prix is this Sunday. Even if you are estranged from auto racing I urge you to get up early on Sunday morning, make yourself a café aulait, put some rakish sunglasses on your forehead and watch Monaco. I dare you to turn it off. Monaco is the absolute epitome of human racing. There is the intellect that goes into the technology, the daring and skill of the drivers, the break-neck risk of speed and the pulse-pounding drama of competition all overshadowed by the looming specter of calamity. And, I want you to look at the men who contest Monaco. Not one of these men will make excuses or tell you he is not A Racer. They wear the title with the swagger and dashing bravado of a knight. Sponsors pay millions for a spot on their collar or their wrist because of this. It isn’t because of winning; it is more because of trying to win. The hoopla that surrounds these men is because they have the courage to say “I am A Racer”.

We should all be so brave.

I guarantee you that despite appearances these women and men racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, The Monaco Formula 1 course and all over the world are susceptible to the same doubts and frailties as you and I. They get nervous, they get scared, they worry and they have doubts. We seldom see them on the face of a Formula 1 driver who cuts a dashing figure with supermodels on his arm and royalty queuing up for a handshake with him. We don’t see nervous tension in the eyes of Danica Patrick when waiting for the flag to fall at Indy. We see composure, intensity and competence tempered with caution and respect. In short, we see “cool”.

Perhaps that is another reason we aspire to join the ranks of racers, despite what we may outwardly tell others. We all want to be that cool.

Now that we’ve cleared up just exactly who we are we can move on to what it is we do as racers.

We race.

Obvious as that seems it excludes a long list of things we are inseparably attached to as humans. As humans we fear. We fear loss, injury, embarrassment, pain. We even fear the sensation of fear. Note that while racers are decidedly human they seldom give even the shortest notion to fear. Instead they are most occupied with getting on with the task of racing. Look at those drivers at Monaco. Do any of them look afraid? The speed limit on the roads through Monaco is about 25 M.P.H. These men transit the course at an average speed of over 100 M.P.H. Curiously; there is not the slightest hint of fear in their demeanor. I suggest that one of them is that once you accept you are A Racer you tend to focus on exactly what it is you are doing: Racing. Occupied as such you find you have less time for fear and anxiety. If you focus on what you are doing and how well you can do it, you won’t have time to be afraid. It’s another good reason to take ownership of the title: Racer.

If you own up to being a racer, I think you’ll find your racing becomes somehow easier, more natural, less tense. Once you realize you do belong at the party you feel a good bit more like a debutant and a good bit less like a wallflower.

So, don’t try to tell me you aren’t A Racer. You wouldn’t be on this page if you weren’t. You would be on a golf, home improvement or knitting website. You would be on a web page with pictures of pretty kittens but you wouldn’t be on a website with discussions of how many grams an aerodynamic helmet weighs or how a new carbon fiber frame will benefit you on your next ride.

Take ownership of who you are, Racer, and this weekend as we remember the terrible sacrifices of the most repellant of human contests also take some time to revel in the most beautiful of human contests, The Race.



© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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