This past weekend, Kona Endurance Team rider Spencer Paxson was in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic to compete in the opening round of the UCI Cross Country World Cup. Spencer notched his best World Cup performance to-date, starting in 98th position and finishing as the 3rd American and 65th out of 149 starters. Below Spencer expounds upon the multiple perspectives of what it’s like to perform within the top 43% of the fastest XC racing in the world.
What’s involved in finishing on the lead lap in a World Cup XC race in 2015? Something like this… The last time you raced here (2012) you got pulled with two laps to go and didn’t even crack the 100s. This time you blast off the starting line at over 30 miles per hour amidst a pack of 150 snarling, spandex-clad bike racers and into 6 laps on a 2.5 mile course, adding up to 15.4mi and 3,700’ elevation gain, with your heart beating within 10% of its maximum the whole time. The whole field goes careening into the woods, mud everywhere, across jagged rocks and wet roots, up climbs exceeding 20% grades, down drop-offs and jumps, with 20,000 fans screaming in your face, making the woods sound like a battle scene out of Braveheart. You burn up 1,600 calories, or over 900 calories per hour, power output normalized to over 5 watts per kilogram for one hour and forty-five minutes. Amidst churning out the biggest effort your legs and lungs can muster, you’re busy passing at least 50 racers from the back of the pack, and the higher you move up, the faster things get. The day is going well! Meanwhile, the “fastest guy in the world” is kicking your ass by about a 5-6% margin. You ride from 115th on the start loop to finish 65th.
A personal best World Cup performance in terms of placing, lap times, time down from leader, etc. In the grand scheme of bicycle racing, finishing solidly within the top 50% at the highest level of the XC racing on the planet is pretty nifty… But in the applicable context of World Cup racing, there is some work to be done.
#DoYouEvenEnduroBro #HuckingIsTheNewXC #TallSeatTalent #KonaBikes #Pinned
Sunday’s experience was very satisfying at a core personal level. It wasn’t a medal, it wasn’t a podium, it wasn’t even a top-10. But it was a good race, and the best I had done in Europe so far. After this I’ll only be hungry for more, but for now, it was a healthy dose of how great and fulfilling this whole pursuit can be. Putting together a good ride in Europe, much less having the opportunity to compete in some of the great sporting events of the world, always feels good. According to the physiologist Vladimir Issurin, the single overall objective of competitive sport is “attaining excellence in a selected sport.” While that may be true, I believe there is an aim beyond the sport itself. I think it has something to do with “attaining excellence in living”. After all, hasn’t it been said that sport is great because it is a proxy for real life, but better? And moreover, there is more to life than sport, not the other way around!
The last time I was in Europe in 2012, I was what I like to call “wrapped around the axle”. Sometimes we athletes get wrapped around the axle as we become myopic about our situation and morph the “pursuit of excellence” into “pursuit of perfection”. The same may be said for anything that we care about doing well at; sports, jobs, relationships. In the ever-advancing world of advanced training processes, measuring this and that, posting this and that, it’s easy to fall into a reductionist approach to achieving perfection ergo excellence. It’s easy to become obsessed with theoretical perfection. But as the 18th century thinker Edmund Burke reminds us, “be wary of over-reliance on pursuing theoretical perfection. The accompanying principles can take you to the extreme, because you pursue the vindication of those principles and cannot stop short of total success.” That sounds like a recipe for not being able to enjoy the things that can make life so good. In other words, don’t get too wrapped around the axle, otherwise it might be harder to accept a good thing even if it’s right there in front of you. Like Mick Jagger says:
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you might find
You get what you need
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