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Knowing When to Let Go of a Sports Goal

athletic injury character strengths health goals pain free athlete racing self-compassion the pain free athlete Jun 17, 2014

Balloon Letting go is hard. In my experience, it is much more difficult to coach someone to postpone participation in an event than to continue ahead with strenuous training. I've also struggled with this personally. Consider this . . .

July 15, 2011 - It is the day before cross-country NORBA nationals in Sun Valley (SV), ID. I am registered for the single speed (SS) open category women's race. However, during my pre-ride of the course yesterday, I lost my balance on a narrow uphill section. As a result, I fell down the side of the mountain and slid about 75' below the trail on my back. This slide caused many scrapes on my elbow, outer thigh, face, and shoulder, and the worst is my lower back, which took the impact of the fall. The cuts sting and throb. It is difficult to find a comfortable position. And, my right lower back is extremely tight and painful. Bending over or twisting to the side is excruciating.

Now I have to think. Should I race? This is the question that needs an answer TODAY. Despite my pain and incapacity, I have paid $120 to participate. Also, I renewed my NORBA license ($70) for the first time in five years for this opportunity. For months, I dedicated myself to training for the event. And this was to be the start of my comeback. I'm already here at my home in Hailey, ID, which is only 10 miles from the venue, because I've been evacuated from my permanent residence in Los Alamos, NM due to wildfire. So, this event will be fun, and it will also give me a gauge of my fitness. Another factor is that I have never raced with more than a couple of women in my field, and the best in the country will be at the event.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't. One reason is that it will be very painful. I'm not able to lift my leg over my saddle without wincing, and I haven't even been able to get into position to pedal. Yes, mountain bike racing is supposed to hurt, but to this degree? As a result, my riding will be tentative. Instead of giving it my all, I will be overly cautious on the course, feeling my fresh wounds and not wanting to take another fall on them.

Also, I could exacerbate my hip injury that I have diligently worked for the last four years to repair. Right lower back pain is what brought my career to a halt several years ago. I know my hips and pelvis are out of alignment because of the crash. Is it really a good idea to repeatedly push one challenging gear around a course with over 2500' of climbing? Because I'll be riding single-speed, I’ll have to dismount and remount my bike many times, which is a currently difficult and painful maneuver. Finally, I’ll be standing on the pedals and pushing and pulling with every aching muscle in my body just to keep the wheels turning.

But I really don't want a “did not start” (DNS) next to my name on the results. I've told people I'm racing. Thus, I'd feel like I was letting them down, and I don't want to explain why I didn't participate. It's such a hard decision. The battle rages between emotions and logic . . .

My goal was to successfully participate in Nationals. I didn't have a goal about finishing place or time. This goal compelled me to buy a new bike, begin structured training again and compete in a couple local races, both of which I enjoyed and finished well. Goals provide motivation and direction. Unfortunately, circumstances prevented me from reaching my goal as I chose not to race that day. However, the path to my goal had enhanced my fitness, had built my confidence and had given me reason to purchase a new two-wheeled toy--which always increases the fun factor on the trails. Although I came up short of my goal, I benefited in many ways just by setting it. You probably won't reach all of your goals in sports or life, but you will be better off for striving towards them and pushing yourself beyond your current status quo. 

As an athlete, giving up on a race feels like failure. How do you know when not participating is the right decision? Since my hip/back injury, this question has become easier. A race is not worth it if it jeopardizes my body. Why do I want to risk more pain, endure more rehab and take more time off my bike and enjoyment of other sports just for one race? It doesn't make any sense. All the rationalizing in the world about money spent, people disappointed, training wasted (and on and on) will not make it okay. You are the one who is most disappointed, frustrated and upset. Do the people close to you really want you to compete in pain and risk further injury? 

As my husband likes to remind me, the race will be there next year. And he's right, most events happen annually. No, Nationals will not be in SV every year, but the race will carry on throughout the country somewhere. If I don't have a healthy body, I won't be riding my bike at all.

On race day I was on the sidelines and felt good about my choice. Soon after, I was back on my bike, cruising the trails.

Remember why you race. And if you don't know why you go to the start line, check out my blog: Are you racing out of fear? to help determine your reasons. Racing is not an obligation but a choice you make. It should be a positive experience physically, mentally and emotionally. If not, why bother?

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