I spent a lot of time training when I was racing the Enduro World Series. I realize now that it was the thing I loved most about the sport. I tended to crumble on race days and in practice and I found myself consumed with negativity and fear at events – I was a pro at getting in my own way, and it showed in my results. But training every day…now that was something I could process. Weekly training programs around work and real life gave me the focus I needed to stay happy and the purpose I needed to deal with everyday life.
Duncan Philpott photo from EWS #1 in Corral, Chile, March 2016. It's been a while since I survived my last proper season of racing.
Fast forward from my last successful EWS race in 2016 (almost two years ago!) to today: now that I’m not racing and I have a real job that requires more than 40 hours of work every week, who am I? I am fortunate to live in a community that values athleticism and achievements, but the flip side of that is that I struggle to have a lot to say about myself in conversations if my life isn’t entrenched in trying to be awesome at sport all the time. Turns out, real life is actually really boring if you’re not focused on trying really hard at something.
Trying really hard at this climb in Burns Lake, BC for Robin O’Neill’s camera.
My philosophy has changed since I raced. Like, a lot, and because it had to. Most athletes will tell you how hard it is to transition from high performance sport to real life, and it’s completely true. It’s kind of like part of you dies. It’s amazing how humbling it is to go from constant self-improvement as an athlete when you’re training full time to just being average at the sport you’ve been honing for years…suddenly, you’re just like everyone else. I think it’s largely why a lot of pro athletes switch to another sport to do at a high level once they retire – the narrative of being the best at something is really hard to let go of. Who doesn’t want to be among the best in the world? And once you are, why would you ever want to be anything less than that?
Britt Phelan (in front) pushes me and teaches me every time we ride together. This photo was taken in Smithers, BC last year. Britt has since won a silver medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics and was 3rd in the World in Ski Cross this year, so she’s at a different stage of her sport than I am (and than most people in the world, including me, ever will be). She and I are similar in that we will always want to work hard at something for the rest of our lives to stay happy.
This winter, I spent about 6 weeks in Santa Cruz with the ol’ ball and chain and quite a bit of time training at the Crossfit gym down the street. While training with Monika Marx at Marx Conditioning for these past few years gave me the structure and discipline I needed to overcome a gnarly injury and build a base for racing at the elite level, I finished the end of last season feeling really flat. I got back into training at Crossfit in Whistler in the fall – it was something that I loved to do before I focused on racing enduro, and I missed the high intensity efforts with weight and the community that comes from spending time at a great facility like Opus Athletics. Even though I was in sunny California for all of December, I really got excited about focusing my energy off the bike at the gym. It was cool to have something new to get better at and I needed a change of pace after another busy summer on my bike.
Just another regular day of being crushed by the Average Joes of Whistler, BC.
As I’ve treaded the waters of offering up “I don’t race anymore” in casual conversation and explaining why I came to that decision, I’ve had to come to terms with the death of the ‘elite athlete’ who was Sarah. I’ve started to learn from the qualities in people I admire while remaining focused on being an interesting, relevant and engaged human being without hanging my hat on the story of “racing” or “being pro” (whatever that means as a woman, especially). This is especially interesting when you consider the dopamine response loop that is social media. Quite frankly, I now find the notion of brag-booking or “look at me!” type conversations on social really tough to genuinely take seriously – most of it just isn’t even real.
Hiding from the 90km/h wind gusts on Cronin Pass, BC, just outside of Smithers. I have had more fun enduring type 2 days like this than I ever did with a race plate on my bike.
The vast majority of people in my community could be elite athletes if they wanted to, but they just don’t. Like most mountain or outdoor-focused towns, Whistler locals live out their normal lives having kids, jobs, families, dogs…whatever. These quiet crushers are faster than me, and faster than a lot of athletes who get paid to ride their bikes, but you’ll never hear about them on Instagram or Pinkbike. I’ve found out the hard way on several rides that weren’t about training, as several of these individuals have systematically ripped my legs off and humbled me on trails I’ve been riding for years. My trips to Crossfit in Whistler are no different.
I arranged an entire trip to Northern BC in August of 2017 specifically to find this corner and re-shoot it. I have an old, out of focus image of this same section of trail in Burns Lake from 7 years ago, but this one means more to me than the old one ever did. It took a lot to get here – as a mountain biker and as a human.
That’s the person I’ve decided to become, now that racing Sarah is officially gone (no one who knows me is sad about that, trust me). Sure, there are still interesting, genuine stories to tell from the trails that I plan to examine, but I am embracing the philosophy of being above average (which is surprisingly difficult!). Instead of being the ‘sponsored rider’ who races around the world and trains at the Olympic Training Facility for hours and hours and hours alone every day, I am someone else. I’m the disorganized, often tired, kind of broken from old injuries lady who tries real hard at the sports she loves and trains to keep up with her well-above-average buddies from a mountain town. I also have a job that I really love and I have really cool experiences to share about the places I’ve been and the things I’ve learned along the way. Turns out that’s something too.
Britt and me on Cronin Pass.