Dirt Rag Magazine

Knowledge through suffering

The complete women’s field at the Trans-Sylvania Epic. Looney is at far-right.

By Sonya Looney

Transylvania Epic. It ended only 3 days ago. In some ways, it feels like it’s been weeks since I said a heartfelt goodbye to our crew at Boyscout Basecamp and in other ways, I feel the pain like the swollen lump on my leg with every footstep as a reminder of the joy and the suffering.

My goals going into TSE were to get experience riding on the East Coast and get a boost for the Bailey Hundo from a week of solid training. I tried not to have any expectations, but it’s hard when you’re a pro who normally finishes on podiums, the media is forecasting a top three finish for you and while you know you are capable of that kind of result, you know that in that moment you will not be racing at your full potential. I knew I’d be heading into the heart of Trans-Sylvania with some fatigue due to the intense race weeks leading up to it. The problem was that I didn’t think the fatigue would be a giant monster digging its claws into my body at every pedal stroke.

All week, I found myself struggling at what I’m good at – climbing, and ironically redeeming myself on all the technical terrain that I thought would give me trouble. The race definitely boasted an adventurous tour of what the area around State College, Pa., had to offer and I was not let down. Aide stations were well-manned and nicely stocked and the promoters put on a fun, organized and memorable show!

I could sit here all night and write a play by play of how every stage went and write a laundry list of excuses as to why I finished a sub-par 6th place, but that’s not how I want to record the 2011 Trans-Sylvania Epic in my ever growing memory bank of remarkable mountain bike adventures.

Instead, I want to talk about the positive things I’m taking away from the event. Sometimes when I am racing I ask myself, “Why the heck do I do this to myself?“ Racing can be a truly exhilarating experience where you feel like a rock star on your bike, you’re winning, and you’re on top of the world. Alternatively, it can be disheartening and torturous – both to the soul and to the body. While I love kicking ass at things (who doesn’t?), I find that I learn the most when I’m not doing so well. It’s important to be humbled and to be able to work through issues.

I race my bike because it makes me a better person.

Issues like getting lost during a race, when my legs feel like crap and I watch everyone ride away from me and cycling news accurately reports that I was the first to “pop”, when it’s 98 degrees and humid and I feel like I’m melting into a puddle, when I can’t clear a rocky section of trail… it’s all very frustrating but it teaches me patience, acceptance of the present moment, the power to be positive when I really just want to have a negative attitude and throw a raging pity party, the confidence to know that I can be better and that I don’t suck, the optimism that things will get better, and appreciation for my competitors. Knowing how to deal with these struggles makes me a better person in my life.

I’m not sorry I got 6th place because each time I struggle, I learn more about myself and usually take another step in the direction to be the kind of person I really want to be. If everything is always peachy, you don’t know how to deal with glitches and problems because you never have to. A lot of people are very competitive (especially ones who do well in racing) and we can be very hard on ourselves when things are not going to spec. It’s been a hard lesson over the years to learn to “forgive” myself and to not be so hard on myself, but I’m getting better. If I am having a bad day on the bike, I force myself to focus on other things, like how lucky I am to be riding my bike on a fun trail, or the beautiful green trees, or the flowers and animals along the trail. When I can focus on other things, it turns a negative feeling into a positive and fun day. As I said on my blog recently– thoughts create feelings, so why not create positive thoughts?

Another thing I’m taking away from TSE is all the great people I met, or people I got to know better. Stage racing is very special because you get to spend several days with a small group of people. You get to see people with their hair all messed up, sleep in their eyes dragging ass to breakfast to seeing them coming across the finish line in a very special moment of achievement. There’s a special bond you share with everyone who goes through the same scope of emotion and experiences that you simply can’t get from a one day race, and that will never be exactly the same in another scenario.

I had a great time at Trans-Sylvania and I hope to come back in the future to dance with Dracula.

More from TSE: Read all our racers’ exclusive dispatches from the race.

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