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Racing with a Growth Mindset: Q&A with Lydia Tanner

Updated: Dec 5, 2019

Lydia was an up and coming mountain bike racer, cutting her teeth on some of the toughest courses in Europe when she decided to take a step back from racing. After a 6 year hiatus, Lydia decided she was ready to give it another go, but this time on her terms. In this episode Lydia and I discuss unsustainable motivation, finding your 'why', training with a curious, humble mind, and racing with a growth mindset. We also talked about some of the common reasons people train and race, and how that might be helping or hindering their performance.


Takeaways:

  • "the third one, practice, which I think is the only sustainable one and that's when you start doing a sport for the process of it. And kind of with a humble and curious mind."

  • "And that blew my mind. I was like, "you can just not do it if it doesn't feel good, you don't have to like force yourself to do it?!" And so that literally shifted my whole mind into working with my body instead of punishing it for not being what I wanted it to be."

  • "it's okay because I'm being true to my process and if that's what happens, then I learned something."




Dave:

You and I, we've known each other for a little while now, and I feel like we've had some pretty good conversations over that time. Part of my interest in talking to you is that you've been in and around the sport of cycling for quite awhile, both as an athlete and then also as a journalist. For those people that don't know you, will you tell us a little bit about your history in the industry?

Lydia:

I started racing bikes when I was, I guess 15. I was a ski racer and I blew out my knee two years in a row and I ended up riding a stationary bike a lot for rehab. My PT at the time was Anne Trombley and she ended up becoming my coach. She took me around to my first race and I got something lodged in my derailer and it was super muddy out, and I was out there for like four hours, she had to come find me. I was like, "Oh yeah, like this!". And for some reason I kept bike racing. I've been doing it for almost 18 years now, which seems like a really long time, but it doesn't feel that way.

I was racing collegiately and then on a grassroots team, but at a pretty high level. I got the opportunity to go over to Europe with the national team a couple times and did som really terrifying races in Switzerland and Germany. I used to call it Euro-spankings because every race was like the scariest race ever, but I learned a lot, and it was an amazing experience. Then I got to go to world championships in 2010 as a youth 23 and pretty promptly after that, quit.

Dave:

What was it that kind of brought that to an end? At that time?

Lydia:

Man, looking back I feel like my motivations were not sustainable and I was also in a very unhealthy place, both physically and mentally. So I think that happens to a lot of young athletes as they're making that transition. You have a lot of different moving pieces in your life at that point. It's really hard to balance everything because you can't see the big picture yet. I wish I could have been like, "just hold out for like another two years". But it's hard, there's a lot that feels really dramatic at the time. And, it was too much for me so I took a step back.

Dave:

So what did you do in that time? I know you do some rock climbing, did you just do anything but bikes?

Lydia:

Basically, yeah. I was at school in Montana at the time and I was lucky to have a group of friends that were really into Alpine climbing. So I got into ice climbing and from there into rock climbing and ski mountaineering and basically just learned a whole different frame of reference for endurance sports in the mountains. It was really awesome because those sports are hyper non-competitive, at least in my experience because if you get too competitive, they get dangerous, right? So you never want to be making a decision in the mountains based on trying to beat somebody else because you're gonna make a bad decision and die. Right? So there's this culture of global awareness of what you're doing out there. And I think that kind of put the whole bike world in perspective for me, I was like, "okay, this is just something we do because everything that's serious about it is in our own minds. It's stuff that we can always control.

Dave:

You mentioned that part of it was that your motivations for racing were wrong. What were those motivations at the time?

Lydia:

I've been thinking about it a lot this year because I've gotten back into racing in the last year or so. I've been really trying to soul search and make sure that the reasons I'm doing it are sustainable. I think there's lots of reasons people race, right? Like there's; hate, hedonism, and practice. Those are my three things. And if you're racing out of hate, it's because you don't like yourself or you don't like other people or you're angry about something. And that's a really great motivation because it's really easy to hurt yourself and do an endurance sport if you're mad. I think that was part of my motivation when I was younger just because you're going through adolescence, your body's changing, you're not sure what's going on and it's really easy to just go out and hammer yourself because that makes sense.


I think ultimately, that's not sustainable. You don't see old people out there just hammering and being like super angry. So that's one reason, and then there's another one, and I like the word hedonism because I like alliteration, but I don't know if it quite works with what I'm trying to say. I mean, hedonism is like self-indulgence, and I think really this reason is more to do with external validation. I think a lot of people race because it looks cool or it makes them feel good or people tell them they're good at it. Or, they're trying to impress someone or prove something and that's not sustainable either because if you have a bad day or people stop paying attention to you, then why are you doing it?


Then there is the third one, practice, which I think is the only sustainable one and that's when you start doing a sport for the process of it. And kind of with a humble and curious mind. Like, "I'm gonna see if I do this, what happens to me", and you have to go into it knowing that if you try something it might not work. But that's good because you learn something too. Right. So that's how I have gone into this last season. Over the last six years that I took off a bike racing, I got a full-time job, I lived in my car for a while, I've gained a bunch of weight, I've lost a bunch of weight, I've gained back and lost it, and I've done a bunch of different other sports. I've really gotten a sense of the rhythm of my life and my body and where I'm at, where I'm good. I established a really good baseline and I wanted to make sure that if I went back into racing, I didn't lose track of that. So part of it was that sustainability piece. So I was like, "okay, this is going to have to be an experiment. I'm going to have to be okay with it failing." And I totally, expected it to because I really thought at the start of the season that to go fast, you had to hate yourself a little bit, and it turns out, that's not true!

Dave:

It's definitely not true. You've had a, you've had a pretty great season after being off the bike for so long. You raced nationals, um, you said in July. Yeah. And how'd you do there? Yeah, pro women, correct.

Lydia:

My first elite race and six years. Yeah. That's not too bad. There's pretty strong field. It was a surprise day. You know, I have to couch that in the fact that a couple of really fast girls had mechanicals or didn't finish. But um, I luckily had like a clean day and a smooth race and I was really happy with it. So, there was some crying for sure.

Dave:

That's fantastic. And then you followed that up with a, with the Breck Epic, which if people aren't familiar with it, it's 240 miles over six days and over like 40,000 feet of gain. No, I think it's like 210 is it 210. Okay. All right. 210 then. But I mean it's, and it's no joke, like you get halfway through and it's not like the course gets easier. I think they get harder the further you get. You had a good showing there as well.

Lydia:

Yeah. So I have done, I did the Breck Epic in 2013 and that was kind of one of my last, um, serious races. And I remember that race being legitimately the hardest thing I'd ever done. Like I didn't think I was going to finish. I was and I was not going very fast. I was out there for, you know, five and six hours a day for most stages, which, um, is a pretty serious week. Um, so, and I, it literally took me all this time to even consider doing it again. But kind of when I started thinking about my goals for this year, I was like, well, what's the hardest thing I know of? I was like, well, it's that. So, um, that was like kind of the ultimate test to see if I could sustain this like positive mindset and, um, like growth mindset of like, well, we're going to go see what happens and hopefully,

Dave:

right. Yeah. And so you didn't work with a coach to share? No. And what did your training look like? So with that driving unit being your focus, like how did you plan your training? Um, both leading up to nationals and for,

Lydia:

I have to give some credit where credit is due because, uh, so I, I edit the training piece blog, which means that I get to read content from coaches all day, every day. So I basically get to cherry pick all the coolest info and stuff I want to test. So I have worked there for almost two years. And, um, so I've been kind of just like, when I read something that I, that really resonates with me, I kinda just squirrel it away and I'm like, well, I'll add that to my, sort of like monster training idea and like see how it goes. Right. So that, that's how I coached myself. I, I went in the, you know, annual training plan and set an arbitrary, I want it to be at like a 130 CTL for, for Breck Epic, which I was like, that seems like a good high number. I want that. And, um, and so, and then I, and then I planned my periodization around that because I knew, I know enough about periodization to kinda just like, and I know enough about my body for like, I know that I need more recovery than most real elite athletes. Like I need to chill out usually like two weeks after like a 50 mile race, like a hard race. So, um, I, I tried to build in lots of really good recovery and, um, do my best to like, set myself up for good showings at the races that were important to me. And, um, yeah, I think it just, it like could not have gone better. Um, I actually can't, I'm astonished with how well it all went. Like, like I couldn't have felt better at every race and, um, like my hard blocks were hard and my easy blocks were easy and yeah, all worked out

Dave:

I think that's maybe a lot of self coached athletes. That's where they struggle, they don't have the confidence to make those easy weeks easy, or to take the time off because it's always in the back of their mind that "I'm not doing enough or I need to do more". And so it's like, really that's a benefit of a coach is having somebody there to pull the reins and you know, slow you down a bit.

Lydia:

I never did that when I had a coach either. I was like, "Oh, you don't know me. I can do more than this." I remember going to a yoga class and the teacher said something like, "it's okay if you can't do this stretch if it's not available to you today." And that blew my mind. I was like, "you can just not do it if it doesn't feel good, you don't have to like force yourself to do it?!" And so that literally shifted my whole mind into working with my body instead of punishing it for not being what I wanted it to be. And so I have this ability now to kind of step outside of it and be like, "okay, but what do I really need?" And, what's available to me today, how do I tweak the equation so I can get as much as I need to get?

Dave:

I love that. As you're talking about that, it reminds me, so I was a triathlete for like 10 ish years or something and then recently started mountain biking the last couple of years. And it's been really hard for me because I'm a control freak, but it's been very therapeutic because that's what I had to learn is that I can't fight the terrain. I have to work with it, "that's a rock and like I am not going to win." And so I either need to work with it, or it's going to conquer me. You can get mad at the Hill, it doesn't give a shit. You just have to roll with it like the Bruce Lee quote, "Mind like water."

Lydia:

Yeah,because at the end of the day, you've only got this one body. It's, it's what you've got to work with and you can accept that that's the tool that you have. And like usually you'll get more out of it, you know?

Dave:

Yeah, work with it, not against it. So let's go back a little bit. Your motivations, um, weren't healthy. So this year you had different motivations. They seemed to have panned out.

Lydia:

That was something that I was hyper-conscious of it because I wanted to make sure I didn't go to a place where I was like trying to get a result or prove something to somebody or you know, like trying to, uh, like for me it was always really unhealthy. I would always start chasing a body ideal, which is a really good way to make sure there's never any gas in the tank and you can never do what you need to do. So I was always trying to be really careful about, if I was feeling stressed, or I was feeling like I needed to get more control or if I noticed my motivation starting to slip into an unhealthy place, I would literally just take a day off and not ride. Like be like, okay, here's, you have to chill out, you know? And, um, and that worked pretty well cause I noticed like it's easier to slip into those like unhealthy patterns when you're, when you're more, uh, when you're, when you're rundown, when you're not like recovering correctly. So like it's really easy to be like mentally healthy and mentally strong when you're not asking a lot of your body, but if your body's run down, it's easy for your mind to start trying to compensate.

That was like the major shift. I think I went from being like, "Oh, I'll be an Olympian and then I'll quit and do something else", to being like, "no, I want to be an athlete for my whole life. And it doesn't really matter to me so much anymore what my results are as long as I got them in a way that I'm proud of". That means I want to be racing within myself to a point where I can be respectful and kind to my competitors. Where I can really on my nutrition. I was really proud of my race at whiskey this year, even though I was not very fast because I had the perfect race. I ate all the food, I planned to eat and I drank all the water, I planned to drink. I had great interactions with every other racer on the course. It was just a beautiful, smooth race. I didn't crash it just was a success, you know? And so I think anymore, that's what's most important to me. And I think that's what sustainable. I'm sure other people do it for different things, but I think focusing on that process and focusing on just trying to do it the best I can do it for me is what's gonna keep me doing it.

Dave:

I love that. It's great that it's more process driven and being able to take pride in the process and being able to get those little things right and in the end they lead to results.

Lydia:

Yeah, but they might not too, right? And that was kind of part of the gamble this season. I had to just be really humble about it. I could go out there and just fall flat on my face. I could be totally off base with what people are doing anymore. I could think I'm going hard and I'm not, you know, in almost every race this year, I had that moment at like 4:00 AM the day before the race where I woke up and was like, "I'm going to get dead fucking last". Like I'm going to be the last person out there. And then just being like, "well if that's what happens, that's what happens", you know, because someone always is, right? But yeah, just kind of making peace with that possibility and being like, "it's okay because I'm being true to my process and if that's what happens, then I learned something."


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