Dead. Fucking. Last.
I joke about that. Have, at least. Right before the whistle blew or the counter said, “Go,” I’d joke and say, “DFL is better than DNF.” Dead Fucking Last is better than Did Not Finish. I laughed it off because I never thought that’d be me. When my teammates or people I know came in last place, that’s what I’d tell them: “DFL is better than DNF.” I told them at least they tried. At least they put themselves out there, challenged themselves, and kept trucking. It was never a big deal to me when someone else came in last, because…it wasn’t me. I was coming in and taking pictures on the podium.
Just like I never considered first place a possibility, I also never considered coming in last place. And both happened within a week of each other. Last week, I won First at Best on Hess. This week I came in dead fucking last at the John Stenner Memorial – CO Senior/Master Time Trial Championships.
When I break it down into what happened – the facts – then it makes me feel a little less worthless. Kind of.
Fact 1: I woke up feeling pretty crappy. I had digestive issues and some heartburn and wasn’t feeling 100%
Fact 2: I started my period. I was tired. I was achy. My legs didn’t feel right, my lower back was on fire.
Fact 3: I had been training the past week for endurance, not a 22-mile all-out time trial effort. I decided last minute, actually, after the last minute, because I emailed after the deadline to get on the registrar.
Fact 4: My gears were sticking throughout the race.
Fact 5: There was a headwind. I mean, it’s Colorado, so there’s always a headwind, but it’s still a fact.
Fact 6: I never previewed the course.
And this morning, I should have listened to my body. I didn’t. I ignored it all and convinced myself that maybe it was just nerves. I always get nervous before races, but this was a different sort of body fluctuations I was experiencing. I knew I wasn’t going to perform well when we drove the hour up to Keenesburg. I knew it as I was warming-up. I knew it when I had to keep drinking water. I knew how bloated I felt and the lack of energy I had. I continued to ignore it. When you pay money to race, you ignore it all. At least, I do.
As the man counted down from 10, I prepared to take off, just like all the other times. It’s always a weird feeling: there’s a dude who hugs your wheel with his leg and holds your bike post – it’s a balancing team act. I took off, right into headwind. My legs felt okay at first. I had never raced 22 miles in a Time Trial race, so I assumed I should pace myself, so I did. I watched the lady who started before me to measure my timing. As the time passed, I felt shittier and she grew smaller.
I kept telling myself they’d lose speed eventually. They’d tucker themselves out. I just had to keep moving. The wind smacked me in the face and the false flats were even more cruel. I was pedaling down the first turnaround road. I saw the women I was racing against barreling back my way. Then the Cat 3s started passing me. Then the MW40+.
I kept trying to convince myself that I was at least out there trying. I attempted to give myself credit for that as more people passed me and the less I saw of my competition. The only people I passed on the course were the volunteers and hand cyclists. It was my worst performance.
I saw the 10K sign, then the 6K sign, then how many meters left. I saw the red tent from where I started. I saw the van that would take my time. I saw Chris. I wasn’t sweating, so I knew something was wrong. My legs weren’t happy. They were on fire.
I crossed the line and knew I fucked up. I knew I wasn’t getting on the podium that day. I told myself I should have just rode my bike with friends and saved $45. When Chris and I walked up to see the results, a girl (yes, she’s 14) who races in the same Category as me rode her bike away crying. I didn’t see it, but Chris did. There was a group swarming around the results. Chris saw mine first and didn’t say anything. I walked up and saw my Dead Fucking Last place. I knew it. I saw the 14-year-old’s name two places above me.
As I dragged my sorry ass back to the car, I didn’t want to face anyone. I wanted to bury my head in the sand and never see light again. There was nothing anyone could say that would make me feel better about coming in last. Then I remembered all the times I joked about “DFL is better than DNF.” All the times I laughed it off or told someone that who came in last place. It wasn’t funny anymore. It sucked. It sucked bad.
Now I know how those people feel and it hurts even more because I feel like no only did I let myself down, I let other people down too – the ones who told me I “better get first” or believed I would do better than this. It’s uncomfortable as hell to tell these people – when they asked how I did – that I came in dead last. Dead fucking last. And the text messages kept coming in. Then I thought about the 14 year old who biked away crying. She was just as heartbroken. I know we have a rivalry going, but I understood how she felt. I sat in the car looking at the mountains and I started crying. Out of anger. I was so mad at myself.
DFL was no longer funny. As a friend pointed out, I’m a perfectionist. Coming in dead last hurts. It isn’t funny. It isn’t easy to laugh off. And it’s not going to be easy to forget. What I have to remember is that this is ONLY a race. It doesn’t define who I am as a person and if someone wants to think less of me for coming in last, I probably shouldn’t be friends with them.
I found a quote by Muhammad Ali: “I never thought of losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.”
I think the right thing to do is to not let it get me down. It has to motivate me to kick ass the next race. Never give up! Never Surrender! Like Galaxy Quest. There has to be someone last in a race. Every rider has a role in a race. Today, my role was bringing up the rear. Someone had to be that person. Today was me. Tomorrow will be someone else. We can all accept that some day we’ll take on the caboose role, we’ll bring up the rear, we’ll see our name last on the list, and we’ll know that even if we came in dead fucking last, we at least fucking tried.