8 things I learned from a DNF at the Sea Otter Classic

A season opening DNF wasn’t exactly what I was looking for from my trip to Monterey, but there are as many things (if not more things) to learn from a failed race as a successful one. An early race bump threw my shifting out of whack, and another 45 minutes of hard racing on a bent derailleur was enough to stop me in my tracks. A cracked derailleur cage meant my chain was jamming between the pulley and the cage. I was solving the problem with some creative back pedalling, but that ended up twisting my chain around my bottom bracket, and required taking the crank off to fix the problem. So here’s my lessons from the DNF. Maybe this is applicable to others, too:

  1. Slow down and check your bike after a crash/collision. I could see my derailleur pointing out at a funny angle after a really small tangle on the first lap. If I’d stopped and spent 15 seconds straightening it, I would have finished the race. Impatience is hard to overcome in the heat of the moment. I’ll probably make the same mistake next time, too, but you never know: I might come to my senses one day!
  2. Watch the finish. I was in the race, and then very quickly standing on the sidelines. While you’re in the race, you have a myopic view of what’s going on, but when you suddenly step outside, there’s a lot of learning to do. I could see some amazing lines people were taking that I hadn’t seen. I saw people trying to attack in silly places, only to realise I had been doing the same thing a lap earlier. Most importantly, I watched the group I was in until the end of the race. It was a large 10-person group, and no one managed to escape from it until the last lap. Russell Finsterwald put in a good move to hold off the rest of the group, and it was interesting to see how the drag race played out for everyone else.
  3. Cool down like you finished the race. I got off my bike with my heart rate doing 185 bpm, didn’t manage to fix my bike, and then walked to the SRAM truck. Bad idea. My legs were crushed the next day. A spin probably would have felt good, too, and let me dissipate the annoyance of the DNF.
  4. Don’t waste negative energy dwelling on what could have been. It wasn’t your day. Learn your lessons and move on. There are lots of races in a season, and one DNF does not make you a failure. It makes you one race smarter.
  5. Don’t blame anyone but yourself. It’s never the tyre’s fault if you flat. It wasn’t the derailleur’s fault that it broke. While dwelling on the negatives is a bad thing, blaming external factors for a bad race is never a good idea either. Own your mistakes, but don’t let them get to you.
  6. Check anti-doping even if you don’t finish! You can get called for doping control even if you’re registered and don’t start the race. I forgot to check at Sea Otter, and have spent the last week wondering if my name was on the list…. hope not!
  7. Check everything else on your bike that didn’t break. For mechanical failures, there’s probably more than one thing that went wrong, even if only one part actually failed. Spend a bit of time going over your bike to make sure everything else is in good shape before you line up for the next race.
  8. Be a nice human after the race. No one cares that you DNF’d, so walking around all grumpy and glum won’t make you any friends. Drink a beer and be happy instead.