Limitless Optimism

Posted by on Jun 12, 2013 in Bike | No Comments

Brandon McCarthy, a pitcher in the Major Leagues, was hit in the head by a line drive last September. He suffered serious brain injuries as a result, had surgeries, rehabilitated and healed, and came back to pitch in the Majors this year. But his chronic shoulder problems resurfaced and sent him to the Disabled List. Recently he had a (presumably line-drive injury induced) seizure while eating at a restaurant with his wife. Nevertheless, McCarthy insists he is fine, and has been cleared by his doctors to resume his shoulder rehab. He hopes to pitch again very soon.

Baseball number-cruncher, Rob Neyer*, writing about McCarthy, said:

Brandon McCarthy suffers from a chronic shoulder problem. From 2007 through 2012, he averaged roughly 90 innings per season. The last of those seasons was ended by a serious brain injury. After those six seasons and one serious brain injury, the Arizona Diamondbacks essentially made a $15.5 million bet that McCarthy would bounce back from the brain injury and avoid a debilitating recurrence of his shoulder injury.

Before the shoulder injury, McCarthy wasn’t pitching very well. A deeper look into his numbers reveal some unlucky bounces. But luck, while largely uncontrollable, is a part of baseball. Nevertheless, both the Diamondbacks, and McCarthy are optimistic about the future, despite the cold realities of the past and present. I’m rooting for McCarthy. He’s one of my favorite ballplayers, is a very good pitcher when he’s healthy, and is a crack-up on Twitter.

*Rob Neyer is a great baseball writer. One of the few, really. If Bill Jamesian baseball writing is interesting to you, Neyer is a must-read. Of course, if Jamesian writing is interesting to you, you probably already knew that.

“What’s most interesting to me about this story,” continued Neyer, “is what it says about Baseball’s nearly limitless tendency toward optimism.” He goes on to cite a few more examples of nearly-irrational optimism around baseball. And he’s right. Baseball is an incredibly optimistic game. 65 percent of at-bats are a failure. And yet, hitters continue to stand in the box and swing the bat.

But baseball isn’t the only optimistic game. Bike racing is also steeped in hopefulness.

The 2013 Wasatch Back 50 was a race that I had circled on my calendar. I wanted to do well. I wanted to be fast. I had prepared, trained, ate, and slept, all with a good result as motivation. But my race turned out poorly. I didn’t have the energy or fitness that I thought I had. I was under-prepared, and paid the price for it. I finished feeling disappointed, and worried about what it all meant for the Crusher, and the Colorado Trail Race.

I reassessed the last few weeks of preparation, and realized an obvious tautology: Not racing means not racing. That is, my lack of spring racing has led to a lack of race fitness. Indeed, the result shouldn’t have been surprising. A gnawing sense of dread hindered me through the final 10 days before the  event. On some level, I knew I was under-prepared, and I knew that I was going to suffer.

But I showed up, anyway. And I raced with as much energy as I could muster.

And now, I’ll race a little bit more often. And I’ll ride with more people faster than me. I’ll check the boxes. And hopefully my results will improve. Hopefully I’ll race more effectively, more lightly, and more closely to what I can expect when I am riding at my best. I’ll tuck the lessons from last week into my jersey pocket, and pull them out on day 3 of the Colorado Trail Race, when I’m fatigued and full of doubt. I’ll use those lessons to get back on the bike, to keep pedaling, and to finish what I never had any business beginning.

The Wasatch Back 50 was a reminder that mountain bike racing can be merciless and terrible. But it also reminded me that optimistic hard work can defy the inevitable probability of failure. It reminded me that failure isn’t something to dread. But rather, it’s a thing to stare down with steely determination. The Wasatch Back 50 re-taught me that the most important thing we can ever do is show up.

Showing up is the only way to end up on the results sheet. And being on that sheet is always better than the alternative. Worse than any “DNF” is a “DNS”. Did not start. Did not show up. I showed up to the WB50, and I flailed. But today, I am better for it. Today I am re-energized about preparing for the larger challenges that are looming.

Bike racing breeds optimism. After every event, we all vow to be better next time. And guess what? each of us will be better next time.

See you there.