Not everyone is the same as you. This realization hits around the age of two and is why toddlers go through the terrible twos and then graduate to being ‘threenagers.’
The kids aren’t acting up to act up; their behavior is a manifestation of the exploration of their ego, necessary experimentation to figure out how they can influence their world, starting in simple ways, like pushing their sister or turning the knobs on the oven. The world is a fantastically complicated place, and the singular drive of a child is to insert themselves into the chaos and break off little pieces of it and construct models that allow them to navigate it with some success. Hence, they know when they do X, they can reliably get Y.
Models coalesce and eventually calcify into the unconscious, automatic subroutines that allow us to navigate our worlds efficiently within the guardrails of others overlapping and competing needs and desires. By the time we reach adulthood, most people are a marvel at navigating the myriad norms society requires for everything to keep ticking over.
We call that normal.
There’s more. How we see the world and what we value starts to harden, formed in part by the particular way each of us sees and the world mixed with how everyone else sees the same thing. An adult’s confusion at a child’s wonder in ordinary things is because the adult already has formed an idea about what it is. For example, to an adult, a house is just a house. To a child, a house is a bewildering collection of shapes, passages, surfaces, objects, and people with mysterious functions, connections, and meaning.
I’ll return to my first sentence – not everyone is the same as you. Sure, everyone anywhere can find some common ground. Still, most people don’t appreciate that the way many people really don’t see the world the way you do, and not a little differently, but fundamentally. What’s strange is that an idea that’s so obvious goes unexamined for so long.
If you want to be the fastest cyclist you can be, you need to. Before you start training and racing, you need to make sure your Frame or your values, identity, and beliefs about yourself serve you as an athlete. Why?
Because in cycling, as in life, your Frame is all there is.
Your Frame is essentially a semi-permeable box around you. When you go out in the world, other people’s Frame meets and affects your Frame. Often, this interaction is unconscious. The danger here is if your Frame isn’t grounded, you’re liable to let others’ values, identity, and beliefs influence yours away from your Truth.
What does this have to do with cycling? Everything.
If you meet someone on a ride during an important workout and ditch it to ride with them, you’ve betrayed your Frame. If you’re a week out from your most important race and your friends convince you to go out for a late-night bender, you’ve betrayed your Frame. If you’re going into a bike shop and the salesperson convinces you to buy a new bike you can’t afford, you’ve betrayed your Frame. If you’re at a training camp and agree to purchase shit food that you know won’t help you recover, you’ve betrayed your Frame. If you have a bad workout or result and you think that outcome means you’re a shit cyclist and should quit, you’ve betrayed your Frame. If you’re in a race and you know you shouldn’t attack from the gun but do it, anyone, because someone else is, you’ve betrayed your Frame.
In short, whenever you don’t do what you know you should because someone else does otherwise, you’ve betrayed your Frame. You let someone else stop you from doing what you know is best for you.
Sure, not all Frame betrayals are the same. Staying up late with a friend who happens to be coming through town when you know you should be going to bed at 8 pm is a Frame betrayal, but it’s relatively insignificant. On the other hand, modifying your opener workout before your A-priority travel race into a three-hour-long dick measuring contest with a teammate is significant. Oh, you think that’s never happened? It has – I was there.
Broadly, Frame betrayal takes two forms – acutely and chronically.
Acute Frame betrayal is a sudden, short-term loss of Frame with catastrophic consequences. Usually, the act in itself isn’t so egregious. The action combined with the timing of the action is what is so damaging. For example, deciding to suddenly change your on-the-bike nutrition for a new product that leads to debilitating GI distress and poor performance doesn’t matter on a random Tuesday afternoon in the offseason – you just learned something valuable. The same decision on the day of a significant race is fatal.
You might say, so what? It was a dumb mistake, and it was only one race. Well, the thing is that all those small decisions you make based upon what’s right for you, not someone else, are, in part, what determines what outcomes you get. Making the right decisions is worth at least a few percentage points in the performance, and guess what – most of the time, the difference between a good result and a bad result is fractional. What’s not fractional, however, are the rewards.
If the difference between 20th and the podium is only a few seconds and you’re 20th, maybe you don’t get noticed by that team, get that upgrade point, or get that prize money, or you flat out start to not believe in yourself. Consequently, you won’t get the support of an organization in your racing career, enough upgrade points to move up a Category, or the evidence to reinforce that you belong in the field and can compete. This result has disproportionate consequences on weeks and months that follow it, and better reality is closed off to you because Steve convinced you to only bring powdered doughnuts for race food instead of gels and bars.
While acute Frame betrayal is bad, chronic Frame betrayal is worse. If you’re chronically unable to resist the influence of others, the eventual result is that you’ll turn into a person you don’t want to be.
I’m going to make a claim here that you’re welcome to disagree with, but I’m not going to bother to defend – you’re not who you say or think you are; you are what you do. If you believe you are X, you have to do the things that X does. If you believe you are a chess player, you need to play chess. If you’re playing chess and someone comes along and convinces you to go climbing, and you never play chess again, you don’t get to pretend you’re still a chess player.
In Chronic Frame betrayal, your Frame is so weak that you give in to others’ influence at every turn. The more you cave in, the more your actions change, and the accumulation of these actions over time leaves you far adrift from the person you want to be and your aspirations.
I can think of an objection to all of this, which I hinted at earlier in the definition of Frame which I mentioned is a ‘semi-permeable’ box of your values, identity, and beliefs – isn’t it important to be open to other’s influence so we can grow and evolve?
Absolutely. We have many words for people that aren’t open to new ideas, including stubborn, rigid, unbending, intractable, boneheaded, or my favorite – Airik (Just kidding, Airik, you’re awesome). That said, you have to have a bullshit filter and be scrupulous in what you allow into your Frame. Or, as Aristotle didn’t say, “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
To be the best cyclist you can be, your Frame must be well articulated and defended; otherwise, you will spend years doing things and becoming someone that isn’t true to you. I’ll return to a previous observation: everyone is not the same as you. The workouts, races, food habits, lifestyle decisions that lead to your best training and racing success, and your greatest Life happiness are specific to you. You can’t figure out what’s best for you by aligning with the Frame of whoever happens to be in your orbit – they’re a completely different person.
The best, most successful racers I know have an inviolable Frame. They know precisely what is right for them, and they do not give a damn whether other people think it’s right or weird. Their actions follow from their Frame unapologetically, and if anyone else doesn’t like it, they can pound sand.
Having a clear, strong Frame not only prevents you from doing what’s right for someone else but also sustains you through the long periods of uncertainty that will happen if you race bikes long enough.
As in any endeavor, you will have setbacks. Life doesn’t care if you’re trying hard; sometimes, all of your workouts will be for nothing: you will have bad workouts, your legs won’t show up at an important race, logistics will collapse, your finances will take a hit, etc. You can strive with the best of them, working honestly and ceaselessly, and spend years in the wilderness toiling for naught.
As Joe Friel put it, training is necessarily an act of faith. When things aren’t going your way when you’re working hard, and the outcomes you seek aren’t rolling in, how will you respond to your own and others’ voices that ridicule you and tell you to stop because you’re worthless?
Your Frame. You need to believe in yourself, even if no one else does. This isn’t some bathroom decor sentiment you see hanging up in your mother’s bathroom. I’ve lived through it. My cycling friends have lived through it. To succeed in cycling, you need to believe you can, sometimes without evidence, for long periods. If your Frame isn’t together, you have no chance.
So how can you build up your Frame to serve you and your ambitions? That, my friend, deserves its own article.