Tough Love

Approximately 1.75 laps into this morning’s team bike ride in Central Park, I got dropped.  I hung tight with the all-girl “racing team” group during the first 6.2-mile loop, but as we powered up Harlem Hill for the second time, a gap began to emerge.  I couldn’t find the next gear (both figuratively and somewhat literally), and even though I fought to maintain contact, the distance slowly grew until two of the three girls were out of sight.


Too bad the snazzy red grip tape didn’t help.

This was the first time I’ve been dropped, and it stinks.  A lot.  Defeat, frustration, inadequacy.  Yes, it’s a cycling/triathloning rite of passage, but that doesn’t make it any better.

Prior to getting dropped, I received feedback and lots of tough love from one of my coaches.  As the ladies and I took turns pulling or leading the pace line, he yelled and told me to get off the hoods and use the drops. (This lower position helps the rider conserve energy and be more aerodynamic.)


Throwback from the DeRuyter Lake Triathlon–this is hood riding.  The drops are the white, lower sections on the handlebars.

I hesitated before holding the drops—recent wipe out, anyone?—and even though I eventually got there, he totally called me out:  “You’re afraid of your drops!”  Afraid?  Meh.  Anxious?  Yeah.  Hey, I’m a biking newbie.  But it ended up being fine.  During this part of practice, he also barked at helped me with shifting and general technique, but I was on my own once the group separated at Harlem Hill.

After completing the third loop solo, I pulled over at our group’s meet-up spot, and my coach and I developed a rough game plan.  Bottom line:  I need to spend more time in the saddle.  The best way to improve as a cyclist is to ride, so that’s what needs to happen.  Based on my Nautica South Beach results, I knew my bike needed work, but what I haven’t totally accepted until recently is it’s where I have the most room for improvement (read:  this is where I need to improve).  Yes, I want to get better across the disciplines, but as of now, the bike has turned into my new triathlon “Achilles heel.”  Point blank, our group rides in Central Park prove to be the most challenging, and I feel the least confident in the saddle, which is mainly due to inexperience.  And most triathletes will tell you the race is won on the bike, so if I want to put myself in a position to do well in August, then I need to make logging miles a high, high priority.  And for what it’s worth, I tried playing the newbie card—which is true because I’ve been riding for less than one year—but my coach didn’t buy it.  His response?  “When you’re on the podium, you’re no longer a beginner.”  He had more nice things to say, but we don’t need to go into that … moving on …

So what’s the plan?  Since Montauk is only 10 days away (yaya!), I’m not changing anything for the time being.  Afterward, though, my coach recommended removing my aerobars for the group rides in Central Park, which will make it easier to use my drops (aka he’ll force me to use my drops).  Then for weekend riding, I should reattach the aerobars and practice.

And just so this post isn’t all about biking …


Post-ride, I inhaled this bowl of overnight oats that included banana, frozen blueberries, plain Greek yogurt, almond milk, old-fashioned oats, chia seeds, and cinnamon.


It hit the spot, but I’ll definitely need a snack before work.

How do you handle tough love?

31 responses to “Tough Love

  1. That sounds hard – you’ve had to do a lot of training indoors over the winter, so it’s not surprising that you don’t feel so confident. I know I need to learn to use the drops too…

    • carriestevens

      Unfavorable weather makes it tough, but bottom line, I need to make biking my number one priority. It’s so easy for me to do my favorite workouts (i.e. running) or go along with what my teammates are doing, so I need to stay focused and log those miles.

  2. I’ve been dropped on runs before (I know I’d be dropped on every cycling workout I did). I know the feeling though and I know it stinks. It’s so much better to workout with people a little stronger or faster than you that can push you (not all the time but a good amount).

    • carriestevens

      Yes, I totally agree with you, Hollie–I’d rather be pushed and fail a few times than stay in my comfort zone and not improve.

  3. *hugs!*

    I know it’s gotta be totally different, but I had drop bars on an old road bike and it is SCARY! You feel like your face is about to go straight into the pavement. I eventually swapped them out for straight bars (I was just using the bike for commuting, not racing).

    I try to remember that tough love is never personal – they’re trying to help you! Sometimes, it’s the only way to hear what needs to be said.

    • carriestevens

      The tough love was exactly what I needed to hear–positives mixed with suggestions. Right now, the whole drop/aerobar scenario makes me anxious from a mental standpoint; *physically* I know I’m capable of doing it, but after the wipe out, I second guess everything. It will come with time, though, so here’s to staying positive.

  4. Your coach sounds hardcore but a good tough love, a learning tough love. I am impressed that you remain so freaking positive.

    • carriestevens

      He’s very hot and cold: either he’s screaming and swearing, or he’s mellow and laid back. And I experienced both sides today!

  5. As strange as it sounds, I get motivation from failure. Maybe not right away, but after I brush myself off a little, I can see the light and get my determination in check. I know you’ll get the determination too just hang in there! 🙂

    • carriestevens

      Oh yeah–not succeeding at first definitely lights a fire and gives me motivation. I’m already looking forward to my next ride!

  6. You’re doing great! And that’s interesting about the drops, when we got our clipless pedals put on the guy doing it said that we would normally be riding using the hoods so I thought that was the normal way. I had been using the drops prior to that but I haven’t been recently because of that comment.

    Mike drops me all the time! He does turn around and come back from me, since we only write the route out on one piece of paper, but it is frustrating for me too.

    • carriestevens

      I thought riding on the hoods was normal too, but if you’re racing/going for an aerodynamic and efficient position, then using the drops makes sense. It actually didn’t feel too awkward or unstable, so the next step is logging miles in that position. Here’s to being positive!

  7. Awwwww that’s the worst. I won’t lie, when I got tough love from my hurdles coach I normally sucedk it in and then cried when I could sneak off for long enough. I know it happens to everyone (that’s what makes GREAT coaches…) but it still sucks.

    I know you will turn all this around and make it an AMAZING learning experience!! But for now just focus on Montauk 🙂 Pre-race (tri… ?) is the FUN part!

    • carriestevens

      Luckily, my high school basketball coach was all about the tough love, so I’m very good in terms of taking it in and dealing with it. I really value and respect this coaching style too because I know the coach is being 100 percent honest–and that goes a long way.

  8. I’ve been riding for 4 years now I am just feeling like I can *actually* ride a bike. Last year was a huge learning curve as far as learning to ride a bike for long course triathlon, which of course, is completely different than riding with a group. Your coach is totally right about just getting the miles in. With more miles you’ll become more confident. When I first got my road bike in 2009 I was scared to death to ride on the road. I remember 5 miles being foreverrrr, but not 60 miles is no problem. Looks like you’re in good hands though!

    • carriestevens

      The learning curve is so steep! Part of me wishes I could just fast forward a few years down the road to when I’m totally comfortable and efficient (and in aero!) on my bike, but I don’t want to miss out on the journey. And I’m already noticing improvements in terms of road riding. Like you wrote, 20-ish miles doesn’t seem daunting anymore when it totally was last year. It’s all about progress!

  9. Sounds like you are taking the advice in completely the right way – constructive and a good source of motivation. Hang tough and once you get the feel for aero it definitely becomes natural. In fact, I’m so much more comfortable in aero it often feels very weird riding in any other position and the only time I grab the drops is over rough road or train tracks. Keep at it!

    • carriestevens

      Fingers crossed riding in aero is much easier on a tri bike! For now, I’ll embrace the drops.

  10. Tough love, I’ll never forget one cheerleading practice when I was younger and learning how to back handspring. I had it. But I was afraid and wouldn’t do it without a spotter there. I mean, my coach would literally hold out one pinky finger. Then one day she said “You know what? Fine. You’re never gonna get it.” That was all I needed to hear to prove her wrong! I did it by myself right then and there and never looked back.

    • carriestevens

      Awesome! It’s great when a coach knows who can handle tough love and when it’s needed. Our conversation definitely lit a fire, and I can’t wait to ride again this weekend!

  11. I actually improve more with tough love than anything. My dance teacher in high school was like that. She was tough on everyone, so when you got praise from her, it was a huge deal. My favorite professor from college was like that too. It gives me a serious kick in the rear to improve when I know someone hasn’t given up on me, and that tough love comes from straight-up love and the knowledge that you can get better!

    • carriestevens

      My high school basketball coach/social studies teacher was the same way with tough love. Like you wrote, Amanda, praise from his was a big deal–both on and off the court–so my teammates and I would work so hard for positive feedback. And even though tough love can be, well, tough, it means someone is invested in you and believes in you, which is awesome.

  12. Hmm I haven’t experienced a ton of tough love in terms of sports, but in terms of academics, I love it. I feel like a combination of encouragement and tough love is the perfect mix of motivation for me. It makes me want to please the person without feeling that the person can’t be pleased.

    • carriestevens

      My high school basketball coach/social studies teacher was the same way. Getting positive feedback from him was very difficult, but not impossible, which made me work hard. Isn’t it funny how we’ll work harder for approval?

  13. The first few times, the constructive crticism/tough love card can really sting, but eventually it will become welcomed. For me, if I don’t hear something that I need to “improve” on, I feel like I’m just doing ‘ok’. And I don’t want to be just scraping by. I want to be doing the best I can (whether it’s sports/educational/work) – give me something to fuel my motivation!

    • carriestevens

      I agree–there’s always something you can work on (in terms of running, life, etc.). Luckily, my high school basketball coach dished out the tough love very frequently, so I know how to handle it. 🙂

  14. You do not become bad overnight. It is important that you do not dwell on this and just concentrate on all the times this hasn’t happened. Maintain positive focus.

  15. I totally get it. As much as I love cycling, it is definitely a weakness of mine. I think some more time in the saddle is exactly what I need.

    • carriestevens

      It’s all about building confidence and muscle memory, and fortunately or unfortunately, the only way to truly do that is to ride–a lot. 🙂

  16. There is so much about cycling -I’m talking legit cycling- that scares the mess out of me. Be proud of yourself for hanging with those girls in the first place. I’m sure it’s incredibly frustrating but look at how far you’ve come since you first started. You’re a rock star, Carrie, even if you get dropped. 😉

    • carriestevens

      I keep reminding myself that I’ve been riding for only one year, and I honestly didn’t log a decent amount of miles last year, so it’s really square one. It’s tough to get dropped, but I’d rather be pushed and challenged than maintain and never improve.

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