Self Care and Racing with Purpose with Ayesha McGowan and Jim Lehman

Self Care and Racing with Purpose with Ayesha McGowan and Jim Lehman

This week Dirk sat down with Pro Cyclist Ayesha McGowan and her coach Jim Lehman to discuss the importance of self care and re-learning to love cycling.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been rough on everyone, not excluding Pro Cyclist Ayesha McGowan. Her career was gaining serious momentum after years of hard work and diligent training with her coach Jim Lehman, then, all of that went out the window with COVID-19. 

Nevertheless, Ayesha has taken this time to rediscover her love for riding bikes and allowed herself to mentally process the current reality, without risking burning out while training for more canceled events. Listen as Ayesha and Jim discuss how their relationship has evolved and improved during this tough time and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. 

Stand-Out Quotes

  • “He was so inviting and so willing to like meet me where I was, instead of a lot of other encounters that I had. People told me, like, ‘You have to do things this way,’ or ‘You can’t do this because you’re built this way or shaped this way,’ and all kinds of advice that was not true.”
  • ”I think like a coach-athlete relationship is probably one of the closest relationships in like an athlete’s life. Because you have to kind of tell way more about yourself than you might want to in order for the coach to be able to help you in the way that you need to be helped.”
  • “A generic training plan is fine to get people started, but this idea of a coach-athlete relationship needs to be tailored to that person in terms of their goals, their physical strengths and weaknesses, and then also their personality. How do they like to communicate and what are they willing to share?”
  • “You add, the George Floyd murder and all of the civil unrest that resulted. And that was it. That was the line for me. I couldn’t function, let alone train. Bike racing didn’t matter anymore in that moment.”
  • “I’ve never been able to just ride my bike without having that anxiety in the back of my mind that I need to be thinking about what this can do for me as a competitor. And so right now I’m able to just do that. And it’s so weird and really refreshing in a way because I find myself pushing it and then I’m like, wait a minute, I don’t have to do this.”
  • “For me, the biggest part of my journey has been the representation portion. And just knowing that if I don’t show up, there’s a 98% chance that there’ll be no black women in that race.”

Resources

Ayesha McGowan’s Facebook

Ayesha McGowan’s Twitter

Ayesha McGowan’s Instagram

CTS Training

Transcription

Dirk Friel:

Today, I’m excited to speak with Pro Road Cyclist, Ayesha McGowan and her coach, Jim Lehman. Ayesha is the first African American Female Pro Road Cyclist. She started racing in 2014 and she currently races for Liv Racing and entered 2020 with high hopes. Then COVID hit. 

Jim is a premier coach at Carmichael Training Systems and has a wealth of knowledge. Having been a resident coach at the Olympic Training Center and as an a USA cycling Paralympic coach at three Olympic games. This is a powerful conversation between an athlete and her coach, dealing with the mental side of unforeseen circumstances and how she chose to proceed. 

Thanks guys for joining me, Ayesha and Jim. I’m so proud to have you on the show today. Thanks for getting on and this hot afternoon. 

Ayesha McGowan:

Hello!

Jim Lehman: Glad to be here. 

Dirk Friel: I guess I’d love to start with your story, Ayesha, and the progress that you’ve made in a short amount of time. But first of all, what drew you to cycling, the sport of cycling and then that led to this huge commitment level on your side. Why the sport of cycling?

Ayesha McGowan:

It was for transportation purposes. I started writing as a commuter. I went to college in Boston at Brooklyn College of Music and the transportation system there is garbage. And so a friend recommended that I get a bike. And so I asked my mom for her old bike and got it fixed up and started riding. So there was no intention of being an athlete per se, but just trying to get around better.

Dirk Friel:

And so how does that lead to, you know, loving the bike? I assume you love the bike and the passion for it and you know, all the progress that you’ve made. So how did that transcend?

Ayesha McGowan:

Well, I mean, I was intending to just use it for transportation, but it ended up being very life-changing in a way that it provided a freedom to explore a city that was new to me. I was no longer having to pay for the train or wait for the train and that was awesome. And like, I know people look at bikes and recreation as work and activity, but me, it just helps me be lazier. It took me 30 minutes by train to do my full commute, but I could do it in under 15 on a bike. So I could sleep in a little longer and save money and not have to… like I could pick my own route and do what I want and I wasn’t on a timetable. It was fantastic. And it also gave me a better understanding of where I was at any given point.

I think it’s a thing that we take for granted when we use subway systems where you kind of go into this tunnel and then you just emerge somewhere else, but you have no idea how you got there. And I am just, navigationally challenged. So it made me learn how to get around. Cause Boston, the city mapping, like the street planning was basically done by cows and they just went back over it with a pavement. So it’s not the best planned city overall. There are some grid sections, but for the most part, it’s like, you’re on a street and then it just turned into another street, but nobody told you, and it’s just super confusing. And I was able to kind of get a much better grasp on how to get around because I was doing it myself. So it was great.

Dirk Friel:

So how about the competitive side of things? How did you get into the competition side then?

Ayesha McGowan

It took a while. I didn’t consider it as a competitive thing. And I didn’t really start racing sanctioned races for about seven years. I went along a course of getting into advocacy and doing like street races and gold sprints and kind of just fun community-based type competition. But eventually, I decided to try the sanction thing because that’s what my friends were getting into. It wasn’t so much like a strong desire on my own initially. And I, for a while, didn’t even know it was possible. So as soon as I figured it out and I tried it, I was hooked pretty much. 

Dirk Friel:

Nice! Really cool. So Jim, you’re the coach behind the scenes here? I’d love to hear more about your start into coaching and your “why” behind all that you do for athletes.

Jim Lehman:

Sure, sure. I grew up playing soccer. I played all the way through high school and I had this dream of playing in college at a division one school. And I managed to do that. I walked on, made the team and I think after years of being involved in soccer, I probably, like a lot of people, reached a point where it just wasn’t fun anymore. 

And I had been getting involved in cycling, but, growing up in Northeast Ohio, our summers are pretty short and this was in the probably mid-to-late eighties. Maybe there was some technical clothing out there for cycling, but I didn’t possess any of it. So I was basically riding in mostly cotton or stuff that we use for skiing, which is not very conducive. So I really wouldn’t ride a bike outside until late April, early May.

We’d have May June, July, by mid-July, late-July, we had to start running again for soccer. So it was a pretty small cycling season for us. Coinciding with that, I had seen Greg Lemond win Worlds in ‘83, Alexi Grewal win the Golden LA in ‘84. Those two things kind of drew me to the sport. I didn’t have anybody I knew who raced bikes, but I just, I saw that and I kind of fell in love with at least the idea of it. And it wouldn’t be, I guess the first race I did would have been in ‘86 as a junior. No idea what I was doing, crashed in the first corner. My mom drives me to Parkersburg West Virginia to do this race, crashed in the first corner, pulled probably five or six laps later. And somehow that didn’t deter me from wanting to continue.

The coaching piece through playing soccer, my buddy and I, we coached some youth programs and we eventually worked at the soccer camp that we went to when we were kids. So the coaching piece, that sort of giving back piece, had been there through cycling and we had done some coach education with soccer. So the coaching piece had of kind of grown out of that. 

I raced, rode my bike, I still love riding my bike, but I had gotten to a point where, racing and thinking that I was going to make some kind of a career out of being a bike racer, you know, reality set in and I started to look into this idea of, well, how can I stay involved in the sport as a coach or in some format?I had gone to graduate school at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to get a Master’s in exercise physiology, and quickly realized that while that was fun, it’s not really applicable in the real world right away. Not in a way that I wanted to do it anyway. So I ended up doing an internship at USA Cycling in ‘97, lived in the dorms, was the resident coach for the juniors at that time. And that kinda got me hooked. And that’s when Chris Carmichael was the national team director and he was leaving shortly after that. And it just sort of, he was starting CTS a little bit after that. So it was an easy transition for me. 

And that was 1999, early 2000. And here we are, it’s a sign that we were definitely not young anymore—20 years can pass like that. But it’s opened up a ton of doors and it’s allowed me to work with dozens of wonderful people and wonderful athletes. And I also work with the US Para Cycling Team as one of their national team coaches. So that opened up opportunities to go to three different Paralympic games with them. And for me as much a lifestyle as it is a profession. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. You also have a psychology degree. It’s almost the best of all worlds, you know ex-phys, Master of Science psychology degree. We’ll get into that and a lot of this relationship, coach-athlete relationship conversation, when we dig into that stuff. So you should have you obviously, Jim’s your coach. Did you have any other cycling guidance or coaches prior to Jim?

Ayesha McGowan:

Yeah. When I started racing, I had a mentor. He was the closest thing I had had to a coach at the time. And he just offered to teach me anything I wanted to learn. He took me on my first real road ride and I remember like we had to stop cause I didn’t know how to like eat and ride at the same time. So we pulled over so I could have a snack. I remember him taking me to Central Park and knocking me around, knocking me around sounds terrible, but it was like getting used to contact, like just bumping into each other on the grass. So it was like if I had to encounter that in a race, I wouldn’t be so terrified. Cause I have a very, very big personal bubble, which is hilarious as a bike racer. I’m not a hugger. I don’t like people in my personal space. So that was definitely like something that was very helpful and valuable to me. 

Dirk Friel:

It’s also good in COVID. 

Ayesha McGowan: 

Oh, it’s perfect for this. This is my moment. But I don’t know. He was just great and I think he’s the reason that I was sucked into the sport as much as I was, because he was so inviting and so willing to like meet me where I was, instead of a lot of other encounters that I had. People told me, like, “You have to do things this way,” or “You can’t do this because you’re built this way or shaped this way,” and all kinds of advice that was not true. And he was just kinda like, “I think you’ve got a lot of potential and I’m willing to help you however I can.” 

And so that was really great. And then I think my first real bike season, I joined the Ride Brooklyn local team because that’s what my friends were doing. And we had a deal where we could have affordable coaching from a local coach in the Brooklyn area and he was fantastic.  And it was a world away from when I was training by myself for the Red Hook Crit. And I didn’t know what that meant, like what training meant other than just kind of riding. And then when I got into that race, I was pretty much like Jim, I didn’t know what I was doing and it didn’t go well. So it was really nice to have that structure. 

And then I started working with, I think I’ve had three coaches, like three actual coaches other than Jim and it just never really clicked. It’s just such a specific balance that it takes, I guess. And I don’t know if that’s because of me and my personality or if that’s the same thing that other people experienced, but I’ve had a lot of very interesting coaching experiences that did not work for me, and now I have one that does, and I’m really happy about it.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. That’s super!  I’ve read an interview that you gave where you talked about, the trust in the coach. There’s so much that you’re handing over, your dreams, I think you said to this coach and that trust comes into play. How long have you two been working together?

Jim Lehman:

I think it’s two years now. Is that correct? 

Ayesha McGowan:

Yeah. I think we hit the two-year mark in June.

Dirk Friel:

And it takes a while to build that trust? Or did you kind of see something immediately there that was different than your past experiences?

Ayesha McGowan

So before I started working with Jim, I was kind of floating around by myself because I terminated my previous coaching relationship and I was kind of traumatized to be honest. And so I was very distrustful of everybody. I’m a sponsored athlete from CTS, and so when they reached out to me, they gave me Jim’s name as a possibility. And I realized that he’d worked with Justin Williams, who is a person’s opinion that I do trust. And when I reached out to him, it was just nothing but excitement and like, yeah, for sure, like, this is a great idea that you should definitely do it. And that allowed me to kind of go in with trust where I was like, all right, until further notice, I’m going to just go with it. And that that’s really worked out in my favor. 

But yeah, I think like a coach-athlete relationship is probably one of the closest relationships in an athlete’s life. Because you have to kind of tell way more about yourself than you might want to, in order for the coach to be able to help you in the way that you need to be helped. And so there has to be like a trust with that. And I found in previous relationships where the balance just wasn’t there and I wasn’t trustful of people. And so, yeah, I think I answered your question.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, no, definitely. Jim, you tell us more about Ayesha, you know, the communications there, obviously every athlete’s different. Are you getting everything out of her that you need in terms of that relationship?

Jim Lehman:

Right. That’s a great question. I’ll defer for a second and just answer one of the questions she mentioned earlier. Like, is this the way it is for everybody, you know, needing to trust and needing to feel a connection with that coach or does everybody need something special? And I would say, yes, I think that coach-athlete relationship is just like any other relationship you have in your life. Everybody needs certain things or different things, right? I think we talked about the other day. You can’t have just… a generic training plan is fine to get people started, but this idea of a coach-athlete relationship needs to be tailored to that person in terms of their goals, their physical strengths and weaknesses, and then also their personality. How do they like to communicate and what are they willing to share?

And I always ask people to share as much as they can. Just like Ayesha said sometimes you’re sharing more than you think you normally would. But for me it paints a much fuller and complete picture where I know like if there’s other stressors going on or what things motivate them, or are they struggling with relationships or career and all of those things impact their performance on the bike. So knowing those things is really helpful. And I think being able to talk, in our age of email and text, those are fine, but you don’t hear the energy in their voice, or lack of energy in their voice. And get to know somebody, you get to know that, “Oh, wait, wait a second. What’s going on? You don’t, you don’t sound like yourself today.” And in a text message if I had just asked and someone says, “Yeah. I feel okay.” That could be read in many different ways. Right? But if you hear somebody say, “Oh, I feel okay.” Well, you’re going to say, “Well, that doesn’t sound okay.” He may be saying the words, but something’s different from the way you normally would respond to that question.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Yeah. I love everything that you’re saying. Obviously it’s not all about the numbers. You know, it’s hearing that voice. So obviously you guys talk by telephone, you’re in different States, halfway across the…Colorado versus Georgia. How much do you try to communicate via telephone?

Jim Lehman:

It probably varies, we have talked probably more at the start of this sort of lockdown quarantine and as I’ve gotten to know Ayesha, I also have gotten to know sort of her boundaries or her what she wants out of this. And we talked early about, “Okay, well, we’ve got still, these things are going on, Colorado Classic might still happen.” 

And then as things started to shut down, we had had a couple of conversations about, “Well, right now, I think I just need to take a step back and just ride my bike for awhile. I’m not in a place to do intervals and right now.” At that point, we just sort of talked about it. I would go into TrainingPeaks and put three days of an hour-and-a-half per week just so she had something to look at. But also, we talked about the fact that I’m not expecting you…if you wake up and you go, you know what I feel awesome. And I want to ride my bike and I’m going to ride for three hours. Great. 

Ayesha McGowan:

I haven’t used a bike computer for a few months at this point. Sorry, sorry about that.

Jim Lehman:

We’ve talked about it. It was as much about keeping you mentally healthy as well as physically healthy, because it didn’t make sense. And again, I have some athletes and you probably know people as well, who during this time they were like, “Hey, no, just let’s keep going. As if we’re racing on August one. Or even if I’m not racing August one, let’s just keep up the cycle. I like the intervals. I like the structure. And that keeps me grounded.” Other people, and Ayesha, I think, falls into that camp, at least for the time being, was more of a, “I can’t, I don’t want to do it. I can’t do it. There’s so many other things happening right now that I can’t do it at a hundred percent. And if I’m going to do it, I want to do it at a hundred percent. And right now, I can’t do that. I don’t have the physical or mental energy to do it right now.”

So we just sort of backed off a little bit. And then it was more of… I would check in once in a while. I’m also just trying to give her space, knowing that there was a lot of things going on, but also not wanting to let weeks go by where we had no contact. Feeling like she’s been ignored or I’ve forgotten about her because, “Oh, you don’t want to train. So I’ll just leave you to your own. And I won’t think about you until you’re ready to train again,” because I think that’s it too. You want to make sure that the person’s wellbeing is being taken care of and we are more than just athletes at this point. Right? You have to take care of the person because when they are ready to go, you want to make sure that you’ve been part of that journey and you know where they are. So you’re not sort of trying to pick up three months later, two months later, trying to pick up and go, “Okay, well, let’s see, where are you? Where have you been over these last months?” And recapping all of that and then go, “Oh, okay, well now I know where to start.” For me, it was way easier just to keep that going, but also being respectful of not trying to push her to train until she was ready.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, so Ayesha, what have been the highs and lows throughout these months of COVID, you know, what happened? The highs and lows and what has that journey been like?

Ayesha McGowan:

I think at first, I just wasn’t sure. And I consider myself to be a realist in a lot of ways where I never thought that the two-week quarantine was going to be it. And so I guess mentally, I shut down pretty early. I’m not gonna lie about that. It all felt really pointless really quickly. And I think part of that is that I’d just been chugging along for five years straight with no breaks whatsoever, really. And I was just tired. And then when the world started to shut down, I was really annoyed. Cause I just signed a pro contract and it was like, “This is happening. I’m going to do this. And the season’s going to be awesome.” And then COVID. [And I’m like] of course, of course! This has gotta be some unknown Murphy’s law or something.

It was really frustrating. And I thought for my own sanity, I had to take a step back and it was gradual steps back where at first we were still kind of training, just not as hard. I was doing the Zwift thing pretty consistently for a while. And then I got really burnt out on that. 

And even just living in Georgia, like all of our environments right now are different. So like where I am currently, my Governor’s suing the Mayor of Atlanta because she wants people to wear masks and it’s just chaos. And so I would go out to the store, I would go somewhere and it seemed like nobody else realized that there was a pandemic happening. And I think mentally the way that was affecting me was not good. And so I’ve been going in and out of this idea of like, “Is it me? Am I insane for thinking that we should be taking this seriously?” Or is it not a big deal?”

And that aspect of things was already a lot. And then you add, the George Floyd murder and all of the civil unrest that resulted. And that was it. That was the line for me. I couldn’t function let alone train. Bike racing didn’t matter anymore in that moment. And so like I was having trouble eating and having trouble sleeping and I’m still having trouble with those things. But to not have to train, like I’m trying to race in addition to struggling with those things is probably a much healthier scenario than not eating, not sleeping and trying to train for bike racing. Especially knowing there’s no bike racing coming. 

Dirk Friel:

Is the bike for you now, can you look at it as therapy? As an outlet? Or is it absolutely. I can’t look at the bike.

Ayesha McGowan:

It’s not that I can’t look at the bike. I really enjoy riding bikes. And it’s been kind of weird where… I guess for a little background, I’ve never ridden road bikes, just for fun. Like in totality it was always like, as soon as I started riding road bikes, it was because I wanted to race them. Before riding road bikes, I was a fixie kid for a while. So I was riding fixed gear bikes around New York City as a commuter for fun, or doing AlleyCat races or gold sprints or whatever. And so when I got a road bike, it was for a competition. 

And so I’ve never been able to just ride my bike without having that anxiety in the back of my mind that I need to be thinking about what this can do for me as a competitor. And so right now I’m able to just do that. And it’s so weird and really refreshing in a way because I find myself pushing it and then I’m like, wait a minute. I don’t have to do this. And it’s also 90 degrees.

And it’s fun. Not that I hated training. Like I really enjoy training. I enjoy pushing myself, but I also never explored that part of riding road bikes that could just be for the sake of riding them. And I didn’t even realize it until now, when I started doing it. And so I’m enjoying riding bikes just to ride bikes and on Wednesdays, I ride my e-bike to pick up my farm share, and that’s a really fun experience because e-bikes are fun. 

And also just discovering the different kinds of bikes that I have, I’m fortunate in that I’m a sponsored athlete and I do have access to all of these different kinds of bikes. And so being able to wake up and say, “Oh, I want to ride gravel today,” or, “Oh, I want to ride road today,” or whatever I feel like doing. And I can just do that. And it’s not that I couldn’t do that before because Jim has been really, really flexible in helping incorporate the things that bring me joy into the training and that makes it more viable, but I’ve always been my biggest barrier as far as like mentally feeling like I still need to make this training somehow, if that makes sense. And so it’s been nice to just ride a bike to ride a bike because it’s fun. And I haven’t done that in years.

Dirk Friel:

That’s great. So what were the initial goals coming into this season for you?

Ayesha McGowan:

I really wanted to win a pro race. I think that would be, I thought that’d be really cool and really fun. And I was feeling on track to do that. And I don’t feel like that’s an unachievable goal in the future still. I clearly have to work back up to that. But that was the goal. I’ve always been in this weird spot where I really enjoy competition, but I also just enjoy being a part of it, if that makes sense? Where everyone loves winning, I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t like winning things, but I also just like playing the game. And for me, the biggest part of my journey has been the representation portion. And just knowing that if I don’t show up, there’s a 98% chance that there’ll be no black women in that race.

And like that part alone excites me to be able to bring that representation, so that if there are other people there that can like relate to that, they get really excited. They always get really excited and that feels really nice. And so that aspect for me has always been a really driving force. Like I never had Olympic dreams or any of that. I’ve never wanted to be the best in the world. And I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t understand. Like whenever we look at athletes or even professional athletes, it’s kind of like, everybody’s aspiring to be the next next Serena or Michael Jordan or Kobe or whoever. And I’ve never wanted that. I just want it to be there. And kind of create pathways for the people who do want to do that. So yeah, but I also want to, it’d be really cool to win a race.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Well, you’re definitely inspiration for a lot, you know, having the role models out there, we need more role models. That’s so important.

Jim, thinking about going into next year, what would be the first things you dig into? I assume… there’s no racing this year, you guys are just planning on at this point, now that Colorado has been canceled, it’s, it’s a foregone conclusion, no racing? I take it at this point. 

Jim Lehman:

I don’t see anything really happening in the US. And I think as we look at…our kids are supposed to go back to school in four weeks. We still didn’t even know if they’re going back to school. You know, where will we be? Even in six months or 12 months, it’s still really hard to know what our situation’s gonna look like regardless of bike racing. So I think part of it, we’ll wait again, part of it depends on, Ayesha might wake up in October and go, “You know what, I’m ready, let’s train as if I’m racing in March.” Regardless of what we know. Or we may just continue to tread lightly and figure out how to keep on the bike, keep that base-level of fitness going and let her, you know, and that’s the beauty of it, right?

I think when you find joy in riding, you find yourself going hard and pushing yourself a little bit, because you’re having fun. Not because you have to do 3×15 and get it done, but because you’re enjoying going hard and you’re enjoying being outside. So I think part of it, we’ll just have to wait and see when we have some more concrete dates, it’ll be much easier to work. “Okay. So whatever the date is, it’s May 1st, we work backwards from May 1st and figure out when we’re going to start training based on what happens over the Fall and  Winter.” 

I think it’s really hard. Again, some people are different, but I think with Ayesha, and at least currently where she is and her approach and where we’ve sort of taken this right now is, I would just wait and see until we have something more concrete to aim for. That would be a priority right now for me. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. So let’s go back a year ago when things were normal, Ayesha, tell me more about Jim and his coaching style.

Ayesha McGowan:

I’m thinking of words.

Jim Lehman:

Think of the right ones.

Dirk Friel:

Where does it line up? Where does it rub you wrong?

Ayesha McGowan:

It doesn’t rub me wrong, which is fascinating to me every single day. Cause I’m a pretty particular person. I find him to be very refreshing. That’s the word that I will use. Because his coaching style goes very, very well with my personality and I’m confident about a lot of things, but I’m also very unsure of myself in a lot of ways. And like, there are certain people where if you ask questions, they won’t really answer them. They’ll just kind of throw something at you. But like, I feel like with Jim, he always says something comforting. Even if it’s not like, it doesn’t feel like babying, if that makes sense, but it’s still comforting in a way where I feel like I have a direction to go in. 

Like there’s a lot of times where I just feel really anxious about things or very unsure about things. For example, if I’m just having a terrible, terrible go of it or mismanaged my time, and I’m just like, “Hey, I can’t get this workout in today. Like, what do I do?” And I found myself in the past, like getting on the trainer, like 11:30 at night, I need to do this, but it’s never a good workout, super ineffective. It’s like some panicked version of something. But I found that we’ve built that trust to the point where I can say, this isn’t going to happen today and he’ll tell me what we can do instead. And I like that. 

And I guess the best example of me having a full on meltdown, which I guess is not necessarily a question…

Dirk Friel:

Alright, here we go!

Ayesha McGowan

So it was Redlands two years ago, 2018. I couldn’t eat anything, like couldn’t eat anything. And I tried to, I was forcing myself to eat and couldn’t keep anything down. And I had been puking all morning and I found myself at the start of what’s that, Oak Glen? And there’s like a waiting area where there’s like a set of bathrooms and like a gazebo kind of far in the back. And I was sitting in this gazebo, just crying, talking to Jim and he just talked me through it and I don’t know how you deal with a crying person, who’s been puking all morning about to go into a bike race.

Dirk Friel:

Okay.

Ayesha McGowan:

But I felt comforted in that, it’s okay. Just keep going, do what you can. And that felt okay to me, where I feel like there could have been so many reactions to that. Like reactions of like, why are you here? Or you shouldn’t do this, or you can’t do this, or anything could have happened, but it always feels very stable, even if I’m not. If that makes sense.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Well, it sounds like, I mean, Jim, you’re trying to almost educate the athlete. I mean you’re giving them permission, correct? To do otherwise and allow that to be natural. 

Jim Lehman:

Right. And I think again for me, and I think it’s probably why you can have a great coach and a great athlete, and they’re just like, you could introduce, “Hey, you should meet my friend, so and so, you guys are going to be perfect together,” and there could be two great people, but just their personalities or whatever it is, they don’t match up. 

And I believe the same is true with coach-athlete relationships. You can have an amazing coach and an amazing athlete, but they don’t connect on whatever level, whether it’s personality, communication, style, coaching philosophy, their athletic philosophy you know, what they want to get out of it. And for me, I know there’s athletes that I wouldn’t be effective with them. And they wouldn’t flourish under working with me because the way I communicate or the way I react to things, I’m not a yeller. I tend to be pretty calm and even-keeled.

I think that’s a big part of it because you’ll have to know…okay, when Ayesha’s in this situation, I yell at her or I tell her, “Just get out there. It doesn’t matter. You got to win.” And she goes, “All right, perfect.” That’s one thing. But you have to know how that athlete is going to respond. But generally I can’t do that very well anyway. And if I do it, it doesn’t feel very genuine. And I think people see through it, like, “Why are you yelling at me? You’ve never yelled at me.”

Also I think knowing how someone’s motivated and knowing also what the perspective is like, “Why am I bike racing? I’m bike racing because I enjoy it.” And if it’s not enjoyable, why would you keep doing it? Right? And allowing someone to go, “Hey, let’s start. See what happens if you still feel horrible, great. Pull the plug, after one lap or get in the car after 10 miles or two miles, but at least try, but it’s okay. You don’t have to suffer and push yourself all the way to the finish today, if it’s not important to you, and if it’s not going to make you feel better about it.”

And I think that’s the difference of knowing you, knowing the athlete. And then again, knowing what’s going to keep them involved in the sport. And also with Ayesha, knowing that there’s a bigger picture in this, you know, as with most female bikers, they’re not doing it for the money. Well, most men don’t either for that matter, but there’s more going on than just pinning the number on and trying to win a bike race. And I think with what Ayesha is trying to do in her further mission of representation and growing the cycling community, people of color, particularly black women, if you’re having a miserable experience, people are going to see that and go, “That looks horrible. Why would I want to do that? That doesn’t look like fun!”

Yeah. So being able to be successful and striving to win races, but I think too, I used this point earlier, only one person wins. Right? So if there’s a hundred people on the line, there’s 99 other people that you could… if you just look at it as winning and not winning, then there’s 99 people that didn’t win, they failed, but there’s so many other things that you could do in that bike race that still makes it a success and you can still have something positive come out of it just because you don’t win. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great day. 

Dirk Friel:

Right. Well, Ayesha, I love your honesty about how it’s tough times now. You just can’t get your head there to do the training per se. Right? And you’re open and honest about that, but yet you’re still a cyclist, you still are that at heart. And are you putting more energy into your podcast? I know you have Quick Brown Foxes and the blog. How is that playing a role within maybe some of your focus these days?

Ayesha McGowan:

Focus is a strong word these days. I think I’m allowing myself to take it one-day-at-a-time. I mean, I’m having a really hard time with all of this stuff and I have accepted that I’m probably not alone in that. And I think there’s this thing we do in our society where we have to look okay all the time and have to make other people feel like we’re okay all the time. And I think there’s a huge danger in that. 

And especially, in our sport where we’ve got so many high achievers or people who are trying to be high achievers and they don’t take the time to be human. And it doesn’t end well.

I remember the first time I did Redlands, actually one of my teammates quit bike racing in the middle of the night, the day before the first stage. And I didn’t understand it at the time, like what experiences had this person gone through that in the middle of… literally at two in the morning they called home and someone had to come from…we came down from the Bay, someone drove all the way from the San Francisco Bay Area to come pick them up because they were done with bike racing. Like in totality. Not just not racing this race, but just quit bike racing. And they were very talented. 

But [it] spit them out because all they were doing was trying to achieve, achieve, achieve, and not giving themselves a space to be a human and, and taking the time to understand when they did need to take a step back. And I mean, before I was a bike racer, I was already a person struggling with depression and anxiety and ADHD and all of the things that come with that. And so I’m better equipped in a way to know when I’m at my limit. And when I do need to take a step back, but I also know that if I do that, I will be able to come back to it when I’m in a healthier spot, come back to whatever I need to come back to and do whatever I want to do and be able to do it well and enjoy it. And that’s my priority. That’s always been my priority.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, that’s great. That’s awesome. I don’t know how to do any better than that—the facade of Instagram and media and all things telling us what perfection should be and it’s certainly not like that. So certainly that’s a very profound statement. I love hearing that. Guys, I have goosebumps for this conversation. I love it. We haven’t talked about numbers. We’ve been talking about all the coach relationship stuff, good times and bad times, and we’re going to have better times ahead of us. So I really, really appreciate the conversation. Any last words from you guys that we may not have covered off on that you want to get out?

Dirk Friel:

No, we summed it up!

Jim Lehman:

Not that from my side, but I do appreciate what you just said there. Cause I think sometimes in our technology-driven world we live inm and cycling is probably one of the…at least from a sport, we can quantify so many things. And I think I’ve mentioned this before to other people, to me, it’s an advantage to being older and being in the sport where we really were just starting to use heart rate monitors, but really know what to do with them. You had to do a lot by feel and you paid attention to “How do I feel today?” And, “What does this effort feel like?” Just even that RPE, right? Is this an eight out of 10 and nine out of 10?

And so much of it, we wrap up in quantifying everything. And of course we use TrainingPeaks and I used WKO5, but I use it almost as a secondary thing because to me the important piece, and it’s also important for me to, for the athletes, understand what it is they’re doing and why they’re doing it. And how does it feel, right? Especially when you’re in the middle of a race and you look down and you go, “Oh my gosh, 300 Watts. I can’t do that.” Well, maybe you can.

But if you know what it feels like, and you know how you felt in training, then you have the opportunity to maybe do more than you really think you could in that moment. And they understand, again, what it really feels like to be an athlete and they don’t get so wrapped up in the numbers.

And for me at the end, you can look and you can look at the numbers and say, “Well, Ayesha, you’re ready to go?” “Well, no, I feel horrible.” Well, to me, that’s important to know. Right? Cause otherwise you just look and go, well, we’re not robots, right? And just because the numbers say you’re ready, there may be so many other things going on in the background that we can’t capture with numbers necessarily, but we can only capture them through conversations and through sharing of information and through sharing of what you’re going through. 

And then you, okay. I realize the numbers are great, but in the background it’s chaos and that’s just not a good recipe for performance on that day. So let’s make some modifications and let’s make sure that you feel better about what you’re doing. And of course, there’s times where you have to say, “You know what, Ayesha, you still gotta get out and do this.” But again, I can make that statement or tell her that based on the other things that she’d share with me and I can tell them that particular moment, she just does need that sort of push out the door, right. That nudge to get her going. But there’s other times where it’s, “Okay, let’s pump the brakes here a little bit and come up with a plan B.” 

Ayesha McGowan:

And both are equally appreciated. Cause I think like, especially when I was kind of floating around by myself, like those are the hardest decisions to make, right? Like how do you know when you’re just being a punk or if you really do need to chill for a day and come back to it. And it’s really nice to have somebody who can tell you those things based on an outside unbiased objective perspective. So yeah, and for the record I made it to the end of, I made it to the finish line the day and finished all of Redlands. I did. I cried at the top out of relief. Cause it was awful. I hate that climb.

Dirk Friel:

Oak Glen! We’ll do it again. We’ll do it again someday.

Ayesha McGowan:

Yeah. I always come back so I must not hate it that much.

Dirk Friel:

Oh, well thank you guys so much. So that was awesome. I learned a whole lot and yeah, really, really appreciate being so open with the audience.

Jim Lehman:

Awesome. Thanks for having us, Dirk.

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