From disappointment to glory

Disappointment in sports is a pretty interesting subject, and for anyone viewing the recent FIFA World Cup, a fresh one. It seems that it's part of the draw of sports, the drama of winning or losing. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, both powerful things in their own right, but also very dependent on each other. Without defeat, we would never appreciate success. I recently saw a quote attributed to Truman Capote that said "Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor". Pretty well said.

I have a pretty limited team sports background, beginning with some neighborhood pond hockey. I moved on to middle school soccer, where our coach (also assistant principal Mr. Fullerton) told us directly "You guys suck" in the locker room after one game. In high school, I played freshman and JV soccer but soon moved on to individual sports like cycling and snowboarding. While it was never a high pressure environment on those teams, I can definitely remember not wanting to let the team down.

I was thinking about this during the World Cup when a lot of people were talking about players being safe and not wanting to let the whole country down with a mistake. Sometimes that led to conservative play, when what fans want to see (me at least) are some big plays, risks and amazing goals. Easy for me to armchair quarterback that one, I can't imagine the pressure of playing in an event like that with the hopes of a whole nation riding on you.

As endurance athletes, we start out by putting pressure on ourselves, then gradually as we progress in the sport we involve more people. Soon enough you have your family supporting you, then you may get a team, sponsors, and a coach and before long you have a pretty good number of people who have invested in you. You want to reward them for their time an energy, and certainly don't want to let them down.

In road cycling there's a whole team of riders to consider who are there to support a team leader, and we got to see that scenario play out a few times this Tour de France with the abandonment of Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Andrew Talanski, and others. It's got to be so tough to have so much time and energy invested and have it all end in a blink.

I've had my own share of disappointment this season, but also some great personal best performances. After a great start to the season where I had my best yet cross country race in a world class field in Bonelli, I had a some up and down races, and then a couple of tough ones in a row. At the US Cup Finals in Colorado Springs, I just didn't have it, not sure what was up exactly but just never got going that day. Then the following week at US Marathon Nationals in Sun Valley, I had a stomach issue and could barely finish the race. It must have been something I ate, because my stomach was in shambles during the race and I even had to make an emergency bathroom stop on the side of the course, and again after the finish. The fluid loss from that, combined with a four hour marathon race left me pretty dehydrated and I ended up in an ambulance with a saline IV. Ugly stuff, and pretty disappointing, as that race was a big goal of mine.

It's how we deal with this that shapes us as athletes, and people. Do we weep like some of the soccer players and fans? Riot and destroy property? Or do we refocus our energy and try to turn it in to a positive experience. I've come to realize that you have to roll with the punches and take the bad with the good, and can't be afraid to fail. If we were we would never line up in the first place, and I think if we are truly afraid to fail we will never succeed.

After Marathon Nationals I took a week very easy to recover and then ramped it back up for US Cross Country Nationals in Pennsylvania. I love the course back here, it's one of the best XC courses we race on all season. I guess I was due for some good legs because they came through on race day and I landed in fourth after a hard fought race. Jeremiah [Bishop] and I worked together for a few laps to reel in third place, then it turned in to an inter-team battle for the last medal. As much as I would have loved to grab it, at least it went to a teammate, and I was in the fight for it, netting my best yet cross country nationals finish.

Next up: Breck Epic!

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Alex Grant, 31, is one of America's top endurance mountain bike racers. Sponsored by Cannondale Factory Racing in 2012, Grant juggles racing as a pro with managing an outdoor gear consignment business called Gear Rush, which he co-owns with fellow Utah cyclist and racer Bart Gillepsie. This season, look out for Grant on the podiums at major endurance and stage races. For variety, you may also see him on on the start line of some super Ds, cross countries and short tracks.

In 2011, Grant finished third at the Leadville 100 and eighth at the US cross country national championships while also logging top 10s at the super D and marathon nationals. He finished fifth in the Downieville Classic All Mountain Overall and seventh at La Ruta de los Conquistadores. For the third year in a row, he won the Park City Point 2 Point.

In 2010, Grant made headlines with his second place finish at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, the Breck Epic and the Trans-Sylvania Epic.

When not on his mountain bike, Grant enjoys backcountry skiing, snowboarding and hiking.

Grant is from Richmond, Vermont, and he presently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Follow his 2012 season in this blog on Cyclingnews.