Spor­tif Stieda

True Grit vs Pure Sacri­fice

Pedal Magazine - - Contents - BY ALEX STEIDA

y legs are scream­ing, my lungs are on fire and my mind is rac­ing . . . can I beat the pelo­ton to the line and win the time bonus away from Eric Van­der­aer­den? It’s one kilo­me­tre to go on the first road stage of the 1986 Tour de France and I’m hang­ing on for dear life in the break­away, pulling on the bars with ev­ery­thing I have left.

At the age of 25, I’d been bike-rac­ing full time for 10 years. I’d al­ready learned many lessons on how to max­i­mize my po­ten­tial as a cy­clist. Ef­fi­ciency, strat­egy, grit, per­se­ver­ance, sacri­fice . . . and I was draw­ing on ALL of them to stay strong all the way to the line.

Look­ing back, I often won­der where these skills came from. I cer­tainly ac­quired as­pects of these at­tributes as I raced as a ju­nior and with the 7-Eleven and Na­tional teams, how­ever, were these learned skills or in­her­ent in my psy­che? This is some­thing that I’ve al­ways won­dered about.

Over the years, I’ve raced with and against many tal­ented rid­ers who were often stronger than me on any given day. I no­ticed that if I played it smart and used my en­ergy wisely, I could often find a way to beat them. Even then, there were times in the race when it came down to “mano-a-mano,” where we each sim­ply had to grind it out to see who could suf­fer the most and men­tally “crack” the other guy.

On the topic of grit, I re­cently read an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by Jared Smith, owner of Incite Mar­ket­ing and an ad­ven­ture-seeker who loves to ride and who re­cently trained with Navy SEALs in a five-day “suf­fer­fest.” As part of Smith’s prepa­ra­tion, he in­ter­viewed Dean Golich with Carmichael Train­ing Sys­tems, who has years of re­search on the topic of “grit” un­der his belt. Here’s an ex­cerpt from Smith’s ar­ti­cle:

Golich, cit­ing An­gela Duck­worth (whose stud­ies have con­cluded that “sin­gle-mind­ed­ness” or “life­long de­lib­er­ate ef­fort” re­sults in “true grit,” which re­sults in higher and greater achieve­ment in any field), has con­cluded that per­son­al­ity traits can be a pre­dic­tor of one’s abil­ity to break through men­tal ceil­ings in per­for­mance. Us­ing pro­fil­ing tools, Duck­worth has ex­trap­o­lated the will­ing­ness of dif­fer­ent ath­letes to push past their max ef­forts.

Ac­cord­ing to Duck­worth, most ath­letes gen­er­ally fall into one of two per­son­al­ity types: those with men­tal tough­ness, and those with­out. Those with it are able to doggedly and per­sis­tently pur­sue a course of action over and over and over again to­wards an end goal. Duck­worth calls this per­son­al­ity’s ten­dency to­wards per­sis­tent prac­tice and action “true grit – the role of de­lib­er­ate prac­tice in ac­qui­si­tion of ex­pert per­for­mance.” Peo­ple with true grit tend to be en­tre­pre­neur­ial, at­tracted to rou­tine, high-achiev­ers, so-called AAA’s who will con­tinue down a path de­spite fear of and ex­pe­ri­ence with mul­ti­ple fail­ures.

You can point them out in a room be­cause they tend to lack em­pa­thy, they’re not warm­hearted and they thrive on re­ceiv­ing (and giv­ing) neg­a­tive feed­back. She puts them into a cat­e­gory of “fast learn­ers.” Thick-skinned peo­ple who en­joy self-cri­tique and who will­ingly ac­cept neg­a­tive feed­back learn sig­nif­i­cantly faster than those who re­quire a more diplo­matic ap­proach to learn­ing (i.e. the “em­pa­thetic types”).

Ac­cord­ing to Golich, em­pa­thetic types, i.e. peo­ple who are good-na­tured, thrive on pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment, are will­ing to lis­ten, are typ­i­cally pa­tient, and seek to learn mul­ti­ple and di­verse points of view, tend to per­form worse on tests of men­tal tough­ness. How­ever, they do play a ma­jor lead­er­ship role in high-per­form­ing teams (all high-per­form­ing teams re­quire peo­ple who are in­tu­itive to the emo­tional re­quire­ments of the group and who will often sacri­fice them­selves ac­cord­ingly). The so-called “fast learn­ers” tend to ig­nore their team­mates’ sig­nals of emo­tional over­whelm – often to the detri­ment of the team.

This is the di­chotomy of bike rac­ing . . . you need to be self­ish in ad­di­tion to be­ing men­tally and phys­i­cally tough – “true grit.” Noth­ing can get in your way as you pur­sue your short- and long-term goals. At the same time, bike rac­ing is a true team sport. Ev­ery­thing that a rider does is a cal­cu­lated ef­fort de­signed to ben­e­fit the team as a whole – “pure sacri­fice.”

I be­lieve that there are spe­cific per­son­al­ity traits that are in­her­ent in suc­cess­ful cy­clists, some of which can be en­hanced with repet­i­tive train­ing and some that are sim­ply part of who we are. Think about where you fit into the Grit and Sacri­fice spec­trum and try to blend the two to be the best “Gri­ti­fice” team player you can be.

Alex Stieda at the Tour of Texas in 1988

(l-r) Kory Sin­clair, Brian Green, Alex Stieda and Neil Davies at a 1979 race in Seat­tle

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