What’s a race face? Where does it come from and what does yours look like? Is it relaxed, happy, or fierce? Whatever it is, it’s 100% yours. In this story, guest writer, athlete, and Specialized Ambassador Alison Tetrick, shares her thoughts on why it’s important to challenge ourselves to do the hard things — or as Ali would say, to “Cowgirl Up” — and push past fears. From lining up for your first charity event, to signing up for your first race, finding your race face is a journey in self-discovery.

Clear vision. Laser focus. Perfectly crafted braid (always on my right side—I blame my head tilt and neurotic tradition). Matching kit. Shoes tightened. Socks and shorts meticulously aligned. I curve my lips slightly, which makes me look intense, but not terrifyingly so. Looking straight ahead, into the horizon, I don’t blink. Are the glasses on or off? I prefer off—I look fierce. This is the kind of photo that makes it to my Instagram feed. I like it—I feel empowered by my determination to get to that start line—but is that really my race face? Is that a true reflection of what’s really going on?

Time for a reality check. The start line was foggy and cold, and I hate being cold. It was too early to be on a bike—chamois cream before coffee should never happen. I had goosebumps and was nervous. My heart fluttered. The roads looked slippery and damp. I looked at the other racers around me. Were they dangerous? I hate crashing. I hate losing. My muscles shook, and it wasn’t just from the cold.

I nibbled on my newly manicured nails. Dammit. There goes another New Year’s resolution, Alison. Stop chewing your nails, and for heaven’s sake, don’t waste money on a perfectly executed Wanted Red or Alive manicure. Can you at least pretend you have a race face? I mean, no one forced you here—you actually paid your way and you signed yourself up for this destiny. Can you act like you're enjoying it and want to be here with all the confidence in the world? You brushed your hair and teeth this morning, and you trained for months for this moment. It’s time to rally and put that big girl chamois on and do what you're here to do. Race. Compete. Participate. Make a day of it.

*click*

A photographer captured me on the line. It showed a look of determination—the epitome of a professional athlete. Poised. Confident. Coiffed. Prepared. To see that picture, you might think that’s my real race face—but is it really? Is that the face that personified why I was there?

Frankly, no. Fake it until you make it, I say. As my insides shook, and my teeth chattered, I feigned a calm sense of resolution on the starting line. Why was I here? Why did I even attempt to start this event? My partner broke up with me, my legs felt bad, and I didn’t sleep well the night before. Not to mention it was that time of the month. I am terrified of crashing and I am unsure of the outcome of the day, so why the hell am I on this start line with a race face that I don’t even own?

Good question. It’s one I ask myself daily during every interval and on every training ride, when I can’t fall asleep, at the race—but why? Why do you line up with the possibility of failure and disappointment and the trifling likelihood of glory? Why would you risk your pride, time, and dignity? Why would you leave the comfort of your gym and controlled environment?

Quite simply—why not? Why not stretch your boundaries into the unknown? Who wants to just ride when you can train for a goal? You can find your race face every single day of the year, regardless if there's an event or not. But events are like destinations on a map—they push us forward to our next adventure.

I want to explore places within myself I didn’t know existed. I want to push past whatever line someone told me I couldn’t cross.

Alison Tetrick

Everybody glorifies finish lines, but I’ll let you in on a little secret—finish lines are overrated. What matters is the start line. No one knows what battles you overcame to get to that start line. No one knows the journey you took to even consider signing up for the event, or your fears, your scars, and mental health. But you are there. The race is what drives you to get outside and ride your bike each day. You can sign up for a fun ride, a fondo, a race, an epic adventure—riding your bike can become a chore, but discovering a target event drives you to saddle up. It's these moments that motivate us to find our tribe—to join together to conquer a day, regardless of the outcome.

My race face is found at both the start line and finish line. Through the suffering I didn’t know I could endure, and secretly loving the pain. Most importantly, my race face is found in all those days in between events. The days I'm laughing and riding bikes all day, to go eat donuts at my favorite bakery on the coast with my friends. On the days I struggle through foul weather, alone, to finish the workout. The days I use my bike as therapy to calm my emotions and re-center my soul. My race face is fortified every single day.

I raced around the world for the last nine years as a professional cyclist. I gambled on a biochemistry degree. I strove for goals that were defined for me, and I attained a graduate degree that was an expensive therapy session to prove a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) wrong. I felt like I had it all, and that I was a success story that should be told. But that still wasn’t enough. USA National Team accolades, wins on the majority of continents, and a World Championship medal, but even after all of that, I felt something was missing. I wanted more. More. More. More. I didn’t need more external validation, I just wanted to know myself more. I wanted to understand what I was made of, and what I could accomplish. I wanted to push myself beyond predefined barriers and into an unknown frontier that wasn’t already mapped out for me by course profiles, iconic races, and Strava personal records. I found gravel racing, adventure rides, and throwing the plans out the window as a way to continue to challenge myself at events around the world.

Who am I when I ride? I am a human trying to find a way to express my passion, darkness, euphoria, and depth. I want to explore places within myself I didn’t know existed. I want to push past whatever line someone told me I couldn’t cross. I hate the feeling of failure, but I love the journey on the way to this point. If you don’t win, you learn. I am still racing my bike on terrains that I used to fear. I am still tightening my shoes, braiding my hair, and riding my bike with a goal of the next event and challenge.

Events are like destinations on a map—they push us forward to our next adventure.

I would like to dare you to find your own race face. Find your race face in the morning without the photographer around and put your arms in the air, victoriously. Each day is a gift, and through purpose and goals, we can find what we strive to achieve. It doesn’t have to be a race, it can be charity ride, or your longest ride yet. We all have unique targets that drive us. We all have different race faces. Embrace your search for that hidden internal fire that training for an event can bring. Through this, you will find many people just like you. We're all a bit nervous, but also, we all funnel the internal angst to accomplish great things together.

Tighten those shoes, align those socks, and go for it. You have nothing to lose. I hope to see you on a start line soon, heck, let’s even take a selfie. Let’s find our race faces, together.

3 Reasons Why Races/Events are Worth It

1. Through challenging yourself, you’ll discover who you are and find that hidden internal fire that training can bring.

2. Each day is a gift, and through purpose and goals, we can find what we strive to achieve.

3. You’ll find other women—cowgirls even—just just like you. You’ll find your tribe.