Try Googling ‘quotes about quitting’ and you get a torrent of crap telling you stuff like:

Once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit. – Vince Lombardi

It’s always too early to quit. – Norman Vincent Peale

and there’s a bunch more here. Go on – gorge yourself, you’re a winner right?

I used to believe all this winners never quit, quitters never win rubbish too. Then one morning in May 2009 I found myself sat on the highway at about 6am somewhere near Horsham in bits (mentally) with my time trial bike beside me. And I finally had the good sense to quit. How did I come to be there…?

I started time trialling in 2006, and boy did I suck at it. Imagine turning up for a competitive sporting event and knowing you weren’t gonna be last cos Mr Hopeless is in the house. Yeah – that was me. And I kept going. And I found a coach. And I got better. In 2008 I set personal bests at all regular distances up to and including 100 miles. I won the Southern Counties 10 mile handicap and came fifth in the Southern Counties 100 mile handicap, and achieved a placing in the Southern Counties Best All Rounder. I was a winner, yay me!

Then in 2009 on an early season ride I lost control of my bike on a steep descent. I wobbled into the path of oncoming traffic at about 40mph and somehow, managed to avoid a disaster. I arrived at the bottom of the hill dazed and confused. I continued and finished the ride, taking all the downhills veeeery gently. I didn’t realise at the time, but something broke inside me that day. I’d lost my bottle –  [noun] British informal the courage or confidence needed to do something difficult or dangerous.

I started to DNF (did not finish) in races. I’d never DNF’d previously, winners don’t DNF (apart from when their bike falls apart), right? I found myself no longer able to ride at speed. As I accelerated the road in front of me, which I knew to be a level strip of tarmac, would appear to change so that I saw myself riding along a razor sharp ridge with a huge drop either side. The faster I went, the steeper and crazier I saw the angle. I kept entering for races, and with one exception, I kept DNF ing.

The final race I finished. Riding with black arm band with respect to old club mate Keith Wawman who passed away a few days earlier.
The final race I finished. Riding with black arm band with respect to old club mate Keith Wawman who passed away a few days earlier.

What followed next was a stupid crash. A school boy error. One evening as I rode my bike through a local tram station at around 20mph, my front wheel snagged in the tram tracks. I was catapulted over the bike and used my arse as a brake. Ouch! This crash compounded the problem. I had hypnotherapy to try and help. Winners never quit right?

I decided to take a short break and targeted the 2009 Southern Counties 10 mile time trial as my come back event. I know, the course, no big hills, I’d won the handicap the year before. What could possibly go wrong? I could go wrong. About a half mile into the race I broke down and that’s how I came to be sitting on the highway near Horsham.

I quit.

The next time you need inspiration and you Google stuff about winners never quit, go waaaay down to the bottom of the pile. Down there you will find a handful of stuff like:

Of all the stratagems, to know when to quit is the best. – Chinese Proverb

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it. – W.C. Fields

Yes it’s a fine line. Yes most people quit too soon. And yes, WC Fields was right.


Nowadays I prefer to ride offroad where in all honesty I probably take much bigger risks bombing down muddy trails than I ever took while racing. But hey – I’m riding my bike and I’m enjoying it. And in case you are interested, I always used to stick my tongue out when I raced.

tongue out again


Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

26 thoughts on “Quitter”

  1. ~Well done Doug~

    I asked Doug why he mountain bikes now, as I can’t (currently) imagine why I’d ever swap my road boneshaker for something with knobbly tyres. I mean, why all the mud? Having said that, the traffic, potholes, manhole covers and taxi/bus drivers of Laaadaaan aren’t exactly charming either.

    Bear with me, I’m about to start my second triathlon season (ok, if I’m honest, my first real ‘season’ as I only did one event last year) so I’m in the honeymoon period, clearly.

    Knowing when to quit is something serial entrepreneurs talk about a lot. “What’s your exit strategy?” is a common question. It’s a bit cynical but it’s a fact of life in start ups.

    I worry that I’m going to be Ms Hopeless at triathlon (all levels and all distances), but there’s only one way to find out, right? And I promise, if I am, I will quit. But will I know when it’s the right time? That’s the hard thing. Well done Doug, on knowing when to call it a day, and doing something you enjoy now. I hope I have your wisdom when the time comes… but in the meantime I may not copy you on the tongue action.

    P.S I love the pictures, thanks for posting them.

    1. Hi Charlie – thanks ever so much for coming by and adding such a wonderful touch to this story. And you will be fab 🙂 and I don’t recommend the tongue look, it ain’t for everyone 😛

  2. Hi Doug, a great post and shot through with searing honesty, thanks for laying yourself bare. I understand why you’re still toying with Nightrider now. I’m lucky, I never ride to “win” as each ride is a victory in itself, against inactivity, against a bad day, whatever is dragging me down. I ride to live not live to ride. I’m glad you’re back out on a bike, whether MTB or road, its still great to be riding 🙂 My best rides are the ones with friends, with pub lunches, with stories. Maybe one day we’ll ride together and there will be beers, pies and smiles 🙂

    1. Beers, pies and smiles is a great (not so) secret recipe for enjoyment. Throw a bike ride in too and you’re there. Hope to see you soon

  3. As an mtb addict I liked your story.

    Did I quit at golf because I was not improving, maybe, but it opened up getting on a bike again, going downhill fast in the Cotswolds, and getting my family on bikes too. Is that quitting, or a spin on wc fields knowing when to move on.

    So eBay sale going to fund buying two road bikes. 12yo fancies himself as the next Bradley Wiggins. So perhaps I won’t show mrs P your blog as a 48 and 12yo hit the roads too.

    Enjoyed the blog and can imagine tough to write. Quitter eh?

    1. Hello Ian. Quitting is the new moving on it seems. I’m pleased your son has Mr Wiggins as a role model. There’s a guy who comes across as very hard working and authentic. Thanks for your feedback – it was tough to write for sure.

  4. I’m an esoteric cyclist. I don’t cycle to go anywhere, I don’t pay any attention to the time, I’m in no rush, and I use all the gears, to make it as easy as possible. I cycle because I love to roll. Walking and running are too slow, and there’s no rolling action, as the world revolves under your wheels. I rollerblade, and had a scooter for 25 years for the same reason.

    I have no urge to be faster than someone else, or even faster than my own personal best. That’s not to say I’m not competitive, I just don’t think anyone can be better than anyone else in a measurable way, whether it be speed strength, wealth or medals.

    You could say the ultimate quitter is someone who never competes. Maybe that’s me.

  5. It’s really tough having to quit a hobby you clearly loved – and were really good at – but you’d found the flame had gone out so had the good sense to change course (even though like Charlie I’m in that place where I can’t understand swapping a road bike for mountain bike).
    How would you have handled it if it has been WGA? I’ve come across a couple of individuals who have run into problems running their own business. They either never got it off the ground or they got off to a good start but it wasn’t sustainable. Metaphorically speaking they are sitting on a road somewhere near Horsham. Not only do they not know how they got there but they steadfastly keep doing the same thing to make sure they stay there. They need to do something different but can’t or won’t realise it.
    You haven’t quit – you’ve just changed direction. Any chance that your subconscious mind put out the flame after a brush with a serious accident given that you had a wife and small daughter at home?

    1. Good stuff Sarah. I hope that if and when the same thing happens business wise I will have the sense to realise when determination and practice are not enough. And I’m sure that will be a tougher, and more important realisation.

      Yes I changed direction, and though there may be a chance that the flame went out as a result of the danger, I’m not so sure. I was offroading last weekend and we took a tricky descent right next to a steep drop, in foul weather on very slippy mud and I bounced down that no bother at all, I’m happy to say 🙂

  6. Doug the WC Fields one is a great quote and you’re right about the naff quotes (like those terrible pictures with rowers and “Teamwork” emblazoned all over them). They’re full of pointless phraseology that is meant to embarrass you into action. Action for what end? Anyway, this blog is fantastic for reminding us of several key things. Context, emotions, purpose – they’re all factors in whether we succeed or not. I quit playing football when I blew my achilles out 3 years ago. To be honest it was a convenient time to rethink my sporting adventures but I liked the quitting bit too much now that I had an excuse. My failing was in not “getting back in the saddle” in the way you did – with an alternative pursuit. So my ease of quitting has resulted in a state of unfitness that I’m now having to arrest and try and find an alternative way of losing some lbs and getting into shape. You’ve inspired me through this blog to think about how convenient my quitting was and to overcome that with something new to focus on. My days of footballing may be over but that means I should run, or dance or swim my way to fitness. Well done Doug – this very personal, open and insightful blog was just what I needed to create a new saddle to get onto.

    1. Good story Perry, thanks. My wife is a swimming instructor and she would unsurprisingly vouch for swimming as a good all round form of exercise, low impact too. Whatever you choose, good luck finding the right saddle.

  7. Seems you are in a better place now? Isn’t that where we should all strive to be – somewhere we are happy, energised etc. I think this is a very moving post, Doug, so many thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey Martin – I guess I am thanks. Being conscious of my ability to move on helps enormously. Life only stands still when we let it.

  8. Good post, it made me think.

    To me, quitting is right when it is clear that I can get more out of my life by investing my time, energy and money in something else. In other words it is not so much about what not to do as what I can do that gives a better return. By “return” I do mean wealth, but also, friendship, the excellent children project, happiness and just dam well having a ball.

    I might feel bad about dropping project x or initiative y, but if in so doing so I can revolutionise activity z (and perhaps also free up time for child a, friend b and hobby c in the process) then it is, dry though it sounds, not so much quitting, as a more effective allocation of resource.

    This is the good old sunk cost fallacy, not surprisingly there is a Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_costs#Loss_aversion_and_the_sunk_cost_fallacy. Basically it is the sense of loss we feel when we abandon some investment that we translate that into a rationale for continuing, despite the fact that we are never going to or have stopped getting a return. Often other opportunities exist where the same resource can be deployed to greater advantage. Thats all a bit businessy, at the personal level that sunk cost can manifest itself as pride, reputation and trust. Writing those down (hopefully not off) is not easy and do form part of the judgement.

    That’s all a bit dry and arcane though, I much prefer your more human story.

    A sort of PS; Oddly, at times when I have been over doing it, the “something else” has been rest, though that’s really just an investment in getting back to kicking the arse out of life!

  9. I am glad to be contributing after Tony so I can support his comments. I will confess to not being a cyclist since university days, but I am that Mr Hopeless at golf. I came to the game late, at around 29 years old, and have now been playing for over 20 years.

    I don’t play that often and while the law of averages says I have improved (I could hardly have got worse!) and I have even won the odd event or two, but generally in most of the games I play with societies I give everyone else the comfort that they won’t end up last. This has cost me some very hot curries, but that is another story.

    The point here is that I still do it because I enjoy being better than I thought I would be (for what that is worth) and I enjoy the company and the craic of participating and being with mates.

    In the end this is discretionary effort for me, ie not essential for living or the wellbeing of my family, and if I stop enjoying it then I will use that time in other ways. Right and for the last 24 years I have enjoyed my golf in my own way. Others may need to win or be competing to win, but at golf that is not me.

    The resonance is that if I give up golf it will not be quitting, it will be a conscious and rational decision to focus my time and gain better personal rewards from some other pursuit.

    1. Great story Ian – so pleased you popped by and added more depth and perspective to this issue. Thanks – Doug

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  11. Hi Doug,

    Just wondered if you prefer to bomb down the muddy trails versus against the cars(!) because that has a sense of being in control, where as on the road you can’t do so much about the idiot texting while they’re driving?

    Bit like flying? It’s statistically safer than driving, but because you aren’t the one flying the plane it’s scarier? (must admit I wouldn’t feel particularly safe if I was flying the plane)

    1. Hadn’t thought of that Dan – maybe you’re right. Next time I go out I’ll stick a pannier bag on the back and jump in that while you bomb down the trail and we’ll see how I feel at the bottom, does that work for you 🙂

      Cheers – Doug

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