Wednesday, February 16

Cycling: Why I Race?

In a bike shop earlier I was asked, "Why do you race?". Having answered, I have a short ready made essay (by merely regurgitating my reply). Why do I put myself through the rigors of training, doing intervals, piling on base miles, and watching my diet and all that stuff? Well, pull up a chair, freshen your drink, set a spell and I'll tell you why at the age of 43 with a job, wife, and two kids ... yet I race bicycles.

While I didn't start racing after leaving school, the seeds were planted. In 1990, I left grad school and the academy for a new calling. I took up the craft of programming. Now programming computers had been my hobby. It quickly became clear that while one can't complain if one makes your hobby to be your job, you also need a new hobby. Casting about, I decided to fix up a bike I had and ride that for exercise and to take up woodworking. With these two new hobbies, I would be able to keep myself "out of trouble". So I built a few bookshelves and acquired a few power tools, and rode some. Then our office moved and so did I. I found there was a route in which I could commute to work by bike and started riding to work. I also discovered, if I kept my car at work it was far harder to sleep in and avoid riding in to work in slightly inclement weather. With regular commuting, I convinced my wife, that a better bike was "required", as I was using it for transportation, the budget for the bike should compare more favorably with a car (I was driving a Ford Festiva, not exactly a luxury auto). So I researched around, talked at the bike shop, and bought a "real" racing bike. Also needless to say, now almost 9 years later, the woodworking tools have been set aside (or sold).

Well, commuting for the next year and a half, I started to feel pretty fit. I noticed a flyer for a time trial series in the "local bike shop" and decided to do the "race of truth" (a 20k) and find out how I measured up. Well, I'm at least as competitive as the next guy and pushed myself hard and liked enough to do another. After two time trials, I signed up and went out to a road race held in a park (90 minutes away), just to try it. That race was about a 25 mile race (5 x 5 mile laps if memory serves). It was a slightly cold spring day and the road was a little damp from an early rain. About 60 guys lined up for the race I entered. I still have some brief memories of that race. The silence of the morning broken only by the whirring of 60 chains on gears and the occasional clicking of shifters. One the second lap, a breakaway started, and being ignorant of tactics I went to the front for a hard pull in the wind. As I gulped for air after that effort somebody said, "Good pull". I did recover and manage to stay with the pack for that lap. About 1/3 of the way into the last lap, I lost contact with the pack and finished alone and tired. But that race had been one of the most enervating things I had ever taken part in. I was hooked.

A of mine teammate says we, "Race to train and train to race". One trains on a bike to keep get fit, for the mental discipline, and for better health. That next race or the next season is a great motivator to keep at your training. Good training is required to do that next race. It's a vicious cycle. In another month or two, I'll be back out there, nervously joking before the gun with other masters racers in their 40's and 50's who just like me, spent their winter in a basement ... hooked by the siren call of the peloton.