Mike was climbing well in the heat of the mid-summer day. He had accelerated away early, well down the hill, and only one rider had been able to match the pace he had set. A couple miles later the second rider moved around him, and the most Mike could muster in extra energy was to raise his eyes; following took the form of watching the other rider slowly ride away. He didn't really think much of it, after all he had some twenty-five years on the younger rider. But it was the second time in a week that this had happened. That other time was on the mountain bike. Mike had just topped the steepest and longest pitch of the loop when he was passed by another rider carrying nearly half again his speed. There was neither will nor desire to raise the pace, let alone give chase. Worst though, may have been the look - when the other rider rode past he had looked over - Mike was sure it was concern he had seen written on the others' face. But, surely he wasn't moving that slowly.
And so it went, ride after ride, Mike seemed to notice, or at least thought he did, that the old routes required just a little more effort, a little deeper digging to sustain an acceptable pace. Sometimes riders would pass him by, flat or hill it didn't matter. In the grand scheme of things this should have been unremarkable, yet in the past it rarely happened at all. Most of all, It was the increased frequency that was somewhat disturbing. There was a definite change taking place.
Years in the past he remembered reading how riders, as they aged, lost a measure of the quick jump off their sprint, that it would take longer to get up to speed. At the same time though, research showed that endurance actually improved with age. Mike had grabbed onto this with fervent hope. If he couldn't maintain the speed, at least maybe he could ride longer. Anyway, it was good to know that, though change might be inevitable, it didn't need to signal an end.
None of us are immune from aging, in one way or another it will affect our riding. I doubt anyone will recognize a singular point in time marking a transition from young to middle-age, to old. There is no adequate definition marking the boundaries. The realization is more likely to take place over a period of time, years even. We will remember being able to ride at the front for an entire training ride. We will remember a period of time when we ceded the space for more sheltered positions in the bunch. We will remember a period of time when we had to hang on for dear life. We may recognize that we are breathing harder, louder, or that we are expending more energy along sections of road or trail that were a breeze in the past. Maybe we will find ourselves being passed more often, when before it was us doing the passing.
I wonder if this maybe affects those whose cycling background has included a healthy dose of racing more than it does others. This years one guy riding away, turns into five guys and a gal from the bunch showing you their rear wheels with impunity the next year, and those numbers continuing to multiply with each successive year after that.
How does one react? Which path do you choose? Do you give in to time, exclaim "look out couch, here I come" and succumb to a new sedentary being, or do you continue to push anyway, accepting time and its limits, and the changes it brings? One thing that does not change in cycling is challenge, it is always present. It might be a challenge from others, it might be a challenge within ourselves. Challenge. It is one of the things that keeps me going, continue turning the cranks. After all, and in the words of Mr. Tom Petty, "if you don't run, you rust."