Friday Query: Living in a State of Denial?
Some time ago I decided my racing "career" was officially over, not that there was ever much there anyway - a very few high points awash in a great sea of mediocrity. Those high points are now dusty memories of twenty years ago. Yes, the mid-90s. Never-the-less it was a time that came to define my self-character, and the way I have continued to view myself as a cyclist. Yet while I am not a racer in any real sense anymore and, while I may inform the mrs. that "I am going out on a ride now," what I am really saying (in my mind), or what I hear myself say, is "I am going out training now." There is a dichotomous existence that I have not yet been able to come to grips with. Needless to say, perhaps, this blogging stuff only perpetuates the myth - going to all these races, or the finish of a competitive training ride, like the Bud's, enables a sense of connection, or still being a part of a bigger, and somehow more significant, cog.
If I were to sit before a psychologist, she might come to the conclusion that all the solo riding I tend to favor (and I have always done quite a bit, just never as much as the past few years), has more to do with perpetuating an illusion of competitiveness, than it does with actually liking the solo ride. What, you say? How could riding solo do that? Well, the devil's advocate says, if there are no other riders around to challenge, to push, out sprint, out climb, drop, or be dropped by, who is to say that I am not as mediocre or, limiting my memory to just a few years, moderately good as I ever was? In a way it is the same premise as the old tree falling in the woods argument. Does it make a sound? Am I still fast in my sixth decade (50s)? If there is no one around to hear it, or out ride, who is to say otherwise?
The truth is that no, I am not as fast. There is no doped blood flowing through my veins to make it otherwise. I have not discovered some secret of longevity, of perpetual speed, strength, or endurance. If I were to toe the line at this weekend's criterium I am confident the 50+ field would drop me and I would plummet off the back like a seventy-five pound bag of concrete mix. See, the reality is still there and I recognize it, but because I have not been dropped from a race in some five years, I need not acknowledge the reality. More than that, and other than just having shared these thoughts, I could very well have continued the falsehood of non-acknowledgment for the rest of my cycling life.
I don' know. I keep thinking I will eventually reach some sort of compromise, that I could eventually get comfortable being the older guy who comes into the regroup last or, if not dead last, at least with the back-markers. I keep wondering when the point of accepting that I will just not be in the front group, all the time, will be reached. Twenty and more years ago I did those group rides on which the old guys did the best they could, reaching the summit, or after-sprint regroup as best they could, and didn't seem to mind one bit that they were, sometimes, multiple minutes behind. The wheels have turned full circle, there is a new crop of young guns, and I am now one of that older group, just one unwilling to accept it, or willing to hold off the inevitable by sheer force of avoidance. Denial? Ya think?