After the National Senior Games, I can say that as a bicycle racer, I am, like Garrison Keillor’s mythical children of Lake Wobegone, above average. Nothing more.
In three races, I came in above the midpoint in all three races, barely in one case.
I had no business being in the 5k time trial. In fact, I was arrogant to ride it, with my endurance frame road bike. I placed 20th out of 41 riders. It was an insult to the riders who train for the time trial, buy special TT bikes, wheels, handlebars and helmets, and race often. With a time of 9:20, I was nearly 90 seconds behind the winner. Still, I finished with that taste in my mouth that I describe as blood in my lungs but is probably neither blood nor in my lungs, but it does make me feel that I gave it my all. As does the cough that starts immediately after finishing and which I still have a few days later. I averaged 265 weighted watts. I was disappointed, but unless I buy a TT bike and train on it, I think that’ll be my last TT race.
In the 20k road race, I finished with the leaders, number 10 out of 41 riders. I was with the lead group going into the last turn, but as often happens in turns, I got spit out the back. I can corner tightly, but I think I don’t trust my tires, afraid they’ll slide out from under me. My weighted power average was 233 watts. Being in the top ten in one of the races was my minimum goal, so I finished that day feeling, if not good, not embarrassed.
But good enough that I thought I had a chance to compete in the 40k. Yet, the day I reconnoitered the course, I was intimidated by a 0.8 mile, 2.5% grade hill. While I made it up the one time in the 20k race, the 40k required three ascents. The first I made with the lead group. The second time around, I struggled. My legs cranked as best I could. Then that sinking feeling commences as I see the wheels in front pull farther ahead and I’m powerless, literally, to do anything about it. It’s not that my legs are tired or hurt. They simply have no power. They are too weak to hurt. They turn, but the bikes stays still, seemingly not to move at all. By the time I reached the top, the group of 14 riders was too far ahead. They were within sight for a while. Then they were gone.
I looked around as I crested the hill and found no one behind me. The other 20+ riders had fallen off the pace. Could I keep them away? For the next 14 miles I did, save one who caught me near the end of the penultimate loop and then promptly announced he was abandoning the race. I placed 15th of 35 who finished. (Several either abandoned or were pulled so the organizers could start the next race on time.) My weighted average power was 215 watts. I was nearly five and half minutes behind the leader.
Despite these middling performances, I saw glimmers of hope. Keeping the rest of the pack at bay was cool. I blocked out the riders in front of me and pretended those behind were trying to catch my breakaway. Staying with the big boys until the end of the 20k was nice. A perhaps pathetic positive was knowing that I will move up to the 70-74 age group next year. Maybe they will be kinder to me. (My time would have placed me third in that group.)
But usually I tend to focus on what went wrong. I lose speed in corners. Need to fix that. I need to lose weight. Ten fewer pounds and I might have made it up that hill. Getting closer to the front at the end of the race gives me a chance to compete for a podium spot. Being at the back doesn’t.
And I look at the guys who beat me. They’re old men with wrinkly skin and thinning gray hair!
Maybe, too, I need to train smarter. By that I mean not harder, but even more systematically and perhaps a little easier. In the weeks leading up to the Games, I had some tough weeks. The production of endorphins and their impact on me are undeniable, so it’s hard for me not to go hard. At the end of a tough workout, I feel accomplished and energized, even if I need a nap later in the day.
I would have liked better results. In the days before the races, I visualized my hanging on to the end, positioning myself just on the outside of a wheel toward the front and then sprinting for the finish. I even allowed to see myself raising my arms in victory. But still, the vision of that hill kept intruding. It looked steeper than 2.5%. I felt heavier than 190 lbs. I could visualize my legs giving way. And as it turned out, I witnessed the power of negative thinking, something I’ve struggled with all my life, mitigated only by 32 years of being with the most relentlessly positive woman in the world.
As a kid I rarely competed in sports. I ran track for a year in high school, but that’s the sport for non-athletes, the guys who could claim to compete only with themselves. Or perhaps for those who weren’t coordinated enough to play any real sport. I didn’t play football except in the touch variety in the streets. My mother, who never took chances, didn’t want me to play so I wouldn’t get hurt. I let her be my excuse for not wanting to compete. Same with baseball. I couldn’t hit a curve ball and didn’t want to learn in public. As a young adult, I ran a lot, but always training, never racing. In competition, only one guy could win; the rest were losers.
As we were driving home from Birmingham, I was fresh off my disappointment of not staying with the lead group in the 40k, the fast guys, the big boys. Yet, I felt oddly satisfied at the same time. Perhaps it was because I competed and lost and survived to tell about it.
So I am not the national champion and there are no photos of me standing on the podium with my arms raised in triumph. But then, I’m staring 70 in the face, and I race bicycles, for God’s sake. And…I’m above average. I’ll take it.