I’m just starting to ride my bike again after having surgery in the spring. The recovery time was supposed to be 6-8 weeks, meaning I couldn’t even look at a bicycle during that period. The prognosis was that after three months I could get on my bike for shorter rides and slowly work my way up to longer ones. It turns out that I must have read the surgical brochure for 20 year-olds, because it took my 47 year-old body over four months just to be able to ride at all. I’m now at five months and get do only 20-25 miles four times a week with minimal pain – way below my normal average. But, at least I’m riding, although I’m in horrible shape.
I live in an area west of Boston that has roads crowded with riders. Like any self-respecting guy, I see each small encounter with other riders as a chance to show off. I mark a rider ahead of me and time how long it takes me to pass him/her. Well, that’s how it used to work. These days I’m timing how long I can stay in front of someone approaching behind me. I’m getting passed so fast that I can see the shift of light from blue to red.
As I unsuccessfully tried to catch someone on a ride last week, I remembered my first charity ride 4 years ago. For those that haven’t done one of these rides, it’s like most charity sporting events. A rider gets sponsors to support his/her efforts in the ride and then rides a pre-arranged distance, giving the money from the sponsors to the charity. These are not supposed to be races, but a reasonable percentage of the riders that show up work hard to finish first. My first event was a 25-mile race, er . . . ride.
I was pretty new to cycling at the time, aside from avidly riding a Schwinn Sting-Ray when I was a kid. I shot out quickly after the start and found myself winded by the 200 yard mark (that’s 200 yards from the start, not finish). A couple of miles in, along a long, tree-lined road, I spotted an unfit (read: fat) guy riding about a quarter mile in front of me. I focused all my energy on the short-term goal of passing him. After an incredibly exhausting couple of miles, I finally reached him, only to discover that he had been talking on his cell phone the whole time, riding with one hand on the handlebar. What little testosterone I still had drained from my body at that point.
I was crushed. I rationalized the experience with excuses about being out of shape, unfamiliar with my bike and a newbie to racing (oops, charity rides). A couple of years of work later and I’m pretty sure I could pass that fat guy – as long as he rides with his cell phone in his ear. I’ve also come to realize that there’s a huge gap between my abilities – skills, physiology and training – and many (perhaps most) of the riders out there. It’s taken me a long time to accept it, but now I work to achieve good not great and certainly not best when it comes to cycling. It’s just not in me. There might, however, be a few things in life that I can be great at and maybe even achieve a best along the way. I’m still looking.