Why do you ride?
Reflection time ...
I often think about this, as a coach to others. Why do we ride bikes, and even more interestlingly, why do we compete?
The first one's easy and multi-faceted. I had lunch recently with a friend, and she told me of the joy she felt riding home with a tailwind, gliding effortlessly along in a small bunch with some friends. I think most of us who cycle will know that feeling. The riding's effortless, the speed, the distance, the good company ... Then there's the doing something you didn't know you could do. Another good friend comes up to Hotham for our camps up there, and I can still remember the emotion he felt when he first topped out on the big monster. That's such an intense feeling, it's worth working hard for. There's also the somewhat egotistical 'I can do this' side of it, back when I rode a lot of road miles, I remember riding out to watch the Bendigo Madison, from Brighton (~220km for the day). I stopped off at some small town for a snack on the way, and the staff asked me where I was going. Bendigo? That's 100km from here! Sure .. Where've you ridden from, Brighton?! heh .. It makes us feel like super people. Of course we're not, almost anyone can do that sort of stuff, they just don't think they can, so they don't try.
There's lots of other things, but I think they're probably the big three. There's heath benefits, transport cost savings (until you start buying expensive bikes!), environmental reasons and so on as well, but for the people I work with, I think they're the main ones.
Ok, so why do we compete?
Again, many reasons. I can think of a few, but they're very dependant on the situation of the individual.
Some, are very promising athletes (I'm lucky to work with one and she's a potential Olympian in 10 years if everything goes well). They're motivated to compete because they can be the best in the world, or at least, they won't die wondering if they could have. These are the very talented juniors. They're very rare and when you find one, and if you're really, really lucky, get to coach one or even just be close to one, it's an amazing experience. Some of you will know who I'm talking about. I have been incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work with this junior and am humbled by it and her trust, every day.
Then there's the rest of us. Some juniors, some masters, some 'elite' but a bit late to get started or without massive talent. These people are the bulk of the people I coach (99%!). I've spent some 8 years now coaching mostly masters, and I'm a masters racer myself too. That said, I don't really understand why 'we' race. I can only really relate it to my own case, and I'd love to hear your comments on why you do, if you do, or why you don't, if you don't. Ugly sentence, I'm sorry!
So I'm going to prime the pump with my own story and a guess at my reasons, as best I can, and I hope you feel like commenting too.
I race because I feel bad if I don't. I'm too old (38 now) to consider any sort of an elite career, although I was a chance as a kid playing Rugby Union my dad was right, I didn't have enough mongrel in me to be a senior elite rugby player. I played state representative for Victoria in the 1980's from under 12's to under 16's and I was a pretty good player (a natural, in some ways), took a couple of years off (HSC, year 12, Uni ...) and then got back into it living in Perth when I needed some family. I got one run on in the UWA rugby club 1st grade, and played 2nd grade as captain for a few years until, at the ripe old age of 26, I blew my knee up ski-ing and that was it. I still miss the sport, its cameraderie and the whole 'being in a team' thing. I dabbled in ice hockey for the Melbourne Sharks for a couple of seasons, again, got one skate-on in their 1sts (but only because they were short that day and no-one else in the 2's had the balls to go out and get smashed! It wasn't because I was good enough, that's for sure!). Found my limits, I'm an unco-ordinated skater. Big and strong, but a crap skater. I worked hard at it, did an awful lot of time on the ice, trained twice as much as everyone else on the team, but was only ever going to be a struggling-to-get-a-place-in-the-team B grade player. I didn't have the skills at a good enough level. I had the brains for it, tactically, and the work ethic, but not the skating or puck-handling skills.
So pretty-much from the age of 10 I competed in something - while I was at Uni I player water polo, and again, got to a reasonable standard (state-league 3, and two intervarsity championships) but I wasn't a natural at it, it was all from hard work. As a really young kid (10-14 or so years old) I won all the school swimming stuff, and I think my old under 11 25m backstroke record may still be standing, from 1977! I raced rallies (won the Rally of Melbourne PRC1 in 1999) and so on. So I've always been a competitor. That's the gist of the above self-indulgent paragraphs.
I raced road for a few years, won my way up to B grade (thankyou Lorraine, I'll never forget you, and the day you told me to go up to B grade after Dunlop Road, RIP). But, I was always a sprinter trying to be an enduro, wrong body type for hills. So now I race track sprint and I feel like I'm racing the right thing for me. The training feels good, the racing, I love. I don't win much but I love the one-on-one match sprinting, can't get enough of it. I'll never be any good at it though, if I'm lucky and train hard enough I'll achieve a few personal targets, but world masters? I don't think I have the talent for it at any age group and I would feel bad if I pretended otherwise. I'm just not fast enough and going 'just because I can' devalues the achievements of those who are genuinely good enough to go. Maybe, if I'd raced bikes as a kid and burned in the motor patterns for high cadence power .. but I was playing rugby at the time and swimming and I'd do it the same again if I had my time over (but I'd train smarter and do better strength work!).
That still doesn't really answer the question of why do I race? Maybe it's a distraction from work/eat/sleep? Maybe it's some deeply seated psychological thing that needs competition as an outlet? I know if I don't compete in something I can be a real grouch and I feel bad about myself. But why? Why get on a bike and do efforts that end in nausea and vomiting, why get into a gym and lift very heavy things, why spend a fortune on go-faster bits? I don't know. What's the reward at the end? Why do relatively old men like me and many of my friends and aquaintances train so hard, modify our lives, risk our relationships and devote so much time to what is only a recreation? We take it so very, very seriously (some to an amazing, and probably an unhealthy degree!). But we can't do it as a career, we're only doing it for ourselves and our own vanity, or is it something more?
I'd really appreciate your thoughts on this ... Why do you race and train?