Reflections on my Cycling Past
When I was in my 20s and cycling a lot (absolutely completely delusional about my potential athletic capability) I wore a heart rate monitor religiously. Rediscovering the heart rate monitor has forced me to reminisce about those days. I rode and raced from about they year 1999 to 2009. Which in hindsight is relatively short amount of time. Most of my racing was from 2001 to 2008. I stopped wearing it when I met some older (and good) cyclists who told me about their formula for training: ride long and mostly easy all winter and race every weekend – both days if available during the warmer weather from March to October. Be sure to do cyclocross in the winter as well. You were allowed about a week off in December, which I never took because I still was totally compelled to ride outside. These guys rode during that time too.
And be sure to do a practice race during the week, maybe two – preferably predicated with twenty miles before and at least ten after. I bought into this plan. It was so organic and simple. But it really was too much. I know now that a lot of these guys have some serious self-absorbed psychological issues – issues that sort of became my issues when I was around them. I still can’t stand it when (mostly guys) start up with the tech talk about their bikes. Some of these guys believed they deserved to get paid. And just about nobody is going to pay you any money to be a mediocre amateur bike racer – even if you are quite good. Just because you ride around “advertising” (most kits have companies purchase ad space) doesn’t mean you are critical to day to day operations of the firm. One has to be head and shoulders above the competition to get any kind of compensation – like a rapidly rising Cat 2 or a Cat 1 who gets consistent results. Apart from my first bike, I built every bike I raced on – which is to say I learned how to attach the parts and to tune them up so they would work. Having a small budget was of great help in learning this. I could find cheaper parts online that I could in the store. On occasion I brought my bike to the shop to get some things done. I still remember some of these tech oriented shop guys telling me I could “never” ride with the bike I had because it was a mismatch of parts having a mix of Campy and Shimano parts. They didn’t know what they were talking about. Sure they looked great in their shiny new kits as they sported their spare wheels to the pit but I’m not sure how much they actually knew about the intricacies of the sport. The amount of complete BS in cycling is amazing.
Just don’t crash with all this racing. By the way, you are going to crash when racing this much – maybe you could stay safe if you’re fast enough to get into the inevitable breakaway or you only race the masters race (for those over 30 or 35). I still can’t believe that they have an over 30 masters division in cycling. The sad part is that the master’s 40 plus if often as fast or faster when compared to the 30 plus race.
Crashes happened to me about one every ten races or so – although it depends on how I rode them. If I wanted to be competitive I needed to be right on the edge of my ability and this negates gross motor coordination. Sprinting was not my forte and to get any kind of placing I would have to be in the lead out towards the finish in perfect position. By the end of my experience I was tired of crashing. I had crashed a few times every year. The last time I broke my helmet and tore my rotator cuff, this was in March of 2009. The season didn’t even start yet – this was during a practice race. That was pretty much it for the racing – although I raced that year nearly every weekend. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I still enjoyed riding, just not 200 miles a week of riding. This was back in 2009. I still haven’t given it up entirely. I did a few races a couple of years ago, with minimal training (like less than 100 miles a week but about 30 of running) and didn’t get dropped which might negate the race every weekend training philosophy. Most cyclist don’t run at all either which might be good advice for the lucky few semi-pro or pro guys but probably bad advice for the overwhelming vast majority of other cyclists.
I did make it to the category 3 level in cycling and this is where a heart rate training plan would have helped me attain the slim possibility of ever getting to the category 2 level. I kept on riding the way I had been though. Heck, I even looked down on people that didn’t train in the way that I did. I thought I was the purest rider around and that I was somehow going to get some fictional award for putting in consecutive 90 mile days during school break in February. I was delusional about this however. But in the end I had done too much and didn’t give other methods of training enough time or effort. I also put the bike mostly away after doing this for seven years. I was so totally exhausted by the whole scene. I had just burnt myself out and had begun to branch off into doing other things – namely going to graduate school and working full time. To make my transition out of cycling easier I had only made a few meaningful friendships over the time that I was riding which was beginning to get pretty old by the time I was in my early 30s. I also must take responsibility for this as I wasn’t really putting the time in to develop them either. I also stuck around bad teams too long when I really should have been a lot more independent in my approach to riding partners. But this is all in hindsight and I look forward to being able to help my son with these types of decisions in the future.
Just some thoughts on cyclocross. Cyclocross is great fun and a great event. Back then, I feel that cyclocross wasn’t nearly as “serious” as it is now but was growing in popularity. Still, there were some who I think spent a pathological amount of time and effort with ‘cross. Honestly, I actually find it comical how seriously some people took cyclocross. Its one thing when you are young and single and you have aspirations of being a great athlete. I applaud people with this growth mindset. Its another thing when you are a 43 year old father of two and spending your kids college fund for your cross bike and the extra two to keep in the pit (in case something happens). The same can be said with road racing. I’ve seen people do this and thought it was weird back then. It seems almost criminal now.
While the experience is totally individual the extreme financial cost of bikes sometimes takes the fun out of it. Maybe we should all ride the same crappy steel bike with the same generation of parts at cross races? What about the same thing in road races? I decided that I’ll just level the playing field myself and stick to running. Anyway, this post is more of a rant than anything. If you are a cyclist and reading this just remember its a great sport and there are many different ways to succeed.
Maybe my bike should come out again though? Yes, I think so – but its got to be warm out this time!