Tonight I was talking to my girlfriend and she said to me “I’m tired of you not doing better in your races.”
Now before you say anything nasty, understand this: I was not in the least bit offended. I quickly agreed with her. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m tired of not doing better too.”
We talked a bit about being an older athlete, and what that means. Adjusting your expectations. Squeezing in training. Training smart vs. training hard. I asked her for some help. She asked what she could do. I really didn’t know what she could do. We both admitted that we needed to believe that even as we age, we can still ‘get better’ at whatever it is we are trying to do out there. It may be in vain but here we are, still trying to get better in our 40’s or 50’s. So I have to ask myself, what does “better” mean?
It may seem like an easy question but I’m not sure that the answer is easy to articulate. Better doesn’t always mean faster, or a higher placing, or a lower crossresults point average. I have had races where I placed in the lower 1/3 or even 1/4 where I felt completely thrilled with the effort I put out. I’m thinking specifically of KMC Providence last year, when I finished 86 out of 114 racers. No one would look at that and say, “wow Karen, way to kill it out there!” No one would say that. But I did kill it out there! I had a blast. I put it all out there. That was my version of “better.”
And then there are the races from a couple of years ago, when I had more saddle time and my performance was, in fact, getting “better.” I was placing higher, I was feeling like I still had some room to improve. It was an upward trajectory I was feeling, and that continuous improvement made me feel like I was, in fact, “getting better.”
Lately, and I mean the second half of cyclocross season in 2014 and in my first race of 2015, I have felt pretty off. There’s always a problem that snarls my ability to have a good race. Bouts of sports-induced asthma by the second lap. Crashing and cracking a rib, or gashing my leg, or getting a shitty start, or suffering from heat exhaustion, or getting my handlebar caught on the course tape. (Geez, I read this list and I sound like a menace out there! I swear the only trouble I cause is my own).
My point is, I know when I’m doing better. I feel happy with the effort I put out. I feel satisfied and fulfilled with how hard the course was and what I did out there on that course. If I put a little pressure on a competitor, or if I pass a competitor or two (or ten), that’s a lot better. Bottom line is I need some “better” moments out there. Just like intervals, if I can string enough better moments together, I can pull off a downright good race.
Last Sunday I got to ride. After a leg stretching 18 miles in a balmy 40 degrees. I returned to my girlfriend’s place. As I was cleaning my bike up out front, an elderly woman approached. I greeted her and she said she was looking for her lost dog. After some prompting, I got a description of her little mostly white dog, Cookie, and offered to spin around the neighborhood looking for the little guy.
I rode around through the immediate neighborhood, and then hers. I stopped another older woman on her walk and asked if she had seen a little lost dog named Cookie. She asked where, and told her what road the woman lived on. The woman exclaimed, “My daughter lives there!” She agreed to talk to her daughter and I pedaled on, calling “Coooooookie! Cooooooookie!” I weaved down side streets and cruised slowly, scanning for little lost Cookie.
I turned back down the woman’s street and notice the walker I had stopped standing in the middle of the street, talking to a man and waved me toward her. I rode over and entered the discussion.
The man was the son of Cookie’s owner. I told him “I’m looking for a lost dog for a woman, it’s small and white and named Cookie.” He replied, “The woman is my mother, and that dog has been dead for years. I’m more concerned about where my mother is.”
Oh. Well I could still help. I knew where his mom was. He explained she gets a bit confused and occasionally wonders off her walking route. All was well that ended well. Mother was found, and I returned home shortly after.
This story didn’t turn out how I thought it would, but it felt good to help out in a small way. It’s sad that we age at all, and the results of aging for everyone varies, but no one choses how time will diminish us. That might sound strong–I don’t mean it to–but it captures my fear of aging. I want to remain as strong and sharp as I can for as long as possible. The march of time is without escape. Riding keeps me young–I feel like a kid when I’m on my bike. I’m counting on that to help me as I travel through the last half of my life.