I have been racing a long time, long enough to remember wearing leather shoes and no helmet, long enough to think toe clips were revolutionary and the only good bike was a steel bike. Now that I turned 50, and am making my comeback to racing, I have a fresh perspective on how this racing thing really works.
Firstly, it is a 5 year progression to get up to near your potential. 5 years ago my friends Peter Wicklund, George Yates and Peter DelMissier put a charity team together that got me riding every Thursday night and doing 6 centuries each summer. Each year I have gotten faster and fallen back in love with cycling as a result. The other part is my son was 5 when I started and each year he needs less of my time and that has also fueled my enthusiasm, I have been able to see progress.
I see it every week, people coming back into racing after 5-10-15 years of (or disappear because of the following):
-going to school
-building a career
-trying other hobbies
-financial or life issues
-just eating and drinking without the cycling until they reach threshold and want to change
I love seeing some old racing buddies coming back to it… The cross race at Woodland park was a homecoming of old friends from 20 years ago, and others never stopped. So racing and coaching riders to the front of the group isn’t just about the training program, it is about finding the right balance for the right time of life.
Yesterday I reached a 5 year goal, getting back into cyclocross and placing in the top 5 of my age bracket in the elite field locally. I nailed my start and was first into the single track, and the technical course showcased my handling skills and downplayed my fitness, it was a perfect storm. As I was racing and really feeling good about my progress this year I realized that it was drastically accelerated by a few things:
#1 – I am at the races all day coaching our junior team, so I pre-ride the course early and get comfortable with it.
#2 – I do a ride the day before, even if only 30 minutes, and do a few hard efforts so my legs feel better on race day.
#3 – I do at least 2 rides during the week, ideally 3. That keep me going, the weeks where I only ride Thursday nights my legs aren’t as good.
#4 – I cleaned up my diet 6 weeks ago to mostly vegetarian and as much raw food as possible.
#5 – I remembered all my old racing tricks of preparation: eating 3 hours before but being hungry at the start, finish hydrating 1 hour before, embrocating my legs and low back, menthol to open my breathing passages, etc…
There are so many small things you can do to finish better in races, it is all in the details.
I also realize that I was set up to have a good season by not doing too much training during the summer. This was opposite my plan, but the reality was that I was busy this summer doing other things besides riding, and that “freshness” is paying off huge as I went from 20th place to the top 5 over the course of 2 months. Racing is both mental and physical, it isn’t a straight line, there needs to be rest periods to have peak periods.
So if you are thinking about the next season you want to really do well in, keep focused in the what you aim to do. I knew my whole year was about my cyclocross season, because last year I had one good race then was sick for 6 weeks, the year before I started in the back and tried to pass a few people. The year before that I was racing in the back of the category 3 masters, and the year before that just did a few races for fun. It takes years to get up to your potential, and that is if things go well. So enjoy where you are, and keep fighting to improve, the winners circle is not just for the talented, but for the persistent as well.
Train hard, prepare well,