Sunday, June 23, 2013

Two Mental Exercises for Cat 5s and a Theory of Bike Racing and Chocolate

Cat 5s, try a couple of mental exercises.

Imagine yourself at the start line of your next race.  It's a field of 63, a bigger field than you've ever seen.
  • Next year, only 35 (of the 63) of you will be lined up.  28 of you quit the sport.
  • Only 20 of you will upgrade.
  • In five years, only .16% of you will line up as Category 1 racers. 
In sum, half of you quit after the first year, a third of you keep going for at least another year, and none of you make it to the highest category.  (Data is from Bill Luecke's fantastic analysis here).

Imagine yourself with $13,000.  You've already spent $2,000 on your bike and repairs to it.  Now imagine yourself in 5 years with no money.

Over the next five decades, on your way toward Category 1, you'll surely buy at least two more bikes and countless parts upgrades, you'll race--and pay entry fees--at least 65 times, you'll visit the emergency room at least once, and you'll spend at least 20 weekends in hotels.  Only a tiny fraction of the $13,000 may possibly go to "finding the cure," and none will go toward your career development, toward your wife's jewelry collection, or your child's education fund.

NB:  Funds to pay divorce lawyer not included in calculations.

If defeat reveals character, as is the saying, then most of us bike racers are exhibitionists when it comes to character.  We're soul strippers--please take yet another look at our sorry inner lives, which we show seriously disinterested bystanders (mostly other bike racing losers, like ourselves).

We fail prodigiously, and then we lie around and make excuses or pontificate or get angry.  Or we quit, as most folks who attempt bike racing do.  As Bill writes:

"After only a year, 45% of the racers have quit the sport. By the end of the third year, only 36% of the racers remain, and after six years, only 20% remain."

We say it often, but bike racing is a hard sport.  Failure is what we set ourselves up for when 1 of 70 (depending on field sizes) competitors can win, when only the most gifted, obsessed, and persistent, even get the chance to race in the top category.

This brings me to my next point, which has to do with the departed.  We who have survived are already among the elite, those who simply show up.  We're survivors in a process that has stripped off the vast majority of the less committed, less fortunate, or less gifted.

All this is, of course, no consolation for sucking in a bike race.  Yes, those of us who have survived are Delta-force like creatures of perseverance.  Congrats.

Who keeps going?

I've asked myself this question often.

The answer I usually come up with involves mild insanity, diagnoses of obsessive behavior, masochism, narcissism, middle-aged-men-in-tights (MAMITs) syndrome, and the like.

Other times I think it may have to do with the unusual connection that's possible, sometimes, with other bike racers, those of us who have persevered.

I bummed a ride to Church Creek TT off Ken.  Ken and I spotted a Lion's Club roadside chicken barbecue on the way out and we'd independently hoped it'd be the place we stopped after the race.  We did stop, but they were out of chicken (this was after two hours spent waiting for results to be posted).

Undaunted, we made our way to Golden Corral.  There, we discovered a common appreciation for roasted meat and various fruit baptized in Golden Corral's Chocolate Wunderfall™, which I've previously extolled.

At Church Creek, I'd done poorly.  Ken had done exceptionally well, earning a podium and putting down a personal best.  No matter.  When we eased away from the table, sated on grade B+ beef and limitless liquid chocolate, we were lords.

It didn't hurt to be surrounded by context--that is, by civilians, the opposite of bike racers, heavy limbed, heavy breathing folks for whom a visit to the Golden Corral was a good eight-hour workday. 

Gold Corral Line: Chocolate Wunderfall Shortages Feared
"He who distinguishes the true savor of his food," said Thoreau, "can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise." I can't say why some take pleasure in eating, but I know exactly why Ken and I relished our meal.  It has something to do with savoring it.

An hour spent riding at threshold imposes pain in a way little else, aside from injury or illness, does.  The difference is that it's voluntary and vanishes (mostly) at the finish line.  The more you ride and suffer, the more you learn to accept--some even savor--pain as part of the deal.

I'm hoping this transfers to how I will deal with the pain life invariably throws at us--we are, after all, mortals, and the best we can do, in the end, is smile in the face of suffering.

But for now, I'll enjoy--savor, I say--the flavor of food and of breathing easy, and the sharing of savoring with guys like Ken.  That, I suggest, is at least one good thing the tremendous perseverance required to race bikes brings.

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