Friday, March 7, 2014

On getting old.

Leaving for an early morning race in 2008, when I was racing for Title Nine.
I was chatting with my friend and former teammate, Missy Foy, about the mental challenges of getting older before you are really ready to resign your sport. Missy is an elite athlete and a type 1 diabetic, who remains the only runner with diabetes to ever qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials. We were talking about how, as you age, the challenges shift from juggling family and work, sleep and nutrition and training and travel, to focusing instead on the bigger internal questions about when and how to “age out” of competition. 

Missy has found that Ultra Running is a good solution…which makes sense. Endurance performance is more heavily dependent on sustainable energy production and fatigue resistance, which are based on cardiovascular and muscular changes that sometimes accompany age. That resistance to fatigue can translate to success when it comes to being an endurance athlete. It’s easier for many of us to win a 100 mile road race than a 100 meter dash. This also might explain why a lot of women are racing bikes well into their 30s and 40s.

Still, I feel like the clock moves faster every year. 

Goofing around on a ride.
I remember my friend Bobby telling me that he transitioned from bike racing to triathlon when he felt like he could no longer keep up with the younger professional men. When we were having that discussion three years ago, it was a decision that seemed so far off I could not imagine finding myself in his shoes. Now? I feel like I am racing time every single day.

There are so many opportunity costs that come with racing. It’s travel and time away from family. It’s the commitment to train 15, 20 hours every single week. And that comes on top of my business, my full-time job, my freelance work. Cycling has given me a lot, but it has also taken some things away. I wouldn’t trade my experiences, accomplishments, and the relationships I’ve had in cycling for anything, but then there are the injuries, the packing and unpacking, and the sacrifice of so much training to ride a bike faster…

Injuries are definitely part of the sport.
At the same time, bike racing still makes me happy. Even after all this time, I find I want most to be on my bike. The journey and process of working hard and getting better, coming back to the bike after so many years away, has shaped me and made me a better person. There are still things I want to accomplish in this sport, and I don’t feel ready to hang it up. Not yet, anyway. 

Time is a strange kind of pressure. It’s the pressure to weigh your goals, and then make them happen before it’s too late…before it all slips away to the oblivion of age. I have never wanted to stop the clock, but now? Now I feel like I am racing against it. My enemy is time. 

Training in the kitchen.
Last year, I decided not to do the Tour of the Gila on the advice of a good friend and professional who, candidly, told me I just wasn’t going to get a result given my fitness at that point in the season. This year, I looked at the race calendar, and realized that I might not have that many seasons ahead of me. If I wanted to tackle that race, if that made the short list of my goals, I needed to train for it now.  So, I pulled the trigger. 

I find myself planning my schedule with that race against time ever-present on my mind. The tape in my head plays the same phrase: “You won’t have that many chances ahead of you. Quit putting it off, because it will pass you by.” My training is always focused on being successful right now, because I know I don’t have years to build on these outcomes. It’s all about this moment, this season, this race.

It’s hard to think ahead, to a time when I might not be doing this at all. I remember a friend last season talk about pinning on a number to what might be the last Elite race of her career, and wondering what it must be like in the moment…and thinking about the process of coming to that day. As hard as it is to juggle the demands of the sport with the demands of living this life, the toughest journey seems to be the one that moves toward giving it all up. The slow movement toward that inevitable fact is definitely shaping my season and my goals.

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