Marolt: Why nobody thinks we race anymore
Show me a person my age who says they feel like they did when they were 20 and I’ll show you a person my age who has not tried doing anything they did when they were 20. Age is not relative. Age is not mind over matter. It is not even anything to do with how you feel. It is as pernicious as it is sneaky, and it makes liars and realists out of all.
I recently read a story about a man who has made a career out of being an anachronistic prototype in the mountain bike racing world from back in the days when I thought I was racing mountain bikes, but now realize I was just another name on the list of riders who the few real racers regularly enjoyed beating. He stood out because he was old. He was always a national champion because there was no one else in his age category. We treated him with awe and respect solely for being old.
That rider is 80 now and, when I did the math, I figured he was about 55 back in those days of my singletrack racing. The shocker is that I am 56 now and don’t feel nearly as ancient as he looked then. In many moments of dishonesty, I have told myself that I feel just about the same as I did back then and could probably perform on about the same level … if I had to.
I can see the deceit so easily in others. There is an old baseball teammate who lives in a fantasy of “ifs” and “buts.” Watching a game together not long ago, I marveled at how hard today’s pitchers throw. Unimpressed, he bet me he could still go out there and throw over 90 mph. I laughed out loud and reminded him that he couldn’t even throw that hard in his prime. He told me with a straight face that he is in much better shape now and eats healthier.
From what I remember about that old mountain biker’s performance at 55, I think I can ride faster now than he did then. But, the truth is that I don’t race anymore, and he still does. I haven’t tested myself against another rider or clock, except informally against my wrist-watch, mentally adjusting the time to get it to down to what I think is respectable, in more than two decades. We young bucks swore that we would still be racing when we reached his age, but not many of us are.
One day you are racing, the next you are taking a little break but still riding hard. Pretty soon you are taking weekends off and riding easy, stopping frequently to look around. You take the cycling computer off your handlebars. About this time, you recall how much you used to love trail running before you got into mountain biking, and so you try that again for kicks. You up the distance gradually until your body protests and then you find yourself hiking more. You call them recovery days. Before long, you are walking around the golf course. This is how endurance athletes retire, if only accidentally.
When you first fear this has happened, you might get a second wind. You sign up to run a local 5k that raises money for charity, just to have some fun and see what might be. Through an error in the registration process, unbeknownst to you at the time you sign up, you end up in the women’s over 50 category. When the results are published, you realize you got third place.
It is at this point you know you will never officially race again. You will henceforth satisfy competitive cravings by singling out random exercisers on the trail, reeling them in surreptitiously from behind, and sounding the victory whoop of “on your left” as you speed by. It is more satisfying than finding your name in the fine print of page two of the results of a real race in a section of the paper beyond the classified ads.
I suppose in the end this all boils down to acknowledging that the competitive spirit never leaves us, no matter our age. I think the reason I don’t like to race officially anymore is because I am irked being the guy who is pretty darn fast for his age getting beat by 25-year-olds pretty darn slow for their own. One thing I know for certain is that I will never lose a game that exists only in my mind.
Roger Marolt’s new idea of an expedition is 18 holes without a cart. Email at roger@ maroltllp.com.
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