For a time, bike racing was something that I needed to do. Not only was it a lot of fun, but coming as it did later in life it was also the first time that I’d ever really tasted athletic success. For seven years I lived a disciplined life – training hard, eating right, and putting other interests on hold. I went from a fat, middle-aged dad to enjoying a level of fitness that few people my age ever experience. I became a new person. Eventually, however, racing stopped being fun and became a chore. I’d always told myself that if it stopped being fun, then I would quit. So I did.
That was two years ago, and for a time I didn’t miss racing at all. Instead I enjoyed the life of an avid, non-racing road cyclist, doing fast group rides, epic solo rides, and lazy lunchtime rides. As I did when I raced, I continued to ride almost every day and routinely logged anywhere from 100-200 miles each week – only without the intervals. My only goals were to maintain fitness and have fun. For awhile I continued to chronicle my riding on this blog – a holdover from my racing days, but by the end of last year I’d begun to lose interest in that as well. I just felt like I’d run out of things to say – that riding had become, for me, an experience to live but not to document.
In the beginning of the year, however, a funny thing happened – I started training again. My wife and I had made plans to go to France this year and follow the Tour de France, and as part of the deal I signed up to ride l’Etape du Tour. I could’ve bagged it and just done what I needed to to make the time cuts and finish the course, but the competitive person inside me would not settle for something like that. I wanted to do well – real well. So I began training again – hard! I used the same training program that allowed me to do well in my first Etape in 2007. A few weeks before leaving for that trip, an even funnier thing happened – I started racing again! I had seen Joe Walsh at one of the Monday Night St. Charles group rides, and he urged me to come out for the Wednesday Night Time Trial series that he and PJ were putting on. I told him I’d stopped racing and didn’t even have a time trial bike anymore. He said “No problem, we started a Merckx class this year.” Sounded interesting, so I gave it a try. That first week, toeing the line was almost as exciting as the first time I ever raced, and I had a blast. My time was decent – not great – but I knew immediately that this would be a fun way to experience a little racing again without the pressure and commitment of a full schedule. I couldn’t do every Wednesday night, but I did as many as I could, and despite missing the first six weeks and two of the last three weeks of the 15-week series I secured enough points to finish 3rd overall in the Merckx.
That probably would have been the end of the story, but shortly before I left for France, Joe convinced Mike at Big Shark to include a Merckx class in this year’s Missouri State Time Trial. I had tinkered with the idea of doing the State TT anyway – just for kicks. My friend Vince told me he’d let me use his TT bike, and I figured between the Wednesday Night series and two weeks of riding in the Pyrénées and Paris I should be on pretty good form. I didn’t think I could win, but maybe I could medal. When the Merckx class was announced, however, I knew I had to do it – if for no other reason than I had been such a big supporter of the Merckx class at the Wednesday Night series. So I went to France and rode the Etape (worth at least a separate blog post or two), got back late Tuesday last week, rode the final Wednesday Night TT the next evening (jet lagged and on my backup bike – my good bike was delayed getting back with me), and drove to Jefferson City Friday night for my scheduled 9:15 start. It was my first ‘official’ race since the 2008 State Time Trial debacle, but this time was different. I didn’t think I could win – I was just going to have fun, hopefully put in a good ride, and maybe make the podium. I was relaxed, not at all nervous, and quickly settled into a good rhythm. When I made the turnaround in 30:08, I began to entertain thoughts of breaking the hour, and these thoughts were strengthened when I hit the 30-km mark right at 45 minutes. However, the last 5 km were into a tough headwind, and I realized I was going to be off the mark a bit. I finished just 28 seconds over the 1-hour mark, but I was completely happy with my effort – I hadn’t maintained a 24.8-mph pace during any of the Wednesday night TTs this season. I had reason to be happy, since it eventually proved to be a winning effort.
Whether this marks a return to racing for me is hard to say. I have enjoyed sticking my toes back into the competitive waters this year, but I’m not sure I want to jump back in full-bore. These are not decisions, however, that need to be made immediately – right now I’m just going to savor this unexpected win and the good form I’m enjoying as we approach my favorite time of the year, the fall riding season.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2010