Dear Mountain Mama,
This past season, I’ve realized that I will never again beat my personal records. I’m on the decline of my racing career. My best times, longest climbs, and hardest rides are all behind me. My body doesn’t recover as fast as it used to, and when I try to dig deeper, I often get injured. Competing fueled me, but it seems pointless to enter another race when there’s no chance that I’ll finish first.
But without racing, I worry that I will become a coach potato. Any advice for a middle-aged has-been on life after racing?
On the Decline
Dear On the Decline,
When I was in law school, my sweetie spent his early 20s racing bikes professionally and training in the Alps. One day he went to see a movie with his best friend, also a cyclist. His best friend died of heart failure in the middle of the theater. He was only 25-years-old. Because of that, my boyfriend quit cycling and applied to law school. He was pretty sure his friend died because of all the drugs he had pumped into his body to ride faster and harder. My boyfriend had pumped the same performance enhancing drugs into his own body.
We dated for a year, and during that time my boyfriend never rode his bike. For him, the best parts of bicycling were in his past, something he walked away from when he left his racing career behind. He wasn’t even 30 and already he had resigned to living as though the best parts of his life were behind him. He mourned the loss of cycling, but he could not reconcile riding a bike and not racing. It was a sad thing, to see a person be so stubborn as to refuse to find a way to incorporate his passion into his life.
On the Decline, I implore you not to be like my law school sweetie, to find a way to stick with cycling. If you truly love the sport, be innovative and adapt it to your aging body. Many people race well into their old age and set new goals, ones more appropriate and achievable. Consider setting PRs in your age group as your new measure of success, and stagger your work outs so that your body had a chance to adequately recover between hard rides.
If racing isn’t something you enjoy anymore, be creative about cycling. Sometimes the lightness of beginning again frees us from the pressure of success. Perhaps the surest path to experiencing joy on a bike is by riding in a different context. There are so many possibilities, from touring and seeing the world from the vantage point of a bike to commuting and meeting a whole new circle of riding friends. Or you might consider teaching a youngster to ride a bike or even coaching inexperienced racers. Maybe you will write stories about your best races or take up photography and capture other cyclists as they cross the finishing line.
On the Decline, you can do better than quit. Challenge yourself to think differently about bicycling, because the very best of your potential demands that you love what you do.
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