Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Friends & Demons

It consistently amazes me how much sport mirrors life, how its lessons reflect the bigger picture, and how those lessons can be applied in one’s life and vice versa.

I learned how to participate in “serious cycling” many years ago by riding on a daily basis with a group of guys who all live in close proximity to one another. All of us have families and regular job responsibilities so we would meet at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays (with headlights and blinking red lights on our seatposts) and at dawn on Saturdays and Sundays for longer rides. I learned the art of riding a bicycle from this group; such things as “pedaling in circles,” maintaining a still upper body, rotating through tight pacelines at high speeds and routinely doing rides of 60 to 100 miles. The ages of the group spanned three decades, but the age differences were more than offset by our love of riding together. In the summers, we did multi-day trips in which we’d routinely cover 100 miles daily. I spent so much time with these guys that they became my closest friends. We have an annual banquet each winter in which we give gag awards and generally have a great time. Through these banquets, our wives met and several of them have also become close friends. (We’ve had ladies ride with us occasionally, but only in the last couple of years has one become a “regular” in the group. She is a very welcome addition.)

Over time, I noticed that our group rides began to get slower. This was happening at the same time that I was getting faster because of the cumulative benefits of having a multi-year, killer base of miles (both riding and running). I soon found another local group that had a lower average age and rode faster and harder. There are two axioms in cycling that are very true: 1) If you want to get faster, start riding with a group that is “over your head.” You will struggle to keep up at first, but you will get faster. 2) What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Riding with these speed demons really paid off for me, especially in developing my climbing ability and stamina.

When I started racing triathlons in 2004, I had to reduce the number of cycling sessions that I did each week in order to do enough swimming and running. This meant that my cycling sessions were usually purpose-focused. I started riding more by myself or with a friend or two who happened to be of the faster variety. I soon found myself really missing the time with my older set of riding buddies (some of whom are now in their mid-60s), and it because clear to me that making time to ride with my old friends was just as important as getting fitter and faster through focused training sessions. I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to find ways to balance riding with friends and with the speed demons. I’ve done so primarily by using recovery days during the racing season and by riding more frequently with my “old” friends during the off-season. A big part of this is the change in my mindset that came from recognizing how important riding with my old friends is to me. In the overall scheme of things, it’s at least as important as training more in order to move up a few places in my age group!

No two sets of life circumstances are the same, so each must find his/her own way to deal with this dilemma as the aging process starts to take its toll on oneself and one’s friends. Each of us ages and, after a certain point, we start to slow down. I still seem to be on an upward trajectory, but that can’t last forever (I will turn 49 in five days). I relish spending quality bike time with my older friends, and look forward to doing so with my with my younger friends over the next decades ….. if, that is, they’re willing to periodically “speed constrain” themselves in order to maintain something that is worth maintaining – the fantastic friendships we make through years of cycling together.


Spokane Al said...

I agree and find the same issues with training in general. I like to train, and enjoy getting out and running and not worrying about my time. This, of course, causes issues with trying to improve and get faster.

Somewhere in there is a middle ground.

Flatman said...

Awesome are right on!