Friday, July 27, 2007

The Bike Race vs. The Life Race

I sometimes pine for the times where I rode a lot, trained a lot, raced a lot. The times where I could annihilate others instead of getting annihilated.

(Me looking fit, weighing about 105 lbs, and leading a Laurel rider in Middletown, CT)

Driving home from a race this year (where I got shelled) I told the future missus there are two races at the races. One is the "how good a racer am I" race. The results are posted by officials. You can compare how you're doing just by looking at the sheet. It's publicized on the internet, people talk about good results, and if you do really well you'll even get feedback from your peers.

The other race, that one is not as easy to grade. The other race is the "what sort of life am I living" race. There are no results posted. It's not a public thing. No one can see if you're doing well or not. It's not as much a race as an illumination on one's life. It doesn't even have set parameters - there are no solid marks on how good you are. Officially it's either a pass or a fail. Unofficially there are many grades to a "pass".

When I raced a lot I realized some interesting things. I have a picture of my bike on a rack on my car from the late 80's. The car wasn't worth much. The town appraised it as being worth something like $200 (I technically paid $1 for it but someone gave it to me). I paid $2.34 in property taxes on it one year. The roof rack, at wholesale, cost me $520. I was really proud of it but as one ex- told me her first thought when she saw it was, "Who is this geek?". My bike was considerably more than either of the two items under it, perhaps $1200 at that point. And that was wholesale.

(Note the USCF sticker in the window.)

Although perhaps a bit ahead of the time, I also had a 100 watt amp with a pair of 15" subwoofers in an unfinished homemade box in the back seat. It wasn't anchored down or anything so it would slide around when I went around turns. The car wouldn't take more than half a tank of gas (the rest would slowly leak out), it struggled to go 65 mph, and it didn't handle too well.

I'd go to races and see "old" guys pull up in a new Mercedes with some exotic handmade (or imported Italian) frames with full Campy, beautiful stuff, 50th anniversay groups, engraved stems and chainrings. I couldn't believe guys were racing such expensive equipment. I'd comment to my friends that these old guys, they work really hard to make money but they simply can't race. I mean check out the bellies and how fast they get dropped.

You know, I told them, they might as well stay at home.

Little did I know.

Here's a picture of me racing when I wasn't very skinny a few years ago.


Not that skinny.

In fact, I weighed about 80 pounds more than I did in that top picture. But, if you scroll down a bit on that page, I did place, and in an uphill sprint no less!

But hey, I have a much nicer car now (although, to be frank, I pine for that Fairmont). Actually I even have a second car. A house. Things like that. It's true that I spend a lot of time working (or driving to/from work). I don't train as much. My race results reflect this.

But it's okay.

I realized a while back that although it's nice to be a really good bike racer, it's not the end all, not for me. Living the way I did to get to racing fitness, not eating that much because I didn't have the money to buy food, well, that's not really the way I want to live.

There are some things that pop out when I think about my lean years (figuratively and literally).

For a couple years I relied on a local bagel store for handouts - they'd gather all the unsold food for the day, put them in paper shopping bags, and put them on the sidewalk in front of the store. A shelter would pick them up and use it to feed the homeless. When I figured this out, I'd go to the bagel store just before they closed, buy a (by then) day old bagel for 50 cents, and the old lady behind the counter would look around furtively and give me one of the shopping bags full of bagels and muffins. It would sustain me for a week or so.

I'd ride in the late evenings so I wouldn't be as hungry (riding suppresses my appetite). This way I could avoid having to figure out what to eat at night. There were times where I'd scrounge my cabinets for any food I might have overlooked - a can of corn, soup, maybe a treat like Beefaroni. When I had an extra $10, I'd buy such food and stash it away for those empty stomach nights. The standby was the boxes of Ramen, plain spaghetti (sauce cost too much but some salt and pepper worked fine), and maybe a PowerBar.

I stayed lean, true. But it really isn't the ideal way to be fit.

I went to a stage race one year and someone mentioned that this Cat 1 which I've admired from Day One was running a bit late. Apparently his car wouldn't go faster than 50 or 55 mph so it was taking him a bit longer to get up to the race. When he arrived I was both happy and shocked to see the car. Happy because it was an old Dodge Dart. Shocked because it was as old or older than me. He'd bought it for $500 - all he could afford.

The racer, always in his element when pedaling a bike, was less so when off of it. He slept at friends' houses and worked odd jobs.

The kicker? He was 30 years old. Ten years earlier, his single minded dedication to racing seemed admirable.

Now I felt sorry for him.

I can't say I know him at all. A few grunted greetings and a nod of the head really doesn't count as "knowing" someone.

But in a way I felt like I understood him. The aching empty stomach. The training to ward off hunger pangs. Wondering how you'll pay your next entry fee.

It's acceptable when you think your life will improve (or you're supported and your family is there to help out whenever things get tough). It's another thing when you can't see the end of the tunnel, when you don't know what tomorrow has in store for you.

If I had pro aspirations, it would be different. Andy Hampsten at one point has $16 in his bank account and nothing coming in. He was desperate for a break into the pro cycling scene. He had a contract with Levis-Raleigh, got a month advance, and made it to the Coors Classic. There he beat Bernard Hinault in a time trial. Hinault simply could not believe this skinny American with no continental experience could beat him - and his team asked for TV tapes to verify he wasn't motorpacing.

When they realized Hampsten hadn't cheated they promptly signed him.

He'd go on the next year to take fourth in his inaugural Tour, behind his team leader Hinault and his second placed American teammate Greg Lemond.

A guy like him, he actually has potential for great racing. He knew that he could time trial at 28-29 mph. He knew he could outclimb anyone around him, and he was in the cycling mecca of the country, Colorado. So he stayed his course and turned his racing into a successful career.

What of a Cat 3 who does reasonably well in easier crits but gets shelled everywhere else?

It's not reasonable to continue with such a lifestyle.

So I did what I could to look for a job where I actually made money. Found one. Joined the "fat guys who can't race well" club. And I feel all the better for it.

Just don't ask me to verify this right after I get dropped.


Il Bruce said...

Flippin' A!

I hadda 1978 Fairmount with a Canadian built 6cyl. Fecker flew (handled like a shopping cart).

I could fit my 60cm Paramount in the trunk or the back seat.

gewilli said...

For some reason i needed to read this today.

Thanks, wonderfully written (as usual).

Niall Smart said...

I sold my 10th Anniversary Edition MX5 (Miata) cos it was getting to be a bit of a pain to dismantle the bike to pieces every time I needed to travel somewhere, not to mind having a wheel as my only passenger. Broke my heart! Your blog is great.

Aki said...

thanks for all the comments.

ib - mine was an '80. I had dreams of swapping in a turbo 2.3 drivetrain (which sat in another car) but I blew the 2.3 before I could do it. Funny how that chassis, from '78, was still in use till very recently.

g - glad to be of help today.

ns - drove couple different miatas and loved them - but couldn't get past the fact that a small boombox wouldn't fit in the trunk. When I shopped for my first ever new car I actually took my bike to the dealer to make sure it'd fit in the trunk. It did, barely, and I ended up buying the car.

Anonymous said...

Aki, I pine, too, but my racing days ended the season that I became pregnant. Ironically, this was the season I earned my Cat 2 upgrade, but I never actually raced as a 2. I admire you for STILL racing, gut, nicer car, and all. Thanks for the post. :)


p.s. I'm the same weight that I used to be, but it's no longer really in my quad muscles. :(

gewilli said...

i sat in a convertible miyata once...

told my friend (his car) that no way could i fit if the top was up...

he proceeded to attempt to close the top while i was sitting in the driver's seat...

and the frame of the top smacked me across the back of my head hard...

"I guess you are too tall." what what he said as i was recovering from the pain...

But more in lines of the old beaters for bike races... that was the collegiate club dream. To get a monster old caddy or some hunk of american steel. Super cheap. Paint it flat black and cover it with roof racks to we could put the whole team's bikes on one car... never came to fruition, but man we had that thing planned out... driving 3+ hours to races with team mates generates lots of unfulfilled plans...

Aki said...

j - thx :)

g - totally right on the beater car - we dreamed of a hearse as the ultimate team car (or the Campy Buick which was around when I started racing). I even took a pic of a hearse with a rack on it in Boulder. I'll have to find it and post it.

Anonymous said...

Another excellent "perspective" post Aki - thanks for sharing so much of your experience on your blog. Like gewilli, I needed to read this too - having so much "life" stuff (like you too lately) going on has put a serious crimp in the racing/training, but you're right - it's all good stuff - much more balance!