Sunday, March 23, 2008

Why I race-- I'm not even very good

I've raced off and on ever since my last year or two of High School. Club races, an occasional MTB race when time and finances aligned properly.

With my discovery of cyclocross in 2005 I began to race more. I was crazy for cyclocross after just my first time and I wanted more racing. More.

So in the summer of 2006 I tried a few road crits. 1.) Road crits are for those possessed of fantastic lung capacity and leg power and 2.) Bikes with downtube shifters don't belong. There also appears to be little opportunity, or room, for chance.

In the messy world of off-road racing -- and cyclocross falls squarely into this category -- Chance and Lucky Break lurk around every corner and behind every obstacle. They love to puncture tires, break components, and surprise riders. In every MTB and cyclocross race I've been in there have been plenty of bike motors that have had trouble with tricky downhills, speedy descents down rough terrain or even the "simple" act of dismounting and remounting the bike.

I'm definitely far outside the realm of "bike motor". I have to work hard to attain even "average" in terms of aerobic capacity and leg strength. I obviously have the wrong genetic background. Or maybe I just love pizza too much.

I used to wonder just why I even bothered to race. I can go out and ride -- push myself to the brink of vomiting -- and not have to pay anything. I don't have to get up early. I can have breakfast and lunch at home with my family. I used to think that I raced to see what I could do-- because we never really push ourselves as hard as we do when we're racing, do we. "Let's go for a personal best."

Then I happened upon a quote credited to Steve Prefontaine. It was under a bottlecap. I can't remember the drink. "A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts..." There's a bit more to the quote than that, but that's was all that was under the bottlecap. THAT was why I raced. To see who had the most guts. It doesn't take guts to crush the competition if you've got a killer genetic background and the favorable circumstances. Mere mortals will read about you in the magazines. It takes guts to fling one's pudgy, pasty body into the fray on the weekend when one's week was filled with deadlines and boring meetings and the million little slings and arrows of this modern life. "Yeah, I've no hope of winning. But so what-- I'll tilt at the windmills anyway."

I raced last December 2nd at the USGP Cyclocross race. I think I probably came in somewhere near the back. Not DFL. But close-ish. It was cold cold cold. I never really warmed up. Afterwards, as I was rolling around the exhibitor area, I caught some guy (I remember him passing me) indicating me as he talked with a friend. "I don't know why guys like that make themselves suffer through these races." For a moment I felt like a terrible fool. I was cold and wet and shivering. He was laughing and drinking a beer. I suppose the race was nothing but a lark for him. He was wearing a Santa suit. Bastard.

I suppose I race to suffer. I mean why does it matter to guys like that? We all have our own reasons.

Well, today I found something that I think perfectly expresses why I put myself through the apparently pointless suffering.

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat." --Theodore Roosevelt

Sure, that guy was in the same race I was. But maybe not.

That's why I race. So that my place will never be with the cold and timid souls who knew neither victory or defeat. I'm not sidestepping the challenge of the race; I'm pressing on regardless.

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