Put yourself in my cycling cleats. You’ve been busting your butt for a year and a half—invited by mistake to train with folks who are all twice the rider you are. Let’s say you’ve fought and clawed your way through uncounted rides with them—on a bike about twice as heavy and half as costly—toward a hard-won respectability.
Slowly, you’ve lost weight and added strength. Thanks to self-torture, you can now hang with these freaks far longer than you ever could the season before last. You show up for rides with these guys, and no longer detect the inward sighs of reluctant babysitters.
Now, Gravel Worlds 2016 is coming—that dusty, dragon-sized hairdryer of a race that in 2015 cooked your sweat away and forced you to DN-effing-F. You are hell-bent on revenge. So you get yourself a nifty new bike. You still love your steel machine, but this bike’s a different animal. You get on it and feel like a flipping dragonfly. You hum down the road and rage for race day.
Now let’s say your oldest friend on the planet watches you from afar on Strava. And he wants in. He last rode hard maybe eight years and 30 pounds ago. Gravel Worlds is just weeks away, but he signs up. It’s audacious and irrational. But he sees the beginnings of a dad body and he wants out. Badly enough to do something audacious and irrational.
You see the writing on the wall. Goodbye, personal goals. Goodbye, warrior dragonfly. It is now your responsibility to see your dad-bodied buddy through the 150-mile hot scream that is Gravel Worlds.
How do you feel?
I am shocked to tell you this, but I feel ecstatic. Untorn. Jubilant.
Sure. I have to let go of hell-bent vengeance. I have to let go of riding with teeth-gnashing rage. But look what I’m picking up. I get about a dozen hours doing something I love with the best friend I made in preschool. The best man at my wedding. The guy my kids call Uncle Peter.
It’s possible I might have had a better finishing time without him. (Or maybe I’d have blown up alone, just like in 2015.) But I guarantee I’ll have a better time with him.
And, anymore, that’s how I measure winning.
Another way I’m winning: I see Uncle Peter training away like a fiend in another state. He’s given up Mountain Dew and already peeled off 10 pounds in just a couple weeks. He’s got a baseline loop, and he’s watching his average speed climb and his average heart rate fall. The dad bod’s toast. He’s loving this gravel stuff. And he’s coming back to ride with me. That, friends, is winning.
I’m in this sport because faster guys than me were willing to slow down enough to share something with me. I won as soon as they shared it. And I’m winning still.