Rud waits at obvious landmarks and forks in the trail. When I catch up, he rides off again, steering his mountain bike over rocks and roots or a log now and then. I follow, but each time, he’s quickly out of sight. I stop worrying about holding him up. I can’t ride any faster, I’m cooked.

At one break he muses, seemingly to himself, “I think this next section is really steep.” It is. I enter a rock chute dropping dozens of feet down an uneven surface partly covered by dry leaves. I flatten my body, my butt hanging well off the back of my seat, almost dragging on my tire. I’m trying to level myself with the earth’s gravitational pull, trying to keep from pitching over my handlebars. Halfway down the chute, I bail. I’ve pushed my luck too far. A crash on this feature will seriously mess up an old guy like me.

“I’m feeling (huff, puff) every one (wheeze) of my fifty-nine years.”

“You’re fifty-nine? You don’t look a day over fifty.” Rud actually amended his estimate a minute later but indicated that he assumed I was about fifty-three. I wish. Fifty-three marked the final year of my fit period. I began my downward slide after that. Plantar fasciitis, low motivation, poor nutrition, that year when my blood iron levels crashed. Over the past five years, I’ve really slowed down. This past year I rebounded some, but I’ve got a long way to go.

Something clicked during my ride with Rud. I decided to stop apologizing for not being able to keep up with people fifteen to twenty years younger than me. I decided to stop chasing faster riders and just enjoy my ride.

Just before Halloween, I signed up for a race—the Thursday Throwdown at Bulldog Bike Park—ten times around a one-mile loop. I fully expected to get lapped by more than half the field. What I didn’t count on was feeling like I was in the way. Constantly, I moved to the side, scraping my arms on the stiff-cut branches lining the trail. Or pushing myself through a tight section knowing that my slower pace impedes others’ performance. Hyperventilating after these bursts, I tried to catch my breath before the next bottleneck. I quit after five laps. I wasn’t having fun. Looking at the results, I realized I was one of the few riders over fifty.

I’m old for my peer group. Because I spent my twenties and half of my thirties abusing alcohol, I didn’t get started on the adult portion of my life until I was almost forty. Now my kids are teenagers while my high school friends Facebook about grandchildren. I coach Eli’s team with a bunch of dads in their early forties.

Countless times over the past two years—since I started mountain biking again after an eighteen-year break—I beat myself up for sucking wind trying to keep pace with the other coaches and the high school kids. I feel frustrated and embarrassed that I can’t keep up, causing others to wait. Suddenly, I realize how stupid this is. I’m not supposed to be able to keep up. Riding with the newbies—like the other few coaches over fifty—is where I belong.

In the middle of my ride with Rud, it occurred to me that rather than feel bad for lagging behind a bunch of “kids,” I should just be thankful that I’m still riding. I don’t need to burn through the woods and plummet down sick features that will break my rigid body if I misjudge a turn. The times I’m happiest is when I slowly pick an elegant line through challenging rock section or catch some controlled air off a well-placed root.

It might be time for me to seek out some new riders whose goals more closely match my own. Or at least make sure I properly set expectations when riding with a younger crowd. I’m pretty sure I’ll have a better time.

19 thoughts on “Epiphany

  1. By George, I think he’s got it! 😉😂

    It’s hell realizing that the bod won’t do what the mind thinks it should. I *am* 53 and probably couldn’t keep up with you. We put our bodies through some STUFF in our younger day. I know some of yours because you’ve shared it, and even with my bad memory, I remember a lot of the dumb things I’ve done.

    You’ve got nothing to prove. Enjoy yourself, and be kind to your body. The warrantee ran out years ago😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Now… I need to remember this. I should make people read this before they ride with me. I’ve had this epiphany before. In my forties, I realized that chasing running times from years before just resulted in injury. These lessons are hard to internalize.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very relatable! I feel one of the main reasons I am not signing up for any races is because I am afraid. I had these running rules. Every half had to be done in under 2 hours. Every full right around 4 hours. Always try to get a better time than the last time you ran the distance. I did the same thing. I ran more and more and more just to try and be better and kept injuring myself. I can’t run like I did in my 30’s, but I am still running five miles a day. And I need to accept that as I age I may be doing less and going slower but you are right. I am still doing something! Great point!

    Liked by 2 people

    • It takes a real shift in mindset, one I’ve had a few times before, but in those cases I was comparing myself to times, not people. This is new for me. I went to a spin class last week and the instructor was going on and on about how strong a rider I am. I felt like such a fraud.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yeah, I definitely compare myself to times. The only time I compare myself to people is when I am out on the trails and someone passes me. THEN I mentally point out their age or “they’re only running one mile” kind of thing. The one who gets me is Gertie – the lady I wrote about before. She is older than me and still is running long distances and is faster than me (I think). Let’s just say I have no interest in trying to be faster than her if she were to pass me.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes! It’s so hard to shut that competitive side down, or at least tell it to chill out… I ride with a lot of really fit people, most a fair bit younger than me, and it was such an epiphany when I realized I could just thank them for waiting instead of apologizing and feeling bad for making them wait. It makes the ride so much more enjoyable! Keep killing it out there 😏

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s a hard call as to when you get to relax. Or when do you need to relax. When I was around 50 I started wondering whether I should still be wearing jeans the landed around the hips. I asked my kids if I should start wearing Mom jeans and they just laughed. So I didn’t. Now at 59 I find myself wondering the same thing about skinny jeans. Am I a ridiculous laughing stock? Who am I kidding! But I don’t even know how to dress differently. I don’t know what those clothes look like.

    Silly example. I guess. But it all comes back to the same point. How are we supposed to get old? A lot is dictated by the parts that start falling off. At this point life feels like a progression of loss and adaptation, loss and adaptation. But there are benefits…now you get to actually enjoy your bike ride. And now I get to walk instead of run. Never mind that when I could run I once in a while got to feel like a flying gazelle. Now when I see people running so slow and painfully like every bone is jarring right onto bone I wonder if I could actually overtake them with my speed walking and am just so thankful that I gave it up. I’d rather look like an athletic walker than a crippled runner.

    Nice epiphany work, Jeff! I also relate to your comment about being slow to learn life lessons that some people seem to have achieved decades ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Seconding Pam’s comment. You’re lapping everybody on the couch (including me). I’m so impressed you keep doing the huge amounts of physical fitness that you do. I need to do better!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can totally relate.

    I think it was when I reflected on how much, in my 30s and 40s, I enjoyed and valued training on long trail runs with guys who were 10-20 years older than me, that I realized there’s a way to age gracefully as an athlete while still feeling useful. You’ve found it: by mentoring and coaching young riders. The tips those “old guys” gave me back then were invaluable. You don’t always have to keep up; you simply have to offer encouragement and tips learned from years of experience to those younger, faster and stronger than you are now. You once were them. That makes you and your advice priceless to them (if they have any sense).

    Otherwise, find those of similar pace and endurance for your own training rides/runs 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve never in my life been a physically fit person. I’ve always been the brainy nerd, the learner, the needle arts person. Now that I’m 70, those mental skills are not as sharp as they were. I still keep trying to learn and try new things within my former wheelhouse. Sometimes, when I post my efforts on social media, I realize from comments made by friends that they are inspired just a bit by the fact that I keep trying new things. You might not realize how much you might be inspiring those teens to keep at it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, I try my best to hide my age from the kids, I’m probably the same age as many of their grandfathers. I’m sure in a few years, I’ll be able to write the same post about mental decline. Getting old is hard stuff.


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