It’s been 6 weeks since I returned from the 2016 La Vuelta, 6 weeks spent largely in the gym and only occasionally on my bike; trying to decide if I would be able to get stronger and lighter so I could go back to ride around the island of Puerto Rico next January. Six weeks to consider trying something different (I don’t know what… stamp collecting?), six weeks to try to convince myself that I am a fool and only a fool would try to go back to San Juan at 60 years old and ride a bike around an island nation that calls its mountains “hills.”
Yea, I’m a fool. I’m going back. I paid the entry fee today, not because I got a discount by signing up early in the year, or because I was worried about losing my spot. I signed up because I can’t imagine not going back. There hasn’t been a single 3 or 4 hour stretch in the last 6 weeks when I haven’t thought of Puerto Rico. It might be as I do leg presses, I remember one of those Himalayan Hills, or when I see a red snapper in Whole Foods, I remember the great whole fried snapper in Old San Juan. Or when I hear someone here in Florida speak Spanish, “hey I’ve butchered that language!”
There is a real temptation with cycling, like a lot of sports, to read all the articles, buy all the equipment, and do just enough riding to call yourself a cyclist. We all know “that guy,” the 18 handicapper who talks like a teaching pro, the baseball stat guy who doesn’t know how to grip a bat, or the guy who grunts and groans his way though a gym routine and poses between sets making sure everybody notices his weight belt and gloves, even while he is lifting weights around his big ole belly.
I don’t mean to sound judgmental; when it comes to cycling I just don’t want to be that guy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a weekend athlete, a casual bike rider, or an “enthusiast” of any sport. Unfortunately, I felt like a pretender when I showed up in San Juan this year, real athletes, true cyclists, knew right away that I wasn’t going to survive the ride without help from the support vans: they started telling me that there was no shame in hopping in the van from the moment that we met. They were right, I might be an enthusiastic cyclist, but I learned quickly that I was a long way from being the kind of athlete who finished La Vuelta. (So, feeling like a fool is nothing new to me.)
That’s not going to happen again. No ego involved in that statement, in fact I am coming from the kind of determined humility that is the basis for any success I’ve had in life. I may not have talent, but I have the determined ability to over compensate. That’s how I faked my way through Wall Street, and how I married up. I can certainly get ready for a bike ride around a mountainous island.
I rode this morning, my planned 40 mile ride cut short by rain, but the 20 miles I got in were relatively wind free, (the first time since I’ve gotten home that the wind wasn’t blowing hard) and I noticed that I felt a lot stronger and that my speed had picked up considerably; one of the prerequisites to going back to La Vuelta. I need to get faster, I need to learn to climb, and I need to get lighter. I’m progressing on everything except the lighter part. My time in the gym seems to have redistributed my weight, I’m stronger now, I look better , but I think I weigh about the same. I’m okay with that for now: muscle weighs more than fat.
I told my friend Henry, the freak who rode La Vuelta on a single speed bike this year, that I was in; I am now ready to train with him and his group of crazy friends who will ride me into the ground. He said, “Keep riding, it’s about to get intense.” Now I’m afraid… (Henry rode 40 miles in 2 hours this morning on his single speed) and I got off the couch and went to the gym, I added an hour on the elliptical to my 20 mile morning ride.
This stuff is about to get real.
I’m glad I signed up today, I need the motivation to keep me going to the gym and on the bike. Becoming a serious athlete at my age is a tall order and I want to know, as I pull up to the starting line in San Juan next January, that I have done everything I can to get ready. I have a 100 mile ride scheduled on May 1, an event called Cycle Flagler, a ride I almost didn’t finish a year ago because of the wind. It should be a good barometer of Grandpa’s progress.
Determination is something that you use or lose. It’s easy to use age as an excuse to get satisfied and a little lazy, and again, I’m not judging people who have figured out how to be happy without going to extremes, but I know from my own history, that I need to feel like I am in over my head to feel engaged and fully alive. Passion and fear of failure are powerful motivators. Riding a road bike has become a magnificent obsession later in my life and the joy of it is that I am in competition with no one other than myself.
Now, If I could just pass on the potato chips…