A few years ago I had an hour or so in the company of then rising star Lars van de Haar. We talked rubbish and we talked ‘cross. Whilst chatting, I mistakenly told him my story about being beaten by the world over-70s champion in our local league. After a few seconds contemplation he replied with chilling words to the effect of “Why do you bother, you must be really bad?”
I’ll let that one just hang here a while.
From an early age I got the #dirtydropbargoodness vibe. I used to ride my Raleigh Arena racer on the trails – curly bars, five speed, steel frame, chrome plated wheels. MTBs didn’t exist and we did what we had to – we had fun falling off, fun throwing the bikes around, pushing the wrong gears and getting lost far from home.
I’ve always been blessed with a big engine. I’ve got huge lung capacity, massive heart rate range and if I keep off the cakes, pretty fantastic power to weight. The problem is though I’ve got a crap transmission, my legs aren’t strong and I can’t keep efforts up for any length of time. If I’d been born a thousand years ago I’d have been a disappointing lion meal a long time before now.
I’m probably like you, reading social media it seems everyone else is in peak condition, they’re all doing ‘epic’ efforts, having an awesome time and their training is always going well. I’m going to step up here, for me it’s just not like that, I’m fallible, I’m fragile, I’m time constrained and I have to work damn hard to overcome my own challenges.
My feet are run through with arthritis the result of four separate orthopaedic procedures. The result of those medieval medical interventions actually makes turning the pedals stupidly efficient, but makes running an absolute nightmare and walking not so much fun. Over the last couple of years things have been getting ever more painful before finally a series of x-rays confirmed what I’d always suspected.
The point here is though is that this doesn’t define me, it’s the opposite, it drives me.
Next year I’ve got a significant birthday, one with a zero at the end, one where people start wearing cardigans and buying stretchy pants. So in true crisis mode I’ve decided to take a year off from racing CX and focus on riding the bike longer, further and in more different places off-road than I’ve ever done before.
I’ve never been an endurance rider, I’ve always raced short distances, first time trials, a bit of road when I was younger and for the last five years just ‘cross. After the local regionals, my last race, I took the decision to switch to longer rides, building up the durations, three then four hours and over the space of a few months hitting nine hours in the saddle. The initial goal was Dirty Reiver, a 200km off-roader, longer than I’d ever done on two wheels with an elevation not far off double my previous daily tally.
The preparation paid off, I got my cloth badge. I finished in just over 12 hours, I didn’t die, I didn’t need to use the tin foil blanket and orange survival bag I’d hiked round for half a day. Despite everything I’d set a goal, trained when the weather sucked, planned my pain strategies and come out of the other side.
I learnt a lot that day, I learnt how much I can suffer, I learnt how to be comfortable with snatched conversations and solitude, importantly I learnt that it’s all relative – the guy who ‘won’ sat around for over 4 hours before I rolled back into HQ.
Getting old sucks. Our meat bodies aren’t really designed for the lifespans we’re achieving and things start going wrong when you least expect it. For me there’s a perverse fun in finding new ways to cheat my skin and bones to push them more, to go way beyond the norm, to mentally and physically stretch myself and to live life to the full on the bike.
So back to Lars, why do I bother?
I bother ‘cause it’s a hoot, I bother because just finishing is better than I’d ever hoped and on a good day when I’m nudging the top twenty it’s bloody amazing. I take inspiration from those younger, those older and those different from me, those that push themselves, those that really try, those for whom it doesn’t come easy. I bother because I can. I bother because I have to.
Through the old dude diaries I’ll share my mid-table mediocrity, my alarmingly regular failures and the occasional but (for me) thrilling successes.