Age Is a State of Mind
Words by Lee Waldman. Photos by Annette Hayden.
It’s mid-April, supposedly spring, and I’m inside today riding the rollers watching it snow. This is just sick and wrong! It’s supposed to be 70 degrees and sunny, not 35 and spitting down snow!
There is one positive outcome from days like today though. I have tons of time to think while pedaling in one place going nowhere fast. My Spotify playlists are the only things that get me through long roller sessions. And, sometimes, something comes up that transmits me to an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. Those are similar to therapy in the sense that I come away with some new understanding of myself through cycling, more specifically cyclocross. Let’s be real here—if I wasn’t training for ’cross I’m not sure I’d have the patience to spend 120 minutes pedaling in place.
There are some things you should know about me. I’m 66 years old. I’ve raced cross for 35 years. Some have been good years, some not so good. I’ve had my share of injuries along the way, as I know we’ve all had. The end result has been that there are those rare days when, in the middle of a hard training session, I wonder why I’m still chasing that gold ring and what in the world it looks like for a 66-year-old ’cross racer. The answer, my friends, isn’t always found in podium placings, state and/or national championships, or even the elusive Masters Worlds jersey. For the majority of us, the rewards are a bit more…intrinsic, as well they should be.
About halfway through my training session today the Fleetwood Mac song, ‘Don’t Stop’ came up on my playlist. Most of the time during roller sessions I use the music simply to dictate pedal cadence and effort. Today I was far enough along in the session that I could actually listen to the words at the same time. The lyrics to the chorus provided me with an answer to that existential question, “Why do I keep doing this?”
“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here,
It’ll be, better than before,
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone”
What happens if I stop thinking about tomorrow? What if I don’t set goals for myself? I’m older now than I feel, and I can still remember what it felt like to be 20. Without setting goals, I’m going to argue that we really have little reason to wake up every morning. For those of us driven by the desire to step onto the bike and pedal it as fast and as hard as we can, we have that reason to think about tomorrow. Let’s face it, every minute that we put in, every hard effort we survive, every hill we climb—you get the picture—the closer we will get to whatever that gold ring looks like for us. It’s out there, just out of reach, just like tomorrow. But, if we stop looking for it, thinking about it, what quality will our lives have? I watched my father allow himself to get old because his goals disappeared and he never replaced them with new ones. He ran out of tomorrows. I refuse to end up that way. By the same token, I don’t want to look back either. After all, as the song says, yesterday is gone.
I can’t say that my yesterdays were particularly bad, but they certainly don’t compare with my todays. Like most of us, there are choices that I made that I’d make differently with the benefit of hindsight. Things that I did, and said, that seem ridiculous and almost embarrassing right now. And if I allow myself to dwell on them, I might simply give up. In sport, no one really cares what you did yesterday. What’s important is what you are capable of doing now, in the present, in this race or training session. The past is…the past. Let it go and focus on the job at hand. You are, in other words, only as good as you’re going now; so stop reading your old press releases and just ride.
There seems to be a movement these days towards mindfulness, living in the present. It’s a good way to look at life and cyclocross racing. (Can you really separate the two?) Don’t worry about what’s to come; you can’t predict and you can’t plan. Don’t spend too much precious energy thinking about yesterday either. It’s over and you can’t stand in that particular stream again. What’s important is what you’re doing today, right now!
It doesn’t matter, much, if you’re in your 60s as I am, or in your 20s. Age is a relative concept based in some ways on our perceptions of ourselves. We are all searching for success, whatever that term means to us at our stage in life. What is important is that no matter who we are, how good we are, or what our particular goals for cycling are, we need to revel in the fact that here, today, we are capable of doing things that other people can’t. Don’t think about what might happen in the future, or what has happened in the past…enjoy the moment.
Now, for the moment, I suggest that you stop reading and do what you love, ride your bike.