I went for a one hour ride this afternoon. Fall is definitely upon us. The leaves on Mount Saint-Bruno have started to change colors, it is getting dark early and the cold wind is quite prevalent. For me fall means the end of a biking season and the start of a new one. Most, if not all, of my biking events of 2013 are behind me and I am now starting to plan the challenges and set the goals for 2014.
The fall of 2013 also marks the end of my seventh year as an amateur cyclist. I have accomplished quite a bit in those seven short years. As an example, I can now ride for over two hours at a power level that in 2008 I could only sustain for seven minutes. In 2009, I trained all year to ride my first Pro-like stage event – the Etape du Tour – and last year I rode sixteen such Pro-like stages, including the whole of the Tour of California, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the longest and toughest stage of the 2012 edition of the Tour de France.
In a conversation this morning with Remi Duchemin, the founder and CEO of the Haute Route, the organizer of the self-described “Highest and Toughest Cyclosportives in the World”, I pretty much committed to doing two of their events in 2014. If it all goes according to plan, next August I will be doing a seven day, seven day stage race through the Italian Dolomites and Swiss Alps followed, after one day of rest, by the seven day, seven day stage race across the French Alps from Geneva to Nice. As I write these words, I am convinced that if I end up executing on this plan, I will be ready and I will complete those two events without any trouble. So the question is: “Why bother then? Why bother planning to do something you are convinced a year ahead of time you can successfully complete?”
“Why bother?” in a way is the essence of what this post is about. “Why bother” doing what you already know you can do over and over again? Why not do something else? The title of this post poses the same question but differently: “What’s next?” But let’s be clear, “What’s Next” doesn’t mean “What’s my next event?” it means “What’s next for me as a cyclist?” or “Why keep doing what I’m doing?” or better still, “To what end?”
People ride bikes, run, do triathlons, play golf or tennis for a whole host of reasons. For most people it is a way to stay healthy and socialize with people with similar goals and ambitions. Personally, what has kept me motivated over the years is the desire to progress from a true fitness standpoint and achieve bigger and bigger goals. For me, bigger and bigger goals has meant participating in and finishing longer and tougher events. It has not meant, for the most part, doing better and better at certain events I do year after year, such as the same local crit or road race. It hasn’t meant going from finishing 50th in an event to 15th to top 10, top 5 or a podium.
That being said, I have had some ambition to do better at a few specific events such as the Mount Washington and Whiteface Mountain hill climbs or the El Tour de Tucson but my training has never revolved around achieving specific goals at these events. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy getting a seventh place overall in the Wilmington Road Race in June and second place in a 100 km team time trial in July but generally speaking, achieving some kind of meaningful ranking in cycling events hasn’t been a huge objective for me. Until this week-end, maybe, that is.
Yesterday I participated in the Defi de la Mauricie 105 kilometers (and 1,800 meters of climbing) bike race. The night before I sent the picture of my Team Novo Nordisk jersey with my bib neatly pinned to it to the team’s founder and CEO Phil Southerland. The email had the mention: “Ready to race”. Phil’s answer was: “Kick ass.” After the race I texted Phil and replied: “I did.” He was quick to answer back: “Win?”
I didn’t win but I felt I had done quite well and truly felt as if I had “kicked ass.” I also knew that Phil meant what he wrote and that “kicking ass” to him, as a young former bike racer, means “winning.” “Kicking ass” for a 31 year old ex-bike racer for sure has a different meaning than for a 49 year old married, family of six, businessman.
I felt I had a pretty good race yesterday: I followed my game plan, never weakened or gave up and delivered the best I could. But I didn’t win. Sure, had I been born six weeks earlier I would have finished sixth out of 220 participants in the 50-55 age category, sure, I finished as part of a big pack and ranked 134th out of about 1,300 participants, sure I could have taken more risks and been at the front of our pack on the fast downhill finish to the line and gained 30 spots but I assume that all of this would sound to Phil like excuses for not doing better. This is partly based on a conversation Phil and I had a week earlier in the car from the hotel where we were staying after a Team Novo Nordisk board meeting in Princeton, New Jersey on our way to the airport (at 5 am!!!). Phil was diplomatically telling me what I already know: “I am a well trained, fit cyclist with good power and potential but one who could use better bike handling skills and more guts when riding in a peloton and descending.”
So as I sit here tonight thinking about my plans for 2014 and “What’s Next”, I can choose between bigger and tougher events – which I already know I can do – or working on my weaknesses as a cyclist and trying to do better at what I already know I can do. One of the reasons I do what I do as a cyclist is that it “keeps me young.” Maybe the real change between 2013 and 2014 should be that in 2014 I start thinking more like a young man. Wouldn’t that help me “stay young?” Maybe I should adopt the young man’s meaning of “kicking ass” which means winning. Or better yet, maybe I should combine the young man’s definition of “kicking ass” while doing longer and tougher events.
I wonder what my wife Mary Lou will think of this plan to increase training even more in 2014 in order to better perform in longer events that will cause me to be away from home even more next year…