Actually finished my first mountain bike race in, oh, six years, on a hot Sunday last April. Kind of a catharsis in some ways, and a rite of passage in others.
As I flirt with the big 6-0, it's clear to me that with age comes perspective (I hesitate to call it wisdom). I'm by far the oldest rider in the Grand Masters 50+ class. They start us at the back of the field, so we don't get in the way of the really fast riders. The only ones behind us are the Clydesdales – those riders over 200 pounds – and the Junior categories – both girls and boys.
The added perspective came when I realized, while negotiating that Conyers Horse Park singletrack, that it was okay to let faster riders pass me. Not that unusual for THAT to happen, really, and a form of good trail etiquette. I came off the starting line in fifth, but faded to tenth or so by the first big climb. What happened next is a source of amusement to me: on a pretty aggressive climb, I got bogged behind a rider who had become a walker, so I too had to get off and start to push. In the meantime, a phalanx of about 15 Junior riders -- all boys -- came blasting up that hill like they were cruising the Publix parking lot. I thought, well, the Paper Boys are going to pass me here. There ya go.
It got even more interesting heading over to the granite side of the trail (Conyers is where they held the very first Olympic Mountain Biking event in 1996; one side of the trail is single track through woods and the other is bare-faced granite...very challenging to ride and rather difficult to stay on the rubber side of the bike!). Heading under the viaduct crossover to the granite side, a something-teen young lady came in on my inside like a freight train. So I thought, Oh great, now the Ballerinas AND the Paper Boys are leaving me for dead. The new perspective? I didn't even have a flicker of testosterone poisoning...
I just let her crank it on by...
So the perspective/wisdom is that male pride actually DOES fade...I wasn't beating myself up for not being competitive. I was happy just to be riding, racing on a sunny April day with the pollen filling my lungs and the taste of pennies in my mouth and my legs feeling wobbly at the top of the climbs and the nearly-out-of-control descents at 25+ mph on single track, dodging trees in the woods. It makes me feel alive to have that exerted exhaustion and then digging deeper to clean that next pile of rocks or that technical, slippery rooty section. It's okay that kids who weren't even born when I started racing are now passing me on the trail...it's all part of a much Grander Plan. Time marches on, knocks off any sharp corners and you're left with dust in your throat, an ache in your body and an endorphin high that is unlike anything you can be served in a bar or in a Amsterdam red zone cafe.
So no, I didn't win, didn't get to stand on the podium, didn't get to bring home the $5 plastic trophy. But I did Test It All one more time and came out on top.
How can Life get any better?