Redefining Competition: On Preparing to Join the Peloton
So much running and cycling. So many training rides, so many heart rate files.
My legs need time. They develop slower than I’d like. I push and push and push them to go farther, climb faster, do more. They ache all the time.
Their ache is my favorite sign of progress.
Indeed, as I build this base of cycling miles and propose to take on a new, painful sport, the progress is what drives everything. It is the heart of motivation and the seed of inspiration.
Improvement, as measured against one’s own starting points, is the most pure manifestation of athletic reward.
We get caught up in other things. We want to be first or best or cat-up sooner. I did a lot of time spinning my wheels in this rut. It is fine to chase victories or nemeses or glory, but chasing effort, pain, and PRs will bring you more happiness in the end.
I’m a competitive person. I want to win. This is no secret.
But winning is secondary. Winning is a side-effect that might come if your heart is squarely focused on your own self-improvement, your own personal growth, your own agonizing effort and daily commitment.
I love cyclocross because it rewards these efforts directly. Barring a mechanical, your race performance is a direct reflection of your fitness, your skill, and your dedication.
This is not the case with road racing. I have been following the sport long enough to know that the peloton is an entity and force unto itself and to be successful, you must understand and respect the dynamic there. Your race is not determined by the strength of your legs alone, but by the mind and will of an entity of which you are partly, but not wholly, in control.
I do not expect to love road racing. But I do expect to respect it.
Having observed the sometimes aggravating political and dramatic functioning of pelotons over the years from afar, I have developed a reverence for its complexities and nuances. I’m excited to sit in and listen from the gut of the thing, instead of from the side of the road.
The temporary rolling community demands cooperation and does not always receive it. Each individual’s frustration at not being able to fully control the race is a nod to the inherent challenges of working as a group. In this case, the tension is increased by the fact that every member of the group is rolling toward the same goal, but only one can actually have it.
And however it plays, at the end of the race, when we cross the finish line, roll to our cars, and step off our bikes, we are people with big, bloody hearts in our chests and insecurities abound. We need each other – moreso in life than in the peloton.
The trick is to respect the competition without compromising your drive. Be ambitious but also honest and kind.
On Sunday I will become a road racer. If I cross the finish line unscathed then I have succeeded. This is the baseline. This is where things start. I will ride with a group of women that I respect on principle – because they work hard and suffer, just as I do.