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The competitive spirit

AIDS/LifeCycle is a ride, not a race: That's one of the key concepts that's drilled into every one of us over and over again. But if you're a naturally competitive person, the ride can pose challenges for you -- sometimes helpful, sometimes not so helpful.

On today's training ride, the location of the second rest stop was "choose your own." I did just that, and I ended up eating my sandwich at an outside table in a shopping center along the route. It was refreshingly quiet -- I was the only rider there -- but it also had the unfortunate property of letting me watch our route while I ate. And every time I saw one or more riders go by on Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road, I couldn't help but think that I had just fallen "farther behind" in the group of today's riders.

Now, consider what happens during the event in June. You stop by the side of the road just for a minute, perhaps for something as mundane as taking off a jacket or making a phone call. In that short time, it's not uncommon to see dozens -- or maybe 100 or more -- riders go by. Of course, you'll do the same thing to countless other riders as well during the day -- cycle on by and "get ahead" of them -- but that's not what you're thinking of at the time.

If you let your competitive spirit get the best of you in such cases, your ride can become less pleasant. You start feeling that you need to "catch up," and you risk taking your body beyond where it wants to be. There are a few advantages to arriving at camp sooner rather than later; in particular, the lines for shower trucks can be shorter. But in the grand scheme of things, this isn't a big deal, and you should never let your riding be guided by your relative position compared to other riders. It's your personal challenge and your body that needs to be listened to.

That said, however, a little competition sometimes can be a healthy thing.

Today's ride was structured in such a way that riders easily could cut it short at several points and return to the meeting place. And after about 40 miles of hill after hill after hill after hill, the thought of doing so was very tempting (and, as I learned at the end, many riders chose to do just that). But while I had been riding mostly by myself most of the day, I had linked up with a friend at about mile 37, and together we navigated a particularly ornery portion of the route sheet (complete with a foul-up on my part that added a useless hill).

As we approached one of the easy bailout points, I was leading our small group of two, and even though I really wanted to end my ride at that point, I found that I just couldn't do it while I was being followed by someone I know. And the exact same thing happened about 7 miles later when we had another opportunity to cut some climbing and distance out of the route. Had I not been under "the watchful eye" of another rider who knows me, I might well have bailed out, but my body responded to the challenge, and both of us finished the full route.

The determination to ride "Every Friendly Inch" can be overpowering, and I've written before about some of the very, very strong emotions that can come up surrounding EFI. But remember, nobody will ever think less of you for listening to your body and doing the right thing. Not other riders, not ride leaders, and not your donors. Don't be afraid to expand the limits of your physical endurance, but also learn to accurately gauge when your body really is telling you no más, and then react appropriately. That's the responsible thing to do, not just for your safety but also for the safety of everyone around you.

Photo: Cresting Mount Eden on today's training ride. Photo by Dennis Soong.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'm equally disappointed and relieved that I got sidelined for this ride. I really appreciate this post, because though I don't think of myself as competitive, I often feel like "I'm falling behind". I really prefer riding along with a few other people, and watching a group pull ahead of me always makes me a little sad. I'm trying hard to temper my desire to keep up with "enjoying the ride".