Essay: On Retirement from Racing
Cover photo is courtesy of Mike Maney Photography. Be sure to check out his work; he is a fellow cyclist in the Bucks County cycling community with multiple KOMs to his name.
Just yesterday I was in conversation with someone regarding the advancement of age compared to athletes. I remember feeling mature at the age of fourteen while watching gymnasts tumble in the Olympics. I thought I was advanced when I paralleled the ages of some of the figure skaters in the winter Olympics at sixteen. The minimum age in the National Hockey League is eighteen; though that one stung a bit to watch guys my age on national television. My perception continued until athletes who retired, returned, and retired again were close to the age of your muse. This winter there has been a bit of racing contemplation during the hard cold snap.
I have stated many times before that it was my last Tour of the Battenkill only to register for it many times afterwards. I swore to never return to the Tour of the Catskills, but the eleventh edition invitation graced my email inbox weeks ago. Lower Providence. Smoketown. Rodale Park. Great Valley. Hawk Mountain Team Time Trial. There I could be found registering for my next season's license for another crack at glory. This past year saw some successes as well as some major defeats. All of which I weighed and measured the past few months.
In Phil Gaimon’s book, Draft Animals, there was a comment that hit home. It was an innocent sentence buried, steeping for the moment I would read it. It would all make sense once I read it. It went something like ‘for a rider to keep pace with the peloton in his thirties, he has to train twice as hard.’ If there’s something I don’t have at my age, it’s twice the amount of time to work twice as hard to stay with everyone else. Reflecting on my season I feel that sentence described exactly what bewildered me as I would get out of the saddle only to watch everyone ride away as if on dynamite. At my age I was training half the amount of time, hoping for better results than a decade earlier.
The final bit of convincing came when reflecting on a crash last spring when the lasting damage occurred in rib injury. Sure I could sit in a college classroom and grind through discomfort, but being a professional with responsibilities makes it difficult to convince others it is worth it before I ultimately have to ask myself the trade-off. There are a lot of things to think of going into a corner with scores of other racers; there is no room whatsoever for my head to be elsewhere and responsible for the safety of those around me.
Earlier in my career I was heavy in racing with few non-competitive events on my schedule. A few years ago my career was nearly 50/50 with races and non-competitive events. The next few years will certainly have nearly all events regarded as non-competitive rides, events I can select my own speed and seriousness. I could even pull it over at a general store for a cup of coffee. Last year I watched the Masters race Lower Providence and thought just how badly I would have been annihilated once eligible. Perhaps it is for the better to alter goals later in life.
I have always agreed with athletes who state they want to walk away from a sport on their terms. With one last race calendar slated for 2018, I am hopeful to have a successful season that sees me walking away after the last lap of the last race. There are few goals left for me to strive toward, which makes it harder to stay focused year after year. One goal that has always eluded me is an outright victory. I can’t imagine just how hard it would be to walk away if that ever happened. One can dream can’t he?