Age creeps up on us, say some. Not the cyclist. For every day we’re fighting it, raging against the dying light.
Life passes quickly. Like a mountain descent, we cling on, releasing the brakes for as long we dare, bracing ourselves for the next bend, for the end.
Fashion and music remain true arbiters of age. I still consider threadbare clothes new simply because I’ve not replaced them. They’re not new, just my latest. And latest is far from new. Many years and fashions have passed. The only time I’m fashionable is when the old clothes I’m wearing are recycled into retro. Still got it, thinks nobody.
Music follows a similar pattern. My ‘new albums’ are seven years old. I once counted down the days to a favourite band’s new release, now I discover they have a back catalogue bigger than my music collection.
Youth is a feeling not a moment in time. I’m 39 years young, I tell myself. Physically this isn’t so. My body tells a different story.
This year I turn 40. Yes, I know, young. Ish. Almost halfway towards the average male UK life expectancy of 81.6. The big 4-0 is a milestone number in the non-cycling world. Even bigger in cycling. I’ll be classified as a veteran in the world of racing. I laugh when I think of myself as a veteran. Me, a man still so full of vitality and vigour, a veteran? Ha.
Everything is relative. Whilst I’m probably fitter now than any version of my youth I conveniently forget how much easier speed was in my previous life. Sure I’m quicker but boy do I have to work for it. After each hard ride I make the kind of noises my granddad used to make whenever he moved and need twice as much sleep. Ugh.
What once simply required me to roll off the couch and out the door now requires three months of intervals. And let’s not even talk about recovery. Two hard rides in quick succession and I’m lost to the world. Training is a constant battle with fatigue.
Looking from the outside in, I must be quite the spectacle. By most people’s accounts we shouldn’t be riding bikes beyond the age of 16. Grow up, they don’t tell us but sometimes think. Right back at you my friend.
I remember my dad turning 28. He was ancient then. As a boy I’d never have imagined my 40-year-old father dressing in Lycra and disappearing into little known country lanes for the day. This is not what adults did back then.
A midlife crisis? Probably. Yet newer models have no appeal, not women, not cars, not even shinier bikes. Yes you can label me a MAMIL (Meaningful Artist Male Illustrating Life). I’ve ridden all my life but never so seriously. Am I trying to prove something to myself? Once perhaps, but no more.
Cycling is about many things to me, one of which is quenching my continual thirst for progress. Or at least my perception of progress. Two seconds quicker up my local hill climb? Progress. But mostly cycling is my meditation, it brings me peace.
I’m yet to encounter my peak, the moment when everything becomes slower. That moment isn’t too far away, perhaps not physically, but mentally. Legs far from lifeless, I can feel my head beginning to question my youthful vigour, amongst other things.
Am I mentally strong enough, disciplined enough to fight inevitability and even if I am, is it worth it? I have no contract to fulfil, no sponsors to please. I’m just riding a bike. For fun, allegedly.
Getting older, slower
There’s dozens of studies showing how cyclists get slower as they get older. We lose VO2 Max, we lose muscle strength, we lose the ability to recover quickly. Bones begin to crumble. Lung power retreats.
Each decade it’s estimated we lose 7 percent of our max and mean output, our max heart rate decreases by 4 percent and our cadence slows by 3 percent. Hardly catastrophic but damning all the same.
Sure you can adjust your training and fight against the dying light. But why? Be healthy sure, but must we flog ourselves to death in the name of fitness? No.
It’s apparent that more than anything I’m losing motivation more than I am physical prowess. My inner chimp quivers at the thought of an eyeballs out interval. Getting home from work I want to relax not flog myself and turn into a quivering wreck for the rest of the night.
This is not just a cycling frame of mind. It is my life frame of mind. Slogging away at work, putting more hours in than anyone as life passes me by? There must be more to life. So yes, consider this my midlife crisis, or as I’d prefer to think of it, my midlife enlightenment. I’m conscious life is short but not overwhelmed nor fearful of it. I simply want to enjoy life a little more than I have been.
To quote a wiser man than I, I’m getting too old for this shit.
The Veteran label pleases me. A handicap badge I will happily wear and point to in the inevitable event of decline, or use to gloat in those rare moments when the young whippersnappers are overcome by wiser legs.
Grey hairs have for a while freckled my stubble but now make themselves known atop my head. Time to begin looking after myself. I’m beginning to creak. My immune system is weakening. Sickness free since childhood, in 2017 I spent five weeks with an illness of one form or another. I long ago took to avoiding babies and other people. Must wash my hands more, eat more oranges, pray more.
My diet is protein and carbohydrates. As balanced as a Donald Trump tweet. I lack fruit. My plates do not recognise vegetables. I do not stretch. I have the core strength of cooked spaghetti and the flexibility of an iron rod. My idea of taking care of myself is getting a long overdue haircut.
Not that old
Yet I’m still one of the younger riders on my club rides, just. There’s examples of older cyclists achieving amazing feats. All those old school, die-hard riders still leading out the club ride and crushing folk on the hills.
Plenty of life left in me yet, right? Life yes, speed no. I’m coming to terms with the cyclist I am rather than who I could be. The fight now is less about becoming quicker and more about not getting slower.
On the bright side, I’ve been looking forward to an alternate cycling world where I cycle for even more pleasure. The world of long distance riding appeals, could this be the start of an Audax adventure?
Or perhaps more touring. Touring has always been by far the most enjoyable of endeavours. Cycling around the world? Now there’s a midlife crisis enlightenment.