I am on my bike at the top of the track, the wooden surface steeply sloping away underneath me. My heart pounds, my mouth is dry.
I look up at the handful of spectators and wonder if they’re thinking, “What is HE doing out there?"
I can’t blame them; I could easily go there myself. I’m old enough to be the grandfather of most of these competitors.
The C race, or the race for beginners, is ages 12 and up, and many of the competitors look like they’ve only begun to morph into teens. There are a few older boys and girls, and during the warm-up I even spot a couple of older adults peppered throughout, but otherwise the race is mostly juvenile—and no one looks as nervous as me.
There is something thrilling about putting myself into situations where I have no history, the learning curve is steep and I have nowhere to go but up.
The starter’s whistle goes off for the rollout lap, which marks the beginning of any mass-start track race. This 10-lap event is the simplest type of track race that exists and should take us no more than four minutes to complete. In a race this short, attacks start early, and sure enough, one of the older boys blasts away, soon followed by an older girl, myself and a 40-something guy who is much fitter than he looks.
The attacker builds his lead, and the group stretches. I stay behind the girl, but soon gaps are opening up with each of us in pursuit mode, trying to hold or gain position. There will be no more attacks. My legs burn and my breathing and heart rate go far into the red zone as I ride down a narrow tunnel of pain. The boards under my wheels rumble, the wind roars in my ears.
With one lap to go, I ask myself if I have the strength to get past my adolescent female competitor, and I realize, “Why not?” I stay with her until we come around the far side of the last turn, then swing out of her slipstream to pedal by. She had anticipated this and upped her own cadence on the straightaway, and we barrel across the finish line together, not in the lead group, but not in the tail, either.
Good Lord that was fun! And that was only the first race of the night; there will be two more.
I know that the prospect of winning is not even on the table. I am fortunate to have had an unbroken adult life of running, swimming, triathlon and bike racing, which has brought me to age 62, fit enough to give track racing a go. But I know I can never win, at least not with this bunch; that will have to wait until I am mixing it up with guys my own age at Masters Regionals.
So, why do it? I simply love to be a beginner. There is something thrilling about putting myself into situations where I have no history, the learning curve is steep and I have nowhere to go but up. For a little while, I am young again.