October is always a rainy month, but this year has been exceptionally so. We've had about two inches of rain over just the last 36 hours. On my birthday morning, it was still raining heavily. Some people like to celebrate their birthday by "riding their age" in miles on their road bike. I prefer doing something a little more challenging, although riding on the road in today's deluge would have certainly been more than challenging, and perhaps a little masochistic!
I came up with a plan of riding my age in minutes of hard effort on the mountain bike. Given the mud and rain, I guess I could say that today's entire ride was hard, but I counted only the minutes where I was going hard physically. Going hard, but not very fast, is the best way to describe it. Because of the conditions, I decided to stay on the south side of Grand Ridge, as the north side and Duthie don't drain nearly as well. I expected today to be a solo odyssey, but I did see one trail runner. Dressed in pink, her smile told me that she was having as good a time as I was.
So the ride was almost a pure up-down-up-down-up-down kind of thing. It was either raining or "training" (previous rain shaken from the trees) for the entire ride, and the forest canopy was so dense I couldn't differentiate between the two.
Cycling has proven to be an incredible Fountain of Youth for me. Over the years, I have done a really good job of ignoring the calendar and my chronological age. It's been more difficult this year, because I have finally allowed some shock to creep in about my age. But I am riding "younger" than I ever have, and I block any thought of my real age out of my mind when I am on the bike. I am the leanest I have ever been, my fitness level is very high, and I am climbing faster on the bike than I ever have before. Most importantly, riding a bike still makes me feel just a little bit like a kid.
While I have a love-hate view of Strava, I do have to admit that it is good for several things that are very important to me. Most critically, I can compare today's me with last year's me on the same timed segments. Assuming I made a fairly consistent effort, I get a relative idea of my fitness between then and now.
In addition, with the Strava leaderboards, I don't have to risk life and limb in a race or sketchy group ride to get a feel for how I am doing compared to a universe of local riders. It's possible to see how you compare to everyone, or just the people you follow, or those in the same clubs. With a premium membership, one can also compare their times with different weight classes and age groups.
I take a look at the full leaderboards, and almost never even think to look at the age group leaderboards. After all, riding age is what counts to me, and I seem to have done pretty well at decoupling that from my actual age.
Of course it is not if, but when, I will slow down significantly on the bike. I'll fight that as long as I can, by eating well and riding smarter. Hell, I'll just ride harder if need be to keep up with last year's me:)
When the day comes that I start to look at the Strava age groups for signs of success (or an excuse for lack thereof), I will have thrown in the towel. Perhaps that day will come when I simply can no longer do well within the general universe of riders, or when I reach a certain chronological age number that I can no longer ignore.
In any case, even if I have to resort to taking a peek at the age group boards, I will still be trying to ride as young as I can. My real riding goal is to keep my riding age around 50-75% of my chronological age. Of course that is subjective, and I am the only person doing the evaluation, but I'll be honest with myself.
The importance of how strong I am on the bike will naturally diminish as I age. If all else, fails, I'll just revel in feeling a little bit like a kid when I am on the bike. After all, that is the true Fountain of Youth that riding a bike can provide.