I had a nice chat with an athletic man who looked to be in his 50s. He'd just bought some skate skis from me. In the course of that he mentioned that he rides a bike. From his stories and references I could tell he rides at a pretty high level.
"We ought to ride sometime," he said.
Are you kidding? He scared the crap out of me. He would ride me to death, if I didn't bore him to death first. He described riding in the Dolomites with a former member of the US Cycling Team, stomping up the switchbacks and screaming down the other side.
I can get up what I need to get up, and some members of our little riding community consider me a ballsy descender, but I know from actual racing what my limits are. I appreciate the offer and the compliment it implies, but I don't have the discipline to be competitive.
Training discipline has two components. One is riding and the other is not riding.
To be strong on race day, you have to rest on rest day. That may not mean you lounge by the pool, but it means you have to keep the schedule.
To be strong on race day, you have to go hard on the hard day. The length and intensity of the effort varies with your objective, but you follow the program and don't slack off.
Scientific trainers rule these days. An article in Bicycle Ratailer noted that personal coaching is a growth segment of the bike business. Hard-core riders look for the latest nutritional marvel, even if they aren't looking for pharmaceutical solutions to physiological inadequacies.
Racing and performance riding represent the most consuming aspects of human-powered sport. Racers will spend what it takes and burn whatever equipment they must, to stay competitive.
I'm just a dilettante. I like to ride hard sometimes. I try to follow a bit of a training rhythm just because it makes riding the whole long season easier. But I don't have the drive and focus to alter my diet. I drink too much caffeine. I like to do other things in the warm weather besides ride. This is heresy to the scientific trainer.
I know a number of these older riders, some of whom have been at it since they were younger riders and some of whom have come to it recently. They all have plenty of disposable income, which they were earning while I was being the impoverished athlete and starving writer. Now they're cashing in on their earlier discipline, nose to grindstone, to catch and surpass me in athletics as well, with their superior discipline. Let that be a lesson to you.
Chalk it up to attention deficit disorder, or actually attention surplus disorder, because I can pay attention to so much that seems unrelated. What might I achieve if I ever figure out how it all goes together?
I say just ride. Some will choose to ride scientifically. Others will just take it as it comes. It doesn't have to take over your whole life. Just let it take over a portion of your life.
My friend is not wrong. He seems like a nice guy and a hell of an athlete. I just don't think he wants to put up with a derelict on a 21-pound steel bike that's closing in on 20 years old. I'll be over on the other road, staying out of the way.