The Birdsong 500

I don’t remember how or why I decided to play sports. I was incredibly young and a minority in the 1980s athletic world, but I can still remember the first time I felt the buzz of competition. I loved the game, but the fire that burned inside me was kept alive by winning. I felt like every practice was the battlefield and every loss was personal.

As a mid-thirties amateur athlete, accepting the fact that my childhood mantra might be flawed was a daunting task.I was an out of shape has-been when I decided to pick up a bike. I had been running in hopes of becoming a marathon athlete, but my body had a way of shutting that idea down. I wanted to race. I wanted to feel the rush of success run over me like the gravy on a pile of southern baked biscuits.

The last few weeks haven’t been very awe-inspiring, and I took a week off the bike to clear my head and readjust my attitude. I started running again. Yeah, I started running again and I LIKED IT. I was tired of losing at bikes. I was tired of getting close to a breakthrough and being stopped by this, that, or the other. I was bummed to start my 5th season of ‘cross as a cat 3, B-level racer after getting destroyed in an elite field for 3 years. It just didn’t add up and I decided I was over it.

Like getting in a fight with boo, I came crawling back after a few days of being pissed and stuffy.

“Hey bike, can we maybe start training again? But only if you promise to stop pissing me off.” The bike didn’t respond, obviously, but we started hanging out again this week. We have a real complicated relationship.

I watched Mara Abbott’s TEDx about her fourth place finish in Rio, and she said a million different things that really hit home for me. She mentioned giving herself the opportunity to experience the potential she had been building throughout her life. That’s what makes me toe the line every weekend. I may not be a pro cyclist, but I feel like a lot of the reason I take racing so seriously is because I secretly want to win. Well, it’s not a secret anymore. And let me be the first to tell you I don’t see myself on the top step anytime soon. I’m a realist.

My heart breaks multiple times a week, on any given day, for any given reason. I’m also an empath.  Intuition is the filter through which I experience the world. Racing bikes has pushed me to the highest peaks and buried me under the heaviest, most soul-crushing rubble, and I keep coming back. I would honestly give up cycling if the fun factor was missing, because the emotions that come with losing are exhausting. As Mara said, “It’s an earned privilege, this sort of a broken heart.” I didn’t go to Rio and my problems are small in comparison, but my defeat is a gift. I need to embrace that.

I missed the lunch ride today after a meeting with an angry pothole, so I was forced to squeeze in a training ride after work and before the sun faded. After a week of bicycle mishaps and missed chances, followed by a week of the “Second Lap Blues”, I finally had a moment of clarity.  I felt good for a change. All my body parts were working in silent harmony. The white noise came back and the thoughts disappeared. It was fun and I was flowing. The sun hit the East Bench like a mimosa bar day buzz and the vibe was phenomenal. After I reached the top of my final interval this evening, I looked over my shoulder and felt my heart skip a beat.

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