There was a time, long, looooong ago, when I was pretty damn fast on two wheels. I lived in the flatlands of Minneapolis, I trained with the junior Gopher Wheelmen team--which consisted of all boys at the time--and I did sprint repeats until I a) almost blacked out or b) tasted my breakfast come up. I loved being able to go from being dropped on group rides to holding onto wheels to finally taking pulls in a paceline. This feeling of tearing around the city, pushing my body and mind harder than I ever thought possible, was terribly addictive. And although I loved this adrenaline rush, I got burned out on always trying to improve and never feeling fast enough. The faster I got only meant there were new challenges and expectations and finally my brain and body snapped.
Fast forward 23, almost 24 years, and for the first time since I quit racing, I've had this little brain worm burrowing deeper, trying to talk me into giving racing a shot again. Taking this step scares the hell out of me. I'm not too concerned about the training involved--I know my body can take a beating. What I am concerned about is crashing and having to be off the bike for an extended time or coming to despise riding again due to over training--not unlike what I went through when I was 17 years old.
This whole "need for speed" thing started to rear its ugly head last summer. I felt myself getting stronger on long, hilly road rides, began to find pleasure in reeling other riders in, and I thought "hmmmmm...do I still have a bit of that competitiveness in me?" Since I quit racing, I purposely shoved any thoughts or feelings I had about being competitive into a deep, dark place and nailed a sign on it which read " CAUTION! DO NOT OPEN!" But at some point, most likely when I was high off adrenaline, I took a peek and Pandora's box was opened.
This year I got a couple new riding friends...fast ones. Friends who bring me close to the brink of either falling off my bike and going into the fetal position on the side of the road while crying like a little girl or making me attempt to tape lead bricks to their bikes just to even out the playing field a bit. They are stronger both mentally and physically than me, and because I want to be able to keep up with them, they have naturally set the bait. I think they can smell this desire on me to go faster--and so they keep pushing (to these "friends"...if you are reading this, it doesn't mean you should push me more).
In this not so hidden quest to pick up my pace over a snail's pace, I've started doing some faster group rides with the Bombay Bike Club and the Capital Brewery Bike Club. I can't say I enjoy riding in a tight group of folks I rarely ride with--trust is huge when you're 2 inches from another rider's wheel--but these rides have gotten me to not only pick up my pace a bit but also read and anticipate other rider's movement and this is something I'm going to have to get pretty comfortable with if I ever decide to race again.
This whole "if" and "when" I race again thing isn't set in stone. A riding friend of mine just took a nasty spill at one of my favorite crits to watch in Milwaukee. Her bike was trashed and her body a bit injured. I saw all the pictures, knew that could easily be me, and though "nope, I'm out". So I've gotta take some time to weigh out the pros and cons. In the meantime, I'll keep trying to tap into this side of myself I though I had slain and would never return. Maybe it's not as scary of a beast as I thought.