Chasing Limits

I’m no natural athlete. My efforts at organized sports all failed by 7th grade. Life changed though, and at 55, I’m in something like the 90th percentile of fitness for my age. A year ago, I decided to get a lot better at cycling. Speaking relatively, I’ve succeeded, although there’s still plenty of room to grow. However, I’ve beaten the shit out of myself in the process.

Most recently was spraining my right wrist a week ago Sunday. This one scared me – I initially though I’d broken it, and weeks or even months off the bike and a host of languishing home projects flashed through my head. More than a week later I’m pretty confident that nothing broke. The wrist hurts but improves daily. I rode the trainer Thursday night, and yesterday did 15 miles on the road. Still, working the right shifter hurt enough that I started reaching over with my left hand to go up the cogs. Braking is dicey, and even though the right hand only operates the back brake, I can’t ride with others or on trails until that improves.

That’s counterproductive.

It seems that improvement requires pushing at the edge of your abilities. Every sport has two aspects; strength (and endurance), and ability (balance, coordination). Gaining strength just requires gut-busting. I’m curious about growing abilities. Nearly everyone I mountain bike with has an order of magnitude more experience than I do. Clearly, there’s no direct comparison. Some things I see others do are things I don’t even aspire to. But I’m also sure I haven’t reached my potential yet.

Do other cyclists go through such growing pains? Did others crash a lot when they were younger? Or am I comparing myself to people who are just naturally more athletic than me? Riding with better cyclists is inspiring and educational. But does that lead me to take too many chances? How do you improve without taking chances? If the answer is that you don’t, how do you find your limit? Or am I asking the wrong questions? Overthinking?

A final note. More than one person has told me I’m too old to take up mountain biking. I think they’re projecting their own fear and weakness. Sure, age is a factor. I’m old enough I’ll never be Richie Rude – but I couldn’t have been him 30 years ago. I’m not too old to become as good as I can be right now.




About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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