Forty. The new Sixty.

Seems to me that retirement at 40 makes it the new 60. Jens Voigt, is retiring at age 43 after a successful 18 year career as a professional cyclist. 

In a weekend Globe and Mail article, Oliver Moore profiled Voigt who has been a pro as long as I’ve been following cycling. Like his many fans, I would cheer Jens on when he headed out on long solo attacks, will him to stay away long enough to take the stage, curse the riders who overtook him at the line.  It was exciting racing. I’ll miss him. And not just for his courage. Jens was a nice guy, thoughtful and generous. The real deal.

What disappoints me is that many masters, or as they refer to us in the article, aging, athletes seem to be so inspired by Voigt’s ability to ride through pain and suffering, to ignore his body.

I will admit to trying out Voigt’s famous catch phrase, “Shut up Legs” on certain climbs. And I know the difference between pain that will go away and pain that won’t. But having lived with pain that just wouldn’t go away (until they installed a new hip),  I just can’t buy into Voigt’s assertion that pain kept him young. Pain doesn’t keep you young, it makes you feel old. 

There is so much emphasis these days on epic endeavours. People who will literally hurt themselves to achieve a seemingly insurmountable goal are held up as inspiration and I wonder where it will all stop. When will it be just as admirable, just as inspiring, to be doing your sport just because you have done for decades, and intend to for many years more. Seems to me that if you are in it for the long haul,  that is going to take some patience, and patience is sometimes a lot harder to come by than grit and determination.

I think more of us should aspire to be like Ed Whitlock, the 83 year old runner who runs so he can race and is still breaking world records. Scott Douglas’s 2010 article, Ed Whitlock and the Age of Simplicity is well worth a read. Go ahead, click on the link, you won’t be disappointed! But just in case you don’t, here is my favourite Whitlock advice.

“I do what not to do to an extreme.”

“Running should be a pastime,” he says. “All sports should be a pastime.”

“I don’t know how to motivate other people. I never know what to say to people who say, ‘You’re an inspiration.’ What do you say to that? I’m not an inspiring person at all.”

“Age-grading tables are a great motivator. My main interest in them is to see if I’m going downhill faster than the tables say I should or see if I can beat the tables.”

“All people are strange in different ways.”

Jens Voigt says that when he eventually goes back to riding his bike, “I’m going to do one hour, easy, in the sunshine, riding my bike to the next ice cream shop.” I don’t believe him, but it sounds like a plan.


When Nothing Happens!


Rest days are probably the least exciting thing anyone can write about.  But sometimes, they produce the most exciting results. You know the Monty Python sketch,  where the story starts to unfold, the plot thickens, and… Nothing Happens! That’s a good rest day.

Since I hate to waste perfectly good weather off the bike, I’ve been taking rest days only when there is no chance of riding. Sometimes those days are not so restful. Last weekend, I took my longest break since June. We were celebrating our eldest daughter’s marriage, staying up late, dancing and partying. In the days that followed, it began to dawn on me just how long it was going to take to recover from all that excitement. I had no desire to move, let alone get on my bike. So the two rest days I had planned turned into four, and I worried it would set me back.

Heading out on the River Road for my first post-wedding ride, I decided to just go slow, enjoy the day and the view.  It was perfect—no wind, low 20’s, not a cloud in the sky or (fortunately) a rabbit in sight. So when I finished the route, I circled back and rode most of it again.

Turns out slowing down and taking time to recover was the best thing I could have done. I’ve gone faster and farther on both flat and hilly routes this week, set new PRs, and even had the good sense to take yet another day off when my body said so, and not because of the weather (well…the weather wasn’t great).

Rest days just seem unproductive. There is nothing  to show for them, no PRs, no stories of wild weather, grit and determination. We don’t log rest days, they just appear as a yawning gap in the chart. Yet they are an essential part of the long game, being able to do exactly this for years… for decades to come.

With age comes the wisdom (okay, necessity) to finally pay attention to our inner personal trainer. The one who for years has been jumping up and down, telling us to slow down, take a break, enjoy the ride.

If we find a way to celebrate those days when Nothing Happens! every  bit as much as that new PR, there will be no end to the roads we can travel.





Like Riding a Bike

I learned to ride a bike in Drayton Valley, Alberta and I do not recall any magic carpet. I do remember the concrete sidewalks—not fondly, I might add—and that the bike seemed so big. There were no training wheels, just someone urging me on. That’s it. Just a hazy memory.

There are some skills that once learned, are never forgotten. Like riding a bike, so the saying goes. Muscle memory kicks in, and away you go. I’m glad for that. Learning to ride a bike is not something I’d want to do all over again.  But, I’m disappointed the act of doing it is not more clearly etched in my memory. Maybe that’s not the way these kind of things work.

There are lots of things that are like riding a bike. Playing an instrument, for example. Sure, returning to it after a long hiatus is not the same, but it does come back. I love it when my adult piano students realize they remember a lot more than they anticipated!

Learning to walk is another one of those skills, or so I thought.

This year, I had to learn to walk again…after I learned to take the stairs again..and even re-think how to sit. It wasn’t like riding a bike.

After my hip replacement, I had to actually talk myself through how to move because I had to sit and walk and climb stairs differently than the way I was used to. It was very counterintuitive. To sit, I had to back up to a chair, extend my bad leg and ease into the seat, then reverse the whole process when I stood up. To take stairs, there’s a little mantra… “up with the good, down with the bad.” Which come to think of it, is pretty useful for life in general. It was odd to have to talk myself through such an instinctive motion.

When piano students begin, they have to think about which hand is right and left. We play games to get comfortable thinking about what hand and which finger to use and to associate that with the notation. It doesn’t always come naturally at first, and I now have a much better appreciation why!

There was a point in my recovery when I wondered whether I’d ever walk on my own again. I was convinced that my fitness going into the surgery and subsequent dedication (okay, obsession) to the physio was going to get me back on my own two feet sooner than later. It didn’t happen. It wasn’t like riding a bike.

And then suddenly one day, it happened.  It was magic.

Took me a couple of months before I worked up the courage to ride my bike again. New respect for those balancing muscles. But when I pushed off and slung my leg over the bar…

It was just like riding a bike.

Chasing Rabbits and Practicing Piano

I chased a rabbit last week. I’ve never chased a rabbit before—and it was it fun! At the north end of my River Road loop, I was dragging along, working against the northwest wind and planning my way through the next few days off the bike. Not a good way to enjoy a ride.

Then as I turned back south, a cyclist on County Road 33 looked at me coming, and pulled out just ahead onto the River Road.  Did I really look that slow?

I sized him up. He was on a road bike and carrying a backpack, cadence slower than mine. Usually, if it’s a guy, I’m done, but why not try to keep pace, at least?  It was work, but I was able to keep him in my sights and even gain a bit through the rises and falls of the road. As the gap started to close, I knew I could overtake him, but if I did it too soon, then I’d be the rabbit.

So I settled in and paced my way until a few kilometres before the end of the course. There’s a really rough section towards Lock 23. After getting run off the road there by the Coca-Cola truck, I always take the entire lane into the ess curve. Just as I moved into the centre of the road to take the corner, my rabbit stood to stretch his legs and I was gone. Not much of a catch, I admit. But beat my course PR by 57 seconds.

Sometimes it’s good to seize the moment. But I have to keep reminding myself that to continually improve, I need to have a more disciplined approach to my rides. It’s like practicing the piano. Just like it’s great to chase that rabbit and go fast on the bike, there’s a certain high to playing and performing a piece you know well on the piano. But that doesn’t help you through the slow, detailed hours learning something new and more challenging.

When I ask my students how they should approach their practice on a tough section of a piece, they’ll inevitably make a face and come up with “slowly?” We all want to be there already, even when we’re learning something new.  I’m now facing up to the same challenges with my cycling. Every time I record a slower overall time on a route, I feel like I haven’t made the most of a ride. I just have to get over that—learn to practice!

My rabbit taught me this. For a couple of weeks I’d been putting in the kilometres, doing a few more hilly routes and taking time to enjoy the view along the way. It was not time wasted. When I got the unexpected chance to test my racing legs—to perform—the slow practice paid off.

Maybe all I have to do now is harness my inner piano teacher on the bike!










Shifting Winds


Mary Poppins Weathervane

Magic happens when the wind changes. And not just in stories like Mary Poppins and The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé.

The wind brings everyday magic—weather to predict and complain about.

Looking at this week’s forecast I can see the weather vane spinning, from southwest to north, northeast and back to west as July turns to August. It’s like the wind can’t make up its mind.

The trees and the roadsides are already hinting at the advent of Fall. The light is shifting. And yet…

We still haven’t had more than a few days of real Ontario summer. Hot, humid. The kind of day when you ride the bike just to feel your own breeze. And it’s wonderful.

I’m holding out hope for August.


The Last Stage

Marianne Vos of the Netherlands, right, nudges out compatriot Kirsten Wild, centre, and third-placed Leah Kirchmann of Canada, to win La Course in Paris. Photo: Laurent Rebours, Sydney Morning Herald

You’re right! This is not a photo of the final stage of The Tour de France. But it is the winning sprint of the first women’s race connected with The Tour since 1989. Hours before the men arrived on the Champs Elysées, the women raced 89 km on the streets of Paris. And a Canadian placed third!

It’s Sunday 27th, the final stage of the Tour de France and my @mapmyride LeTour challenge. This last stage of the Tour is always one of celebration in the peloton, with lots of chatting, photo ops and even champagne on the road into Paris. No real racing happens until the sprinters approach the circuit on the Champs Elysées.

I ride my last stage for fun, enjoying the beautiful day and thinking back over the past three weeks. It seems so long ago that I set out on that first stage July 5th, hoping to ride 10% of the Tour distance. I reached that goal on July 24th. The next day, I earned the 250 mile badge with a PR of 25 km/hr average for the whole River Road route, a 3 km/hr improvement in 3 weeks. I also recorded my 100th ride since joining Map My Ride. So a lot happened.

No wonder time seems to have moved slowly.  Thinking ahead, it feels like summer is rushing to an end. The winds have shifted. Already, the trees are hinting at Fall. I need a new goal to make time move slowly again and there are lots to choose from.

Hills, for sure. I’ve been avoiding them because the ones from the River Road rise sharply and I have never learned to stand and pedal uphill.

Teaching my right leg to take as much of the work as the left. Despite all the rehab and physio, my right leg is still quite happy to let the left do the hard work.

Bike handling. Technique in general. After falling off my bike, trying to dismount at the end of tiring rides last year, I’m continually amazed at how smoothly I can come to a stop now.  But I avoid any routes that involve stopping and starting again.

So for the next 3 weeks, I’ll tackle some hillier terrain and hone my technique. Then maybe I’ll make up a Vuelta Challenge. In the meantime, there is LeTour to finish.

I spot a cyclist off in the distance and sprint past them to the finish. 

Like Sixty

When I own up to turning sixty this year, people often say,  “Oh yeah, but sixty is the new forty.” It’s not true, I’m not going to lie. I remember forty and sixty isn’t the same.

But it is not stopping me from pushing a few limits, either.

When I started the MMR LeTour Challenge I set a goal of 10% of the Tour distance. Then along the way I got the 100 mile virtual badge and I realized that the 250 mile award was only another 50 or so km more than my original goal. So I’ve set my sights on that.

I used to have some hard and fast rules about cycling. Not in the rain. Not when the temperature dipped below two digits celsius.  Not in heavy wind.

This past week, rule one and three got broken. Because I had been away for 3 of the past 5 days, I had no choice but to squeeze in a ride on a rainy day. I studied the radar and found a gap between two bands of rain.  It was sunny when I headed out, so I was feeling pretty smug about nailing the weather prediction.

At the far end of my route, ominously, a Disaster Mitigation Services truck drove on past me. There were some seriously dark clouds blowing in. When I turned to retrace my route, it was sunny in the distance and I figured the storm had passed north along with the truck. Not so. When the storm hit, it was pretty spectacular, a torrential downpour with 50 km wind gusts coming at me from all sides, water sheeting and pinging off the pavement.  Rain and sweat splashed onto the inside of my sunglasses while I tried to hold my line and look for a safe place to get off the road. Then just as suddenly, it was over and I was still upright.

I rode on, feeling kind of chuffed. Going…. like sixty.