This past weekend, I participated in a three-day mountain-bike race. Held at McDowell Mountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona, The Cactus Cup draws a few hundred competitors of all levels and ages, and is a great chance to be outside, camp, and ride and race bicycles on gorgeous desert trails.
Day one was a time-trial – your fastest individual time on a tricky and fast 5-mile loop. Day two was a 43-mile cross-country race – a long grind with several thousand feet of accumulated climbing around many of the trails that make up the park. The third day was an Enduro – three short timed downhill segments around a twenty-mile loop.
I am relatively fit and have been riding bicycles recreationally for years. I felt good leading up to the event. I had even been doing some specific training. I hoped to go fast. And by fast, I don’t mean competitive for the top of the placings, but since I was being scored against riders my own age, I expected to finish mid-pack.
I steamed the time trial at the top of my ability. I came in last. I fell flat in the cross-country race, without power, crawling up all the climbs in my smallest gear. I came close to last. I did the Enduro just to preserve a score for the entire, three-day event.
I went home from the weekend feeling defeated and down. I had always identified myself as a cyclist. My lack of standing against other riders my age with the same equipment, training, trails, and events available to them was a punch to the Ego. My tail was between my legs. I questioned myself. Was I really this bad at something I loved to do?
A shift in perspective
Monday was a travel day for work. In the airport terminal, I decided to meditate to relax and get centered before my trip. And as happens sometimes during meditation, the most-pressing underlying vibration in my current thinking came up. And so did a complete shift in perspective.
The Cactus Cup drew athletes from Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, California, Utah, Colorado, and beyond. The combined population of these states is sixty-one million.
The statistics vary, but approximately one in eight people ride a bicycle for leisure or transportation. That’s 7.6 million people in the target area.
10% of all people who ride bicycles recreationally participate in mass events of races. That’s 700,000 potential participants for The Cactus Cup.
USA Cycling says some 70,000 people hold cycling racing licenses nationally. That equates to approximately 20,000 self-identified racers in our target zone.
When I worked for Cyclingnews.com, we surveyed our readers annually and learned that statistically, cycling participation was dominated by middle-aged, affluent people, and is 90+-percent male. I’m in the 50-59 age group. This means there are likely 7,500 eligible racing cyclists in the target area.
Of those, fifty signed up for the event.
Of those, only thirteen of us finished all three events and earned a Cactus Cup score.
So rather than see my weekend as a disappointment, I am happy to say that I got to camp out in a beautiful Arizona park, ride trails for three days in a fun, competitive event, hang out with friends who also love to ride and race bicycles, and was one of only thirteen people out of sixty-one million to do it. I think what I did was pretty frigging special.