2001 – 2004

After finishing military service, I moved to the Washington, DC metropolitan area. I ran a couple of days a week, but I had no desire to train or compete again. I played adult church basketball twice a week. I eventually developed a hiatal hernia, which permanently ended my running and basketball participation. My doctor suggested I try biking. I bought a hybrid, or “comfort,” bike from a local bike shop and started riding a couple days per week. I even attempted to commute to work by bike, which was about 10 miles away. That lasted only a week or so. The hybrid was just too heavy.

I envied the guys on the road bikes that passed me with relative ease. When I tried to keep up with them, I knew I needed a new bike. On March 24, 2001, I bought a used, 9-speed, steel frame Trek road bike for $150. This bike’s owner had abandoned it at a local bike shop, rather than pay for the repairs. I was now ready to keep up with the local “hammerheads” (bike slang for riders that always try to go as fast as they can). I started to ride more often. I started reading books about training and racing. I started following the major professional bike races, like the Tour de France. At age 52, I considered competing again. I even started keeping track of my rides in a training diary.

My weekly training miles started to steadily increase: 24 miles, 61 miles, 106 miles, 127 miles, 148 miles, 172 miles, 197 miles, 205 miles, 242 miles, and a maximum of 255 miles. By June, when I purchased a training plan from a coach on the Internet, I had already logged 1,607 miles in three months and thought I was ready to race.

I entered my first bike race on Saturday, June 16, 2001. I recorded the results in my training diary: “Started in pack and in rain. Was dropped in first five miles. Continued with race and was able to pass several Cat 5 riders. Out-sprinted rider at finish to avoid finishing last. Was able to maintain 20+ mph on flats, but had difficulty with numerous hills. Top speed was 41 mph.” Official finishing time for 45 miles was: 2 hours, 37 minutes, 20 seconds (17.16 mph average).

I entered two more races that summer: a 50-mile road race that I “did not finish” (DNF) and a 35-mile road race with a similar result. I continued training over the fall and winter. I rode over 7,200 miles that first year.

It had also become apparent to me that I needed a “real” racing bike if I was going to get serious about competing. So, at the beginning of the 2002 racing season, I traded in the hybrid, donated my Trek to charity, and bought a Klein Quantum Pro, an aluminum frame “racing” bike that weighed less than 20 pounds and had state-of-the-art components.

In 2002, I competed in six road races, ranging in distance from 38 miles to 54 miles, three 20-mile criteriums, and a century (100 miles). I finished five of the six road races (18.9 mph average), none of the criteriums, and completed the century solo in five hours thirteen minutes (19.21 mph average). No wins or podium finishes. I logged 10,210 training miles for the year.

In 2003, I competed in four road races, ranging in distance from 38 miles to 50 miles, a single criterium, and a century. I finished only two of the four road races (22.83 mph average), the 20-mile criterium (24.0 mph average), and the century solo in virtually the identical time from the previous year. No wins or podium finishes. I logged 7,120 training miles for the year.

In 2004, my season was cut short after completing two road races, entering, but not completing, two criteriums, and being crashed out of my fifth race, a 42-mile road race, within a mile of the start line. A first-time racer had a flat tire while the peloton was negotiating a downhill stretch of road at over 40 mph. He attempted to brake, which caused him to crash. The two riders immediately behind him collided with his bike and broke their collarbones. My teammate and I were able to avoid the crash by riding off the road. But, he hit a tree and broke his tailbone. I was rapidly decelerating in the soft dirt on the shoulder of the roadway, but, before I could get back on the asphalt, I crashed and fractured three ribs.

The first-timer and I got a helicopter ride to a local trauma center for treatment for our injuries. The other three injured riders had to wait for ambulances to take them to the emergency room. When my wife was notified that I had crashed and was injured, but not seriously, she was furious that a first-time rider had been allowed to race with experienced racers. In fact, the local bike racing association felt the same way and banned all novice (Category 5) riders from any age-group races the following season. That ban is still in effect. My wife also informed me that I was retired from racing. I still logged 9,310 training miles, despite a two-month layoff to heal my ribs.

NEXT: 2005 – 2009