Reprinted from Bethel Cycle's 8/27/2006 Blog
Winning isn’t everything. Don’t get me wrong it’s what I strive to do when I line up for a race. And certainly, I have had some memorable wins, but more often it’s the races where I had to really dig deep that stick in my mind. My Dad is a natural athlete, and he instilled the importance of being a good sport and giving a 100% when I was in a race or on the soccer field. If I was nervous before a race, he was simply say just to do my best out there.
As I get older I realize that this is truer than ever. I’m getting pretty close to that half century mark, and for sure the chances of winning overall against men half my age isn’t too realistic. The reason I still race remains fundamentally the same as when I was in 9th grade running the 880. It is to push myself as hard as I can. Sometimes I still enter uncharted waters and have breakthrough performances. It’s the reason to keep competing. My focus is inward about doing my best, not worrying about the competition.
This summer I was inspired by a customer who came up to me after a duathlon. She told me how much she enjoyed cycling and she introduced me to her son. They had done the race as a relay team. She rode and her son ran. It was clear that the event was special to them.
When I got home the phone rang and my Dad asked how the race went. I was pretty excited to share the details as I was 3rd overall. Then I asked him if he would race with me at the Lakehurst “Lighter than Air” Duathlon. After a moment he said, "Really? Do you think I can do it?" I told him I knew he could and that this was just about us racing together again and not to worry about going fast.
My Dad is 71, and although he doesn’t run anymore he rides his hybrid bike an hour a day (mostly in the biggest gear). The Lakehurst Duathlon, in its 16th year, is one of the premiere run/bike/run races in the country. The race takes place entirely on the grounds of the Lakehurst New Jersey Naval Air Station (famous for the Hindenburg disaster). We grew up at the Jersey Shore not far from Lakehurst, and my parents now live in a retirement community a few miles away. My Dad came out to cheer me on at the race the last two summers and I thought it would be special if we could do the race together.
Initially my mother was worried about Dad pushing himself so hard, but I could tell that he was up to the challenge. I wasn't sure he ever rode 20 miles, but it’s never too late to try! I gave him a few pointers and told him to build up to an hour and a half ride. The race was six weeks away.
Two weeks later I got a call from him on Sunday and I could hear the excitement in his voice. He proceeded to tell me that he rode an hour and a half straight. The next weekend he made a believer out of me when we pace-lined for 20 miles through the Jersey Pine Barrens (I knew this was one tough old guy).
A few weeks later it was race day! We got up before the sun and quietly shared the pre-race routines that have become a ritual for me from racing over the last 20 years. We had some coffee, a light breakfast, checked to make sure we had the right gear and loaded the bikes on the car. We got to the race early and we racked his bike in the transition area. I explained the rules he needed to know.
I could tell Dad was nervous; but I realized he should be nervous. He never competed in a bike race, and hadn't competed in nearly 30 years-- never mind with the added pressure of living up to the families' expectations. In what seemed like a role reversal I gave him the same advice he gave me “Don’t worry just do the best you can out there.” I had my bike with me and we rode part of the course to settle his nerves. When we came back our fan support had arrived. Our family ranging from my 7-year-old nephew to my 91 year old great uncle showed up to cheer us on. Even neighbors from the retirement village where there!
I had to start the first leg of the relay by running 3 miles. There were about 100 people in my heat which contained all of the Masters racers and relay teams. I gave Dad the thumbs up sign as I went to the line. My goal was to be first one back into the transition area and give Dad the lead. As normal the pace was fast and there was a relay runner about half my age laying down a blistering 5 minute per mile pace. This was faster than I wanted to go but I kept him within range as the two of us ran away from the field. By mile two he started to fade and I accelerated past him. I got a nice lead and although the last mile was painful, I was proud that I would be handing off to Dad in first place.
When I got to the bike transition, I saw Dad and he looked determined. I transferred the timing chip to his ankle and wished him good luck. I made sure he clipped into his new pedals safely and watched him start on his exciting journey. He would be doing two loops of 10 miles around the air base. It was a little weird not doing the bike leg, but it was cool to hang out with my family. My sister’s boyfriend Bill had a stopwatch and we calculated that we would see Dad again after one lap in about 40 minutes.
After one lap Dad passed by right on schedule. We cheered him on and he was smiling. He looked good, and I was sure he would make the full 20 miles. The funny thing was he was riding on a hybrid bike with fat tires for safety, but he was actually keeping up with some racers riding much lighter and more aerodynamic triathlon bikes. At 75 minutes we were all anxiously looking down the runway for Dad. My uncle had binoculars and said I think that’s him". I thought it can’t be. I could see someone a long way off sprinting low over the bike with his head down. Surely that can’t be my 71 old father after 19 miles. The “sprinter” was my father and he passed a guy on a tri bike right at the end!
I was waiting by the dismount line of the transition area and yelled, “Don’t forget to un clip from your pedals”. Frankly I was a little worried about Dad remembering to disengage from the pedals that he was locked into, and the last thing I wanted to happen was for him to crash. But he much have been reading my mind, as he had both feet off the pedals in a flying V style as he got ready to got off the bike. I had to laugh, not much for style points, but it got the job done!
I helped Dad rack his bike. He was out of breath and for sure had given the race everything he had. I told him I was proud of him, made sure he wasn’t going to pass out, and told him I had to run.
I started the run with a smile on my face thinking about his performance. The two miles flew by and even though I knew we were weren’t in contention for placing in the relay division I still gave it my best and sprinted the last 200 yards. My proud teammate cheered me on as I crossed the line. In the end we were 4th in the relay division but certainly we were first in the Father and Son combined 118 year old age group. But it really wasn’t about winning; it was how we played the game.