My return to racing after 25 years

1962 1998

I published this article in 1998 having spent the previous five years riding time trials and the occasional road race. Looking back from 2020, I can see that I had used better training techniques, than in my youth. ’92 to ’98 was a busy period in my life and it was hard to find sufficient training time. We had two children to look after, I had a full time job away from home, Kathryn and I were running both a bed & breakfast and an independent hostel; Although I didn’t beat my best times of my teens and early 20s, I came fairly close, particularly over 10 miles. After my time trialling efforts, I went on to enjoy many sportives before a heart arrhythmia problem stopped my competitions. I look back fondly on my racing days and, at the age of 75, am glad that I can still get out on the bike for a good long ride. How did I have all that energy?

father & son
Father & Son

Comeback Kid!

Between the ages of fifteen and twenty two I rode over 300 races so why were my knees knocking as I approached the start of this race?  The answer is that at 48 it was rather a long time since I had last raced. I was pretty good as a junior, even winning an event or two, but my entry to the senior ranks at the age of 21 was disappointing, and I retired a year or so later, to spend my time climbing mountains, skiing, kayaking, sailing and eventually starting a family. 

My immediate aim was to beat 30 mins for a 10 mile time trial, which I managed.  Since then I have trained hard, driven hundreds of miles and ridden lots of races to improve my times to 25:13 (10 miles), 1:07:01 (25miles) and 2:19:1 (50 miles).  I found the pursuit of fast times on sometimes busy roads eventually detracted from my enjoyment of the sport. My greatest pleasure has been gained in such events as the Elgin Hilly 18, the Black Isle Grand Prix, the Cairngorm CC George Edwards and the Tour of the Trossachs.

What has changed in the interval of 25 years between my racing careers? I am surprised how little basic equipment has altered, lots of tweaking but nothing dramatic.  Tribars, clipless pedals, indexed gears and high quality racing clinchers stand out, but the most notable improvement has been in the clothing.  There is no comparison between the itchy woollen shorts of the 1960s and a good pair of modern shorts and the well designed colourful tops worn now make riding safer.

The time trial sport in the north of Scotland is blessed with mostly light traffic and it is still possible here to go up the road, do a U- turn and come back.  I had a taste of the future in the Dundee 50 recently; not only did I feel the course was potentially dangerous but racing on it was downright unpleasant and how could a result on this course be a fair one when compared with other, traffic free, courses? Riders are being sucked along by huge lorries and over fifty miles this must be worth several minutes. When I raced near London in the 1960s on similarly busy roads starts would be from 5am. How I got my body to function at racing level at that time in the morning I still do not know. With increasing traffic, the way forward must lie with left handed circuits and interesting lumpy courses. I am sure some left handed, fast circuits could be found.  Somehow more riders need to persuaded away from the never-ending pursuit of that holy grail, a fast time over a standard distance.

Training has also improved.  I once did 1000 miles in three weeks in an attempt to improve my 10 time.  Now it is all pulsemeters, turbos and lactate thresholds.  However, although I feel I have probably got the best out of my 50 year old body, it does not go as well as it did when I was 20.  My recovery time now is much slower than it was and despite applying these training developments I have failed to improve on my times of 30 years ago. I was an average rider then so I suppose I must expect to be an average veteran now. Still, I am fitter and slimmer and the thrill of a good hilly course is hard to beat. It would be interesting to have my training log and heart rate graphs analysed by an expert to see whether there is any further scope for improvement. How those supervets who are around 60 can go so fast is beyond me.  The vets’ standard system is a great idea as it does give all vets, whatever their age, a chance of a prize.  I also like the ABCD grouping system as an alternative to give all us no-hopers a chance.

Does time trialing have a future? The folk who do ride are friendly to newcomers and the welcome I received on my return to racing was great.  The tradition of using a village hall as event HQ, refreshments afterwards and reading out the times goes back many years but I believe this has disappeared down south in England as well as in Dundee, where not even a cup of tea was on offer after the event!  In the last five years I have seen declining fields, a greater proportion of veterans and an increasing number of cancelled events, with very few youngsters riding.  Would you want your teenage son/daughter to race up and down the dual carriageway between Dundee and Perth on a busy Sunday? I wouldn’t.  It is a worry for the future of the sport. Time trial bikes are now so specialised that you feel at a disadvantage unless you have the latest expensive bike that is not much use for anything else. Maybe the youngsters are better off in MTB races until they are older; at least they all have mountain bikes.

I never ceased to be amazed at the hard work and dedication of organisers, marshals, timekeepers and tea providers. The sport would fall apart without them, so thanks, keep up the good work.  I will not be riding many more 10’s, 25’s, or 50’s but if anyone is promoting an interesting hilly somewhere or an Audax, APR, or Trailquest then I may be there.  There are also the munros to finish and my business to run so I will not be idle.

See you up the road.

Peter Main – Cairngorm Cycling Club

©Peter Main – 1998 & re-published 2020
You are welcome to use extracts from this text but please give me an acknowledgment

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