It Depends

It never fails.
 
Every time I come in to work beat down from a recent race, someone will ask me how far we raced. When I answer, they usually leave completely unimpressed.
 
To be honest, 45 minutes plus 1 lap doesn't sound all that incredible. Ten miles doesn't sound that far. Even 50+ mile road races sound like a relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
 
It's all about intensity.
 
The people I work with all exercise to varying degrees. No fitness, no job. We live in a relatively active community (in our modern, obesity-prone society), but the majority would not work out to that level if they had the choice. With very few exceptions, most have never exerted themselves to the point of vomiting. They have no frame of reference. Their concept of hard is based on distance as the primary metric.

I've ridden a half mile and puked from the effort. I've ridden 100 miles and felt relatively fresh. I've ridden in races where the speed varied from conversational to bleeding out of your eyes, all within a matter of meters. The distance doesn't make the race. The profile doesn't make the race. The weather doesn't make the race. All of these just provide opportunities.
 
Racers make the race.
 
Last week I did two races. The crit where we were grouped with the fast kids and the fun race. Both were about the same distance, with the fun race being slightly longer with a much more selective course. The crit was infinitely more demanding, because the competition was on a completely different plane of existence. As always, the competitors defined just how far into the suck you had to go.
 
Going the distance doesn't matter. Going the distance the fastest is what matters, because there are no participant medals. You define your own goals and measures of success, but the podium is only so big. Chances are, there are going to be a few dejected individuals limping across the line. That's why they call it a race instead of a ride. If you're not racing to win (or help someone else win), you're a participant and filling out the pack. I've been a participant more times than I can count

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