This post sort of came to me Tuesday night as I was trying to bridge a large gap during one of our TNTS races. The concept is a little morbid, but dark thoughts can creep into your head when the gap becomes insurmountable.
I think that athletes at all levels routinely dig deeper than the general population. Most people have no idea what it's like to get their pulse up to 190 beats per minute. They don't understand what it's like to have their muscles fill with lactic acid and to experience searing lung pain as they gasp for air.
Even in the world of sports, I don't think there are many sports that are as hard on the collective mind and body as bike racing. Mixed Martial Arts is a notable exception since getting dropped on a bike doesn't include getting repeatedly punched in the face, but bike racing is hard. Our sport and its inherent suffering are often described in terms that attempt to describe the pain, but also put a romantic spin on it. Phil Liggett usually puts it best: "The elastic has snapped." "He's wearing a mask of pain." "He's really having to dig deeply into the suitcase of courage."
Sometimes we dig into the suitcase of courage and we come through the other side and contest the sprint. Other times we dig deep but the mind and body simply can't make it happen. When this happens, I would imagine that it feels a lot like "walking into the light." I don't want to trivialize the concept of death, but unlike most athletes, we often lose in slow motion and have time to think about it. We then have time to ponder our fate while riding off the back of the break or pack. We've all been there. A gap opens or a break happens. Initially there's a shot of adrenaline and the mind and body respond. The gap starts to close quickly. The only problem is that the racers that created the gap had the same shot of adrenaline. They also had a head start and you've lost the draft. The legs start to hurt, your pulse spikes, your lungs gasp for air. The distance between you and your goal yo-yo's. You might take a second or third or fourth dig. You might yell to those around you to pull, but sometimes it just isn't going to happen. Your legs and mind finally give out in a whimper and you'll "walk into the light." Ten yards looks and feels like one-hundred. You'll quietly scream to yourself "HOW CAN I NOT CLOSE THIS GAP." Everyone in front of you rides away. Some of them are glad, and some of them may pity you, but you're a dead man either way so it doesn't really matter.
The general population simply isn't going to experience what it's like to face the grim reaper and lose. At least until late in life ideally. I don't know that this experience makes us better people. It only makes us different in ways beyond the more obvious shaved legs and bad tans lines. Extreme athletes may stare death in the face, but unless something goes wrong, they don't get to experience it, they just get an adrenaline rush.
Love to ride your ride your bike and love the ride in this life or the next.