The last time I won a race of any sort I was 6 years old, and won the one-mile “Fun-Run For Congress” in Pekin, IL at 8:40:00. Not too shabby for a 6 year old. I went on to run/lose many races in Junior High after being placed on the sprints team when I fancied myself a distance runner (after all, I was a gold-medalist when I was 6 in a distance run). After Junior High, I never again participated in a race of any sort.
My friend/brother-in-law Kent has been working with some other local cyclists/miscreants to create some fun races in downtown Peoria. The first race I didn’t understand so I didn’t participate in. Honestly, I am mostly just acquaintances with these super-cool people who love riding bikes for transportation and fun. And I ride for exercise and distance. I don’t see myself as a racer. However, one night at the restaurant, rather randomly, one of these super-cool mischief makers named Steve was eating with his family. It was about one week after he had won the first Alley-Cat race (still not sure if that is what this type of race is called, or just a name), and Steve told me about it. He told me I should come to the next race as he thought more “good” riders would make it more competition. Like I said, I didn’t see this as being something I would be good at, but I thought about it.
Tonight was the second River City Alley-Cat race, which started at 9pm in downtown Peoria. There were 9 “checkpoints”, which were 9 parking decks throughout the downtown area and up a pretty steep hill near Bradley University. At the top, yes, the top, of each parking deck there was a book placed in a plain-sight location, and each of the 13 riders was to tear the lowest numbered page out of the book to prove that they made it to the checkpoint, and the page numbers would be tallied at the end to determine points. Awards were for the fastest time and the lowest number of points. We were given a half-hour to make a plan of attack (there was no specific route, so each rider made up their own best route) and then we all ran to our bikes at 9pm and took off.
I was there to win. I didn’t know how I would win, but that was my goal. Not just to have fun or to participate, but to win. I’m slightly competitive.
So I got on my bike and headed to, what was in my mind, the easiest parking deck to find. When I had climbed to the top level, there was a girl sitting in a chair holding a book and quiz questions. I was the first one there, so I knew I was going to get the lowest numbered page. But I did not expect that in a race I would also have to have a brain and answer random quiz questions. After missing the first 3 questions, commenting on how much “fun” this was, and thinking that this was going to be really annoying, I got the fourth question right and the girl gave me page 1. I, in my mind, was winning.
I was the first to the second and third decks (the third being six levels of climbing), and I was feeling good about my plan. I was feeling good, that is, until the guy on the third deck handed me a page and said, “This is the random page deck” and handed me page number 15 of the book. Again, I started thinking about how annoying this was.
After climbing two parking decks that were not on the route, I made it to the top of my 6th/4th deck with 5 more to climb. I continued on, thinking there is no way that I will win after climbing two extra decks. I quickly rode to the 5th, 6th, and 7th decks and then climbed the large hill to head to Bradley University campus for the final two. I had only seen 4 other riders the entire time, and had no clue if I was doing well or failing miserably.
As I flew back down the hill to the starting location at 37 mph in a 30mph zone, I saw two riders coming into the parking lot and several people sitting down already. I didn’t win. And I wasn’t certain that I had the lowest score either (someone stole a ton of pages out of several books (I call that cheating) and I had some high page numbers). When I arrived, Kent told me I was the first one to finish. The other people sitting down had already quit, as had the two riders that were arriving when I did.
It was a few minutes before the next riders flew into the parking lot, dejected by my presence. And the weirdest feeling fell over me. I wasn’t happy. I was the fastest, I had attained my goal, but I wasn’t happy. I felt bad for the other guys who were instantly frustrated by the fact that I had won. It felt worse than I thought it would.
I realized that I had gone to an event that was intended to be fun, pushed myself and my heart rate to its limit in order to win, and missed out on all of the fun. I realized that winning isn’t everything. I realized that being alone in the dark on my bike trying to beat a bunch of people that were out there to have fun wasn’t satisfying. I had missed the point.
I miss the point a lot. In my desire to be the fastest, the smartest, the coolest, the awesome-est, I miss the point of conversations, experiences, and relationships. They say winning isn’t everything, and tonight, winning wasn’t. Maybe next time I’ll really soak in the experience. Maybe next time I’ll really listen to my friends. Maybe next time I won’t think that being the best is the most important thing.
Until next time…