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'Game on!'

When I missed the 2021 Maine Senior Games — because of my skin-ripping crash in the Northwoods Gravel Grind in Rangeley — I was hugely disappointed. So, I was really looking forward for the opportunity to compete this year.

Once again, I registered for the 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) road race. Despite my riding a bicycle thousands of miles each cycling season — having nearly 5,000 as the 2022 Games approached — I had no inkling of how I would stack up against the other participants. After all, this would be my first time partaking in such an event.

Even though my endurance level, I believed, was quite high, I knew I needed to work on the speed aspect. I also wanted to be familiar with how it felt physically to pedal hard for the required distance. Mapping out a route near my home, over a period of a few weeks I increased the intensity of my workouts, clocking in during that training time frame from a high of 47 minutes and gradually getting down to 36 minutes.

Besides the physical part of the equation, there also were the mind games I was playing with myself. Initially, I was wondering if I could even do it. Once I bridged that mental gap, then I was thinking it really didn't matter where I placed — just have fun and enjoy the moment. However, I ended up ditching that notion, basically concluding that if I'm putting in all this effort — darn it — I wanted to finish in the top three in my age group. I wanted a medal.

Finally, the big day arrived.

With the contest commencing at 9 a.m., and the drive to Brunswick taking 45 minutes, I set my alarm for 5:15 a.m. I awoke at 4 a.m., with no hope of obtaining any more sleep. The next three hours were spent eating breakfast, going to the bathroom, packing gear, going to the bathroom, checking for weather updates, going to the bathroom ... yes, as you can tell, I was a little anxious.

Upon arrival, which was at the former Naval Air Station, there was the matter of registering, warming up with a few back-and-forth spins on the bicycle, and chatting with family and friends. The course, which I had ridden three days prior to the race, was 2.1 miles long, flat as a pancake, and involved all right-hand turns. So, a total of six laps. I went to the starting line with the thought of completing each loop in six-and-a-half minutes.

And suddenly we were off, men and a few women, ranging in age from 51 to 83. A peloton made up of nearly 30 competitors.

Right away, a group of seven or eight bolted into the lead. I was next in line. Looking around, I was on my own; no one to form a paceline with — to conserve energy. I decided to just settle in; develop a consistent pedal stroke. There was no way I was going to bridge across to the hard chargers in front of me.

I finished off the first lap in around five minutes and 21 seconds. I was thinking, I'm going way too fast. If I keep up this rate, I'm going to be "finished" before I get to the end.

On the third lap, still on my own, I had two stragglers from the lead group in my sights. Getting nearer, I pondered dropping in behind them, but they were too slow for my liking. So, I zoomed past them. But my hastiness turned out to be to their benefit — and learning later — my detriment.

You see, these two gentlemen — and I'm tempted to use the term loosely — elected to latch onto my coattails, or should I say jersey-tails, for the rest of the race. Never once "taking a pull" as we say in cycling. Essentially, I did all the work, while they enjoyed the fruits of my labor — well rested for the final push. There are two ways one can view such a predicament. Firstly, using this kind of strategy was quite smart on their part. Secondly, and more to the point I'm attempting to make, it is a tactic usually not well-received by fellow cyclists.

Anyway, at the finish line, one of them did manage to overtake me by a few seconds. Such is racing.

So, how did I do? When officials first posted the results, I was listed with the 65-to-69 age group and came in third place. I was thinking, that's cool ... I achieved my goal, earning a bronze medal. But at the time of signing up for the Maine Senior Games — and giving my birth year as 1952 — I was put in the 70-to-74 bracket, which was the correct placement. In a short period of time, the error was fixed and ...

I captured first place and the gold medal. I completed the race in 34 minutes and 20 seconds, almost two minutes faster than any of my practice attempts. The second-place rider was more than six minutes behind me. I cannot supply any information on third place, because there were only two of us in this particular age group. My colleagues at the bike shop got a kick out of that minor detail.

A small ceremony occurred, with the distribution of medals, and plenty of applause and photos. It was great having my wife, Vicky, my daughter, Sophie, and her partner, Tom, there to cheer me on. That made the occasion very special.

I will conclude by saying that — because of my victory — I have qualified for the 2023 National Senior Games in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Personally, I am more than content keeping my glory confined within the state of Maine. Stay safe!

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