This past weekend I had my annual (at least for the last four years) bicycle race. It’s the Fireweed 400. And while the 400 mile course gives the race it’s name, the 200 mile course is the most popular event. It runs from Sheep Mountain, Alaska to Valdez. It goes through Glennallen and over Thompson Pass. The shoulders are pretty wide for most of the journey and, on race day, much of the traffic on the road are racers or support vehicles. Our main obstacles are some crummy sections of road and other teams that race against us.
Our team, Team NumbNutz, has performed well over the four years, either winning our age group or coming in second each year. While I’m pretty fast on a bike it’s no secret that the other three members of my team are the better athletes. I can’t keep up with them on the hills but I do well on the flats and excel going downhill. My 2nd year racing, someone from another team called me “The Downhill Bomber” because of how I was passing everyone on steep descents. And for a middle-aged, overweight guy it’s nice to have an athletic event to take some pride in.
The team competition is almost tag-team style. There are no set “legs” to bike. So, for us, we each take turns riding about 15 minutes or so until we get to Valdez sometimes having multiple riders towards the end as we fight the headwinds over the last 20 miles. The theory is that each rider would pedal as hard as they can for the time they are out and would then have about 45 minutes to let their bodies recover, rest, and refuel. And if someone is really spent, the next rider can come back in whenever the suppot vehicles are able to stop.
It’s fun and, when the weather cooperates as it did this past week, it’s even more fun.
This year we had our best race ever, finishing the 200 (really 192) miles in 9 hours and 31 minutes, averaging over 20 miles per hour.
This year I not only kept track of the mileage for each leg I rode but I was able to monitor distance, speed, and heart rate for each of my rides. And, when looking over the data, I was able to see that I averaged over 20 miles per hour for the time that I was out. Granted, this did include a long, fast downhill section on the “back side” of Thompson Pass, towards Valdez, where I hit 45 MPH on the bike. However, it included some uphill sections as well. (Even without that long, downhill section I was at 19 miles per hour!)
I find this speed surprising. I find it surprising because I never got above 18 MPH in any of my other rides this summer. Participating with a group increased my speed by 11%.
We can look at all sorts of reasons why I might have been going faster last Saturday. Perhaps there was more downhill than my usual rides from home. Perhaps, with the notion of a “race” hanging over my head, I pushed myself harder. Perhaps, because I only had to bike about 15 minutes out of each hour, I was more rested for those times I rode.
But I like to think that having a “team” around me got more production from me. My “teammates” were relying upon me. They were encouraging me. And, frankly, I was trying to impress them or at least please them. They had a stake in my doing well and I wanted them to be happy with what I was contributing to the larger group. As the saying goes, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘TEAM.'”
And I think, in the life the church, that having a “team” or a “community” around us can help us in our lives of discipleship as well. Yes, we have the drive to be faithful to God and please God, but still, community can get more out of us. In community we find encouragement. We have a stake in each other’s performance and faithfulness. We learn from each other. And we can rest and let others do their job when the time comes.
I’m a stronger rider when I’m with others.
We’re stronger Christians when we’re with others.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.