I've never been very competitive on the whole. That doesn't mean I wouldn't like to have been, it's just that I really hate losing, and have been convinced most of my life that any competition that I might enter would have that result. So I've avoided losing by not competing. I have not managed to avoid feeling like a loser, just managed to avoid losing.
As I grew up daydreaming about being a winner, I cast myself in the role of the hero of any adventure story that I read. I was Jim Bridger, mountain man. I was Admiral Byrd as he traversed the frozen north. I was anyone who, in the story, fought the elements and a natural desire to quit, but in the end came through. That's why long distance cycling fascinates me.
There are two main long distance cycling national organizations: UMCA the ultra marathon cycling association, and RUSA randonneurs USA. The former focuses on long distance cycling races, the latter on long distance cycling events. I use the word events because they are not races. The results are posted alphabetically not by finish time. There are time limits, both upper and lower limits. You cannot ride too fast, nor to slow in order to be successful. And yet, while the results are posted alphabetically, they also post the finish time. That's where the competition element comes in. Now you can compare yourself with all of the other finishers.
In the literature of RUSA they specifically state that it is not a competition against other riders, and yet in a recent quarterly newsletter they printed a ride report, essentially a rider's narrative of the event, in which the author made sure we knew he finished first. And the most famous event on the randonneuring calendar is the Paris-Brest-Paris ride. 1200 kilometers (744 miles) of cycling fun. Believe it or not, while the alphabetical rule applies here, there is a special award for the fastest finishers. Imagine that. Doesn't that make it a race?
What is my point? Just this: for reasons known only to God and certain enlightened anthropologists men need to compete against one another, not just the elements and themselves. And this drives me crazy. I still hate losing, and haven't found that one thing in which I can be a winner. There is always someone taller, richer, faster, stronger, happier, smarter (and in the words of the king of Siam) et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I have a friend who is a missionary in Viet Nam; he is saving the world. I have friends who are successful pastors and they are saving their worlds. I have friends who own businesses, or work for the government, or have multiple college degrees. I have friends who hold racing licenses and race bicycles successfully and one who even races motorcycles at a semi-pro level. Daydreaming you're Admiral Byrd seems pretty lame against all that.
I don't really have a good closing to this post. I wish I did - some real pithy way to say that none of this matters and I'm not bothered by the disparity between the success of others, and my apparent underachieving. But I can't come up with anything at the moment.
Here's my big finish: The key to riding long distance is to break it up into small distances. Just focus on riding to the next control. By doing that repeatedly, at some point the distance will be covered, and you will have finished successfully. You may not win (of course they say it's not a race but we know better), but you can at least finish. Of course, make sure to finish within the time limit.