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The Entire World is a Family

- Maha Upanishad

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Athletes

Dec 01, 2017

For Love of the Bike

A cycling group visits a cafe in Colorado every day and takes a young barista under their wing.

WRITTEN BY

Kelly Magelky

Now a professional cyclist, Kelly reflects on the moments that got him here.

 

I always wanted to fit in. One of my first memories as a child was being overly agreeable to try and please other kids just so I could be included in their friendship circle. I’m not exactly sure where it came from, but that character trait was present in me for a large part of my life far before I realized I love bikes.

I would say the most telling (and traumatic) moments of that trait for me were in junior high and high school when the dreaded call to sign up for sports arrived. ‘Sport’ was seemingly the most important measuring stick of worth in a small town like the one where I grew up. At least that’s how I felt as a young man.

Situated next to the Badlands of North Dakota, Dickinson was a football and wrestling town. My build and athletic ability (or lack thereof), didn’t allow me to even think about trying out for football – and I was definitely not cut out for wrestling. I did find a small group of like-minded allies who were into skateboarding, which became my de facto ‘sport’.

There I could find acceptance and freedom to try and be myself. I loved every aspect of skateboarding even though I knew I would never be good at it. However, the community aspect was really what kept me around that circle until I graduated from high school. Just two days after I walked across the stage in our school’s gymnasium to grab that coveted diploma, I packed my bags and left for Colorado.

Kelly racing at MTB90 in Brazil. Despite not even running on his own bike he took third place. Image: MTB90

Being naive has its benefits. When I rolled into Denver at the age of 18, I was wide eyed and ready to take everything in. I hadn’t run away from my home town as much as I had chosen to try a new adventure in life. In fact, I’ve always been very close with my family and it was a difficult decision to leave them in search of a new and unknown chapter in my life.

The first order of business was to get a job. It turns out that graduation money only goes so far when you have to get your first apartment in a big city. I look back on those days with bewilderment that I actually didn’t even think about a financial plan. I just sort of assumed it would work out. And it did.

Soon after getting into town, I got a job at a coffee shop where a tight-knit group of cyclists would meet up post-ride and hash out the gritty details of how much they had just suffered, all the while laughing about it. Some of them were bike shop employees, some were just serious cyclists, and some were Olympians. I quickly befriended them – or more accurately – they befriended me.

I was a completely unknown kid who was working as a barista and had no athletic ability, but they were treating me like a part of their group. I had expressed interest in learning how to mountain bike after I had seen my first full-suspension bike and I was quickly set up with the gear and the people to teach me how. It was love at first pedal stroke. That was 1998.

Kelly racing at Maah Daah Hey. Image by Chad Ziemendorf.

Just yesterday, I was mountain biking outside of Golden, CO and couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic about the good ol’ days, shortly after I moved here, when I was on the same trail with a friend of mine. She was an Olympic cyclist from Australia and she took me under her wing. There was no ego, no pretension, no feeling of “I’m wasting this woman’s time.” She and I had great conversations which led to a solid friendship. What I remember most was how professional she was, but also how ‘in the moment’ she was.

That always stuck with me. She guided me along until I ultimately grew into a bike racer, sharing with me what hard work and discipline looked like and what the outcome would be.

If I take a 30,000-foot view of how I became a ‘professional’ cyclist, I’m completely blown away at how lucky I was to fall into such a great group of people. There was never a need to try and fit in. We all love bikes and shared a potent love for being outside on two wheels. Sure, some of us loved pushing ourselves harder than others, but that was something each of us respected about one another.

One person in particular, Josh, became one of my closest friends and teammates. Of all the hours we spend training together, our conversations rarely revolve around racing. We cover everything from family, kids, work, food, movies, beer and travel. Some of the most formative years of my life happened to be in the midst of my growing love of the bike, so most of my major life-changing events have specific rides and people attached to them. Those moments, those rides, are invaluable to me and I’m so grateful for them.

 

Kelly and his twins after winning Maah Daah Hey 100 for the third time in a row. Image by Rachel Sturtz

Ultimately, I realized that I race bikes so I can use it as an excuse to ride. I rarely record any data from my training rides and the most technologically advanced piece of gear I wear is a watch with a second hand (and yes, I deservedly get ridiculed by other athletes). This is not to say that I don’t work hard nor take my ‘second job’ seriously. I’ve always prided myself on being professional when I realized I had an opportunity to excel in a sport, but I was taught by my peers that winning and losing is fleeting.

My coach told me to realize the ‘now’, because soon enough it will be the ‘back then’. Bike racing will be done one day so I certainly make sure to enjoy it, but I also know the longevity of the sport lies in my love of being on a trail, high up in the mountains. No number plate needed there.

As with any relationship, sometimes it takes a while to find one another. I was into my 20s before I really started to understand how important cycling was to me and it became a sort of therapy. If I ever needed to get away, the trails were always going to be there. The mountains were always welcoming and the air was ever inviting. Cycling has given me a calmness that I believe I was longing for from a young age and I will forever be grateful to the people who went out of their way to take me in.

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 Featured Image by Chad Ziemendorf

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Columns

Jul 04, 2018

How I Became a Runner

This article originally featured in a print issue or the Outdoor Journal.

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WRITTEN BY

Rachel Toor

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It’s hard to start running, but eventually the sound of your feet on the pavement, on the trail, on the earth – starts to sound like music. Rachel Toor recounts how she became a runner.

Let’s begin by admitting that when you start, it’s awful. After you lace up your new running shoes for the first time, step into your short shorts with the built-in panties, pull on a tee-shirt made of recycled plastic bottles or some other technical material that will, eventually, start to stink in the armpits no matter how often you wash it, when you head out the door for that debut run, you might feel good for the first few minutes. You might even feel great. You might hear Bruce Springsteen singing in your own head that tramps like us, baby we were born to run.

For those first few minutes.

And then everything will start to hurt. Each leg will feel like it weighs eight hundred pounds. You will appreciate oxygen in a way that you only appreciate things once they’re absent. Your heart will pound so hard you’ll think it’s as detectable as the organ in an Edgar Allen Poe story. It will tell the tale of your woe. And you will, make no mistake, feel filled with woe.

You may have been told to start out by walking fast to warm up and then running for a limited time, four or five minutes, maybe. Alternate walking and running, you may have been told. But you never knew minutes could last so long. You don’t think you can keep going. You never appreciated how nice it is to walk. You can breathe when you walk. Breathing is a good thing.

Your eyes may water. You may make wheezing noises. You may think you’ve coughed up a chunk of your lung.

All that money you spent on buying the right gear, the right clothes and shoes and maybe even a new big old ugly GPS plastic watch? Wasted. Halfway through your first run you decide you’re going to give it all away. That new tee-shirt won’t have a chance to get stinky, not from your pits.

Somehow, though, you make it through. You’re out there for however long you thought you should be. Maybe it’s ten minutes, maybe twenty, but you’ve done it. You feel a little good about yourself. You think maybe you could have gone a little longer.

Until the next morning when it hurts to get out of bed. You hobble around and nurse yourself with ice cream and think, What a silly idea that was. I’m not a runner. The next day is even worse. How can you be more sore the day after the day after you’ve run? Because that’s how it works.

But for whatever reason—stubborn pride, those few extra pounds around the middle, an upcoming reunion—you put on those sporty clothes again and venture out, once more into the breach.

Weirdly, it’s easier this time. You do the walking parts a little faster, run a little slower, and it feels almost good. Twenty minutes goes by and you think, Hey, this isn’t so bad.

Slowly, slowly, running becomes something you do.

Some days it’s good. Other days you can’t believe how hard it is. Some days, you have to trick yourself to get out the door. You don’t want to go. So you say, Maybe I’ll just put on my running clothes. You say, Maybe I’ll just go for ten minutes. You say, Maybe I’ll take it really easy and run extra slow. But once you get out there, you’re kind of happy. You like the way the air feels against your skin. You notice the call of birds you can’t identify. Your body begins to recognize the motion, the clip clip clip of your feet on the pavement, on the trail, on the earth. You settle into breathing.

Sometimes, you’re able to let your mind wander. You’ll find yourself thinking of people you’ve left behind. Or conversational topics you want to broach. You end up figuring out the solution to a problem you hadn’t quite realized you had.

Sometimes, you will put on headphones and run to the rhythm of a band you love, you’ll listen to a singer whose voice jabs you in the heart, and your mind will go effortlessly blank. You’ll be able escape from yourself.

Sometimes, you will meet a friend. You’ve been running enough now that it’s not impossible to talk. You would not have believed this could ever be the case, but in fact, you are able to carry on a discussion with someone whose company you enjoy. You might end up running farther than you thought you could. You might make a date to go again. It might become a weekly ritual.

Sometimes, you will want it to hurt. You want to make whatever emotional pain you’re feeling—the breakup of a relationship, a death, a failure—manifest. You will want to take it out on your body. You will enjoy the physical challenge of pushing yourself into agony. You will run so hard you think you might start bleeding from your eyeballs. You’re pretty sure you might collapse. You tell yourself that the German philosopher was right: that which doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. You pull out a bunch of other clichés about sports you’ve heard and realize that clichés are almost always true.

Sometimes, you will have a bad run. You will not be able to account for it. You will have gotten enough sleep, eaten well, be rested and healthy and nothing will have changed, but sometimes you just have a bad run. Even after you’ve been doing this for years and know to expect it, you are, nevertheless, always surprised when it happens.

Eventually, your body will change and harden and reconfigure itself. You will look down at your legs one day and not recognize them. When did they become so muscular? When did the jiggly bits stop jiggling? Where did those extra pounds around your middle go? You haven’t been dieting. In fact, you’ve been eating more than you used to. You’re hungry all the time. You start to see food as fuel.

Eventually, you will begin to recognize other runners. You will run past them on the street and raise a hand in greeting, which they will return. You’ll notice people wearing those big ugly GPS plastic watches with their civilian clothes. You’ll start to pay attention to race shirts.

Eventually, you might even start to enter races. You will be surprised that you get faster at each one. You’ll try different distances. You’ll wonder: Could I run a marathon? You’ll realize that you could. Of course you could. You might even want to go farther. You see the possibilities.

And eventually, running will stop being just something you do and instead it will have become a part of who you are. A runner.

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