Community vs Competition: Round One

You are a cyclist, a runner, a triathlete, a weightlifter, a swimmer, a cross country skier, maybe a winter Curler.  Whatever you do for sport and recreation – why do you continue month after month? How do you stay motivated? Why do you go out in horrible weather, why do you continue to push yourself mile after sweaty mile?

What could be worth this level of suffering? What is your WHY?

I am betting on one of two motivators: either you value your community, or you crave the thrill of a competition. I ride with both types of athletes every week and I still do not know which is the more powerful motivator. I need your vote.

And I am motivated to get your vote.

I have partnered with Michael Morris, a renowned northern Colorado artist and illustrator. Michael has agreed to donate an original work of cycling themed art as an NFT. The exact piece has not yet been selected, but this original from LeMond’s 1989 World Championship race will give you an idea of what to expect. The raffle for Michael’s NFT will occur one week from this Thursday, one week from when I post the 2nd part of this conversation.

This Community vs Competition discussion will be published in two parts so neither section will demand too much time from the reader. Considering the relatively short attention span of busy humans – I will post Round 1 of this debate on Tuesday, Nov 1st, and Round 2 on Thursday, Nov 3rd. At the end of Round 2, you will have an opportunity to vote. After you vote, please use the comment section of the post to include your name for the Michael Morris raffle. There will be a 7 day window to vote, polls close next Wednesday, Nov 9th, and I’ll share the results that Thursday or Friday.

In addition to your vote, if you would like to share more insight to your specific “why”, please include those comments when you put your name in the raffle.

For anyone new to this site: AgeIsNoBarrier is dedicated to telling stories and sharing ideas for the Athletic Aging population.  Every now and again, we will discuss a topic that transcends all active generations, this discussion is in that category.   My focus remains on the 50+, but this fun debate will apply to the mindset of any athlete of any age. Disclaimer out of the way, let’s start a very unnecessary fight.

When you are participating in your sport of choice, what gives you greater fulfillment and purpose – standing on the podium after passing and dropping your fellow competitors, or giving strength and encouragement to an entire group of cyclists during an event?

There is no one correct answer and I am not taking one side over the other.  I just find the topic incredibly interesting.  I live in northern Colorado where competitive endurance athletes are more populous than the prairie dog – and that is not a small number.   I have the great fortune to ride with several different packs of cyclists, some of which simply reflect the joy of being outside and on a bike, and some of which are fiercely competitive.

Where do you fall on the spectrum?   Is one motivator better than another?   Which motivation is better for physical and mental health?  Which is a greater magnet for attracting new people to your sport?  What is the better motivation for longevity in that sport?

I have my opinion, but I want to know yours.  I would like this short piece to create a conversation between you and the entire community that you ride with, run with, ski with, tri with.   Please take time to voice your opinions, either by responding in the comment section at the end of the article, or send me your thoughts on the AgeIsNoBarrier facebook page.

Quick background on this topic:  as many of you know, I am a lifelong believer that Exercise is Medicine for the body and the mind. The challenge is and always will be – how do we motivate the masses to keep moving and remain active through all four seasons?  Adherence to any exercise program has been a raging debate for years in the health & fitness industry.   What I (and many others) have found, is that nothing can glue people to regular activity better than a community of shared interest / purpose. 

But – what kind of community?  More social?  Or more competitive?  We love being social, and we often enjoy a little friendly competition.  And sometimes – fierce competition.   Which of these motivators move the needle for a greater number of people?   These questions are what fueled my curiosity and led me to erase all assumptions and simply ask you – the Athletically Aging population, for your opinions.

I spoke with multiple people in my cycling circle regarding this topic, but for this article, I collected the thoughts of four:  two representing the value of community and two taking the side of competition. The first conversations represent Round 1.

Community vs Competition, Round 1

My first conversation was with Bill McDonough – president of the Fort Collins Cycling Club.  Bill has been a regular with the FCCC for over 7 years, and the club president since 2020, serving a 3-year term.  Bill’s path from casual biking to organized cycling will be familiar to many.

Growing up in Michigan, Bill was extremely active in his teen and college years with swimming and cross-country skiing.  At graduation, he was gifted a road bike and fell in love with cycling.  Then his Game of Life tile landed on marriage and parenthood, so bikes and skis were put away in storage.   He gained an uncomfortable amount of weight in those years, joined weight watchers in 2017, lost 120 pounds and has been cycling since. 

A little background on the Fort Collins Cycling Club
The FCCC has seen a lot of growth over the last several years, and with that growth, the member demographic has evolved dramatically.  Founded by former bike racers, the club was originally intended to attract other formerly competitive cyclists, who are now slightly older, but still fit, strong.   If you’re familiar with larger club rides, all of the original founders of the FCCC were in the A group.

Since then, their club rides have attracted people of widely diverse fitness levels – with the biggest growth coming from older and often retired individuals whose motivation is primarily community, in a sporting but relaxing environment. 

Today, the Fort Collins Cycling Club has 4 levels of club rides, appealing to everyone from the “cycling curious” to the Hammerheads.  Bill provided the following descriptions.

Social group:  Often new to cycling.  They just enjoy being outside, on a bike and in community.  Not worried about speed.  The Social group has seen the greatest growth over the last few years.   What used to be an afterthought is now a twice weekly series of widely attended, very social events.
The C group:  This is a teaching group.  Perfect for individuals who are starting to show an interest in joining the faster group rides.  They’re getting more fit, and want a bigger challenge, but they need to learn the rules of group dynamics, including how to behave predictably in a paceline.  The C Group is the perfect platform for that transition.  
The B Group:  A more experienced, faster ride for people comfortable in a group environment.  Stepping up the intensity and duration, but not really competing with each other.   Whether you join one of our rides, or ride with the St Vrain Chain Gang out of Longmont, the B Groups tend to be the heart and soul of the club.
The A group – The competitive hammerheads.  A very competitive group dynamic just shy of race pace.  If you cannot hold the wheel in front of you, or get stuck at a red light – you will be dropped.  Hope you know your way home.

My Q&A with Bill McDonough

Bill – thinking of all the cyclists who show up for your rides – regularly or occasionally, what are your members looking for:  community, or competition?    “Even though FCCC was founded by former racers, most of our members today are more interested in being part of a community”.

Even the A group?    –Even the A’s, but less so.  The A ride is a drop ride, meaning if you cannot keep up, or even if you get caught at a red light, they will continue their ride without you.  They might hang out post ride with the larger group, but the A rides will typically become splintered during the ride.  There’s still a social aspect, but primarily before or after the ride.   The ride itself can be very competitive. 

Other than the A group:  describe the typical FCCC group ride.     -the FCCC promotes the philosophy that a group ride is supposed to ride together.   Other than the A rides, we Stay together.  We will not drop anyone, not even at red lights.   We start together, roll together, end together.

What would you say is the greatest benefit for cyclists to join group rides?   – Having a beer together after the ride!  And not getting lost on unfamiliar roads.  Belonging to a group helps motivate you to show up, as much for them as for you – you feel more accountable when part of a group.  Until you build your confidence and know you belong, you need the encouragement that a social ride provides.  And new cyclists (or new to the area) also want to learn the area, learn where to ride. 

Are the social rides completely non-competitive?    –Not necessarily.  Even though we are not trying to drop each other, the group still pushes me in ways I won’t push myself.   I can see what other people are achieving and think “if they can do it, so can I”.   But, if you push too hard, it can be very discouraging.  People HATE to be dropped.   Sometimes the hate motivates, sometimes it defeats them.

So, today – the A group makes up the minority of FCCC members and the majority prefer a less competitive, more social experience?   -Exactly.  From my years in cycling and heading up FCCC, I believe everyone is happier when cooperating.  You don’t improve friendships when you’re always trying to drop the next person.  Super competitiveness can be isolating.  

But doesn’t the thrill of competition attract new people to the sport?   Maybe after they just watched a stage of the Tour de France?    –Maybe it gets them to the bike shop, maybe we all have thoughts of competing and winning the sprint, but the desire for community is the biggest driver of new cyclists showing up to our group rides.

What about the need to “get in shape”, or lose weight?   –nope.  I never hear of cyclists joining specifically for health reasons.   Fitness is a side effect.

Specific to the FCCC, most new members join your rides for community and most existing members keep returning more to belong to a healthy social group, and not necessarily for competition.    –Yes.  Emotionally and mentally – social has many benefits over the competitive group.  The hyper competitive crowd fuels the “win at all costs” mentality.   Social riding contributes to community and emotional well-being.  The A group wants to have someone to ride against.   Social cyclists wants to have someone to ride with.

Summary of why Community should win this debate:
All types of people are attracted to cycling and they each have great stories to tell of why they first got on bikes as adults, and what keeps them consistently rolling down the asphalt, gravel or single track.  But those who are part of a larger community, a social group of like-minded people are more likely to continue riding on a consistent basis.  Just like the competitive group, the social cyclists develop much greater physical health and fitness, but maybe mental health is fed a healthier diet by being part of a group whose focus is more on cooperation rather than competition.

“I vote for Community!  For me, group cycling gives our community the opportunity to get together and practice the sport they love while taking care of their health.  By participating with groups at different levels, they can enjoy the outdoors and beauty all around, while making lifelong friendships”.

Debbie Bush of Fort Collins Cycling

…but what would a competitive triathlete have to say?

2022 St George 70.2 Ironman

Introducing Mark Kohl – 51

Mark is a 50+ triathlete out of northern Colorado, who typically trains with much younger athletes and is being coached by Jim Hallberg of D3 Multisports.  Out of the three sports he competes in, he will tell you his weakness is the run.  Don’t believe him.  Mark is a very strong all-around athlete and competitor.   Sitting a few safe inches behind the rear wheel of his TT bike, I have earned several Strava PR’s that I’ll never come close to on my own.

When not training or competing in triathlons, Mark is most likely riding horses with his wife, and when the mountain peaks are painted white – you can find him exchanging his bike for his snowboard.

Mark – I hesitated to ask for your participation in this heated debate, because – although you are a strong competitor – you are also extremely nice.   Not a “win at any cost” kind of athlete.     –Having a competitor mindset does not mean you’re not in community, you just have a very like-minded community.  We know each other, we often train together.  I still have a need for fun, social rides, but when that race gun goes off – I am immediately in competition mode and our friendship does not mean I will not try to beat you, every time.

If you were not competing, would you keep up with your running, biking, swimming?    -Of course.  As you know, even our social group rides can quickly become competitive.  The community aspect will always be important.  It’s the perfect time to encourage others and to improve bike skills.   But when the race number goes on the bike – it’s game on, and I want to win.

Have you always been wired to compete?   -More so as an adult.  I’ve always been involved in athletics, and really enjoyed master’s swimming in my early 40’s.  But when I started getting serious about mountain biking  – those races made me more competitive.

That desire to race and to win, is that a switch that can be turned off?    -Not anytime soon.   Maybe at 80.   (Says the man in his early 50’s.  I’m betting the 70-year-old Mark Kohl might disagree)

You know many of the guys you race against, even train with them.  How does winning or losing affect your relationships?     -I’m friends with most of my close competitors, but during the competition, that friendship is not a factor – we are each giving it our all to win.   I’m not going to lie, even if we know each other well, it always feels great to catch up to and pass another competitor.  If I pass them – I love it.   If they pass me, I congratulate them and do my best to keep them in sight.  No matter how we finish, I can feel great about my effort and still good about their achievement.  I have not found that it changes our friendship.  

Can you describe the emotions you feel when standing on a podium?     -It’s a phenomenal feeling every single time.  It’s an achievement that validates all the hours of training and prep.  Makes the sacrifice seem small.

Ok, you are nearing the finish line, you can see it, smell it – all of those podium emotions are just ahead.  In that last quarter mile of the run,  you are caught and passed, finishing just off the podium.   No anger?    -Can’t say there’s no disappointment, but no anger towards the athlete.   This is a very competitive sport, there’s always someone faster.   And I am honestly encouraged by people who beat me.  I may have lost this event, but I am never defeated. 

The speed round. For the outcomes listed below – Community or Competition? 

Physical health    -our riding tends to be more competitive, higher intensity.  In general, we can compete at a higher level, and will be able to for more years to come.  So – competition.

Mental health    -Competition is tied to what you go through in life – knowing how to get through the pain.  Knowing how to relax, focus and stay calm.  Training for races has helped me learn to deal with stressful situations at work and home –  and emotionally, I love the flood of endorphins after a hard ride, especially when I hit my numbers correctly.

New friendships   -Love my competitors, and friends with almost all of them.  They are my community and I appreciate it when they push me to a new place.  Never envious, just determined.   At least a tie.

Staying with a sport for the long term   I’ll be competing as long as I’m having fun and since much of my community consists of my competitors, I believe I’ll be racing for many years.  When racing is no longer fun, then I’ll join more social events.  

Encouraging new participants to take up a sport?     – I love to see people fall in love with the sport, but community is essential at first to get them involved and engaged.  Eventually you’ll see their personality – who’s competitive, who’s not.  You’ll know which ones want to race.  

Once you start competing – and winning – you have a responsibility to your community, to give back to the sport.  To encourage and build up.  We’re all trying to help each other get better, get faster.  

“Competition is the driving force that allows me to fail time after time, dust myself off and come back for more….competition makes me and those around me better”.

Matt Franz of Webb Bridge Cycling

Have you already identified your primary motivator?

Are you leaning towards a fun pub-ride with Fort Collins Cycling, or thinking of taking Mark Kohl in a sprint to the finish? Whichever way you are leaning, you will have a chance to vote in just a few days once we post the Round 2 interviews with the head Domestique of Webb Bridge Cycling in Atlanta, and a USA Triathlon certified coach in northern Colorado.

In the meantime, I hope you find time to get outside, and get moving in whatever way you most enjoy and inspires your friends and family.

Round 2 will be posted in just a few days. Although you cannot vote until then, you are free (and encouraged) to leave any opinions or thoughts in the comment section of the post.

4 thoughts on “Community vs Competition: Round One

  1. This whole discussion is very complex in that I don’t think people just chose between competition and community
    For the most part genetics , time available for training . Funds available for a given sport, play a big role, A person can be very competitive during a phase of his/her life, and then decide to place priorities in a different direction. Or a persons abilities limit how competitive he or she can be, A person may have a low vo2 max, , under sized muscles ,etc and just can’t compete with other athletes that have the same interests, They May still enjoy the sports but aren’t good enough to be competitive . And then age is a factor. As an athlete ages they can’t compete due to the decreases in strength , aerobic capacity, flexibility etc, They then participate as part of the community. So the bottom line is a person just doesn’t decide whether to ride A, B , or C

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jon, thank you so much for these comments. You sound like an athlete who has experienced the entire spectrum of competition and community? And I agree, there are so many factors that influence these decisions and how we participate in our chosen sports. I love competition, but value community above and beyond and find that my community is fluid based on where I am and at what level I compete. One point of separation: I agree that age is a factor, but I am not finding any specific age where competition falls off. I’m finding numerous competitive athletes in their 60’s and beyond. From the man who summited Everest at 75 to a business exec who completed 6 Ironman races just this year. The body is amazing. Sincerely, thank you again for your comments!


      1. I agree that there is not a specific age that applies to everyone but there is an age where most people find it difficult to compete , For me it was 81. At this point I found that it just wasn’t worth the effort it took to compete so I evolved to a community athlete and I was happy to just keep fit and healthy Jon

        Liked by 1 person

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