The Blessing of the Curse

It’s been a long break in the blogging/diary/tracking efforts due to travel, work, and a series of emotional roller coaster rides, but here we are. I’m just back from a trip where I had the whirlwind pleasure of racing three times in Oregon over a seven day period with a two day trip to LA for work thrown in the milieu. I was really happy with the results of the trip, but I was mentally prepared to not be. It really could’ve gone either way and I honestly feel that I’m fortunate to have had results I can see as being definitively better than those of earlier in the season. If that wasn’t there, the momentum would be very hard to maintain.

This has me somewhat reflective.

After just missing his first major win of the season, and at 36 and perhaps on the cusp of contemplating moving from elite to master, US ‘cross godfather Adam Myerson said “Its just stupid bike racing, but, you know, it means everything.”

Myerson wears his heart on his sleeve. Well, his heart and a bunch of tattoos, but that’s beside the point. This is a guy that has been doing and growing cyclocross for around 20 years. He’s pretty passionate about it and isn’t afraid to share that. I think that’s rad. What he talks about it is very real. For him its a much bigger deal, but even for amateurs, and rank beginners, these sentiments ring true.

I often feel that riding my bike is both a blessing and a curse. The amount of time I could put into it is more than is considered socially healthy. This is a common thing with racers at all levels of the game and to be one requires either extremely tolerant people around you or a near ascetic lifestyle more commonly seen among monks and friars. When you’re leading up to a goal event and the miles stack up, there’s the pain of injuries both new and past, stretching and physio to do, you’re skipping beer for water, and irritable from eating bland oatmeal with no sugar every morning and carrot sticks for a snack, the comparison to the restrictive lifestyle of some mountain-top, cave-dwelling holy guru-dude is obvious.

If you’re feeling what CP Walsh refers to as “the keen”, then you can end up gleefully and joyfully structuring everything in your life around the act of trying to ride a bike faster than you did last weekend, but if you’re in the doldrums, and the performance you wanted isn’t there, a dark, depressive wave of futility, like heavy, rain-laden clouds off the water, will descend and cloak your mood and temperament for days and days. When this happens, and it probably will, there’s an irony in the fact that respite is often at the very gears of the machine that has condemned you. When all thoughts of ever trying to race again are buried under the shameful feeling of having given up a very lot for a very little, the simple act of going for a ride is most often the thing that will lift you. Forgetting training, forgetting racing, forgetting carbon fibre, heart rate and watts, and just pedaling your bike ends up being the thing to plug you back into the discipline and commitment that keeps the racer on the course. Now this will sound more morose and somewhat pitiful than it really is, but when a culture or a passion like this has been all things to you for a long time; friend and enemy, benefactor and detractor, it ends up becoming your core. And in the end, we all need this. Something to centre oneself around outside of work and family and real life. For some its religion, or some other sport, pastime, or hobby, but to the bike racer it’s a 23mm tread of rubber and a search for elusive perfect circles. I’ve both loved and hated myself riding bikes, proud of the smallest of successes while simultaneously embarrassed by their insignificance even within the culture and sport they’re a part of. If one’s racing means zero in the big picture of the sport, then its value in real life truly is quantum. This, of course, is the curse of the blessing. We’re connected to this thing on a level that is difficult to explain to outsiders or to people that have adopted the sport as a fashion.  One poison is as lethal as the other so its up to each individual to choose what there’s will be. Some just pick a bike.

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