Monday, 28 January 2013

The other side of the Spandex

Everyone knows that Sunday is Sacrosanct. you can't ask me out for a coffee, brunch (you can never ask me out for Brunch, why sacrifice two meals for one?) or even for a spot of surfing. Sunday is the Sabbath, it's sacred and it's for bike racing. There was a race this Sunday, but it wasn't a bike race. This Sunday I swopped the Lycra for leather and volunteered at the Carlsbad Marathon with my friends at insulindependence  . 

Volunteering at a race is a great experience, I might go as far as to suggest a running race. The athletes tend to be moving slower (albeit my performance on Saturday was rather pedestrian), slow enough to make eye contact and share a smile. Slow enough to hear them say "thank you" when you hand them a drink. Running races also tend towards the mass participation and away from the "elite". Sure there were fast runners at the Marathon, scary fast in fact, but there were also plenty of people out there to beat their personal best and to have fun. 

I might also add that running races tend to be less sartorially restrictive than bike races,allowing for the opportunity to rock a highly desirable leather coat/ plastic sabre combination whilst hydrating the athletes and  representing a cool non profit. 

Volunteering also reminded me that sport can lead us to be really selfish, to sacrifice the needs of others for our own created "need" to train harder, go faster, eat better or whatever it is. We bury our heads in the sand and construct a world where we think that it really matters how fast we can cover 40km compared to other underweight manlets with shaved legs. This self centeredness reaches its apogee in the athletes who are more than happy to compete but not to help others do the same. 

This weekend was a great reminder to me that sport is first and foremost play (Homo Ludens anyone?) and that play is first and foremost fun. We have to take it somewhat seriously, we have to practice so we can take part in our sport and it is fun to improve and see results but we shouldn't forget that we're in sport, first and foremost because it's fun. This weekend helped remind me that the balance between play fun and fast is one which often gets ignored and inevitably one ends up neither going fast nor having fun. 

Being an athlete gives you so many opportunities to help others, to expand people's worlds and to share the pleasure that you get from your sport with others. But first you have to take a step back from the tunnel that too many of us tumble down where all that matters is our UCI points or 5k time. Quite apart from anything else i went out and slayed some vo2max work today, i'm pretty sure Oprah won't call me out for feelgood doping but cycling could do with a few more guys dressed as pirates and few less real thieving scumbags this month!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

highs and lows

cycling seems to have an oddly existential bent, one minute you're ripping through a corner bumping shoulders with a bloke. the next he's telling you about his child, his dog and his memories of his 5th birthday party. And you only met him that morning. It's odd, cycling at once gives meaning to the mundane, it gives so many people a rasion d'etre and it allows us to talk and think about things we never normally would. I remember one line of The Rider which summed it up

 " I take my gear out of my car and put my bike together. Tourists and locals are watching from sidewalk cafes. Non-racers. The emptiness of of their lives shocks me. " 

It's funny how a bike ride can bring out conversations what hours on a psych's couch couldn't, just this week i've talked to older guys about how they wish they had spent their twenties riding bikes, volunteering and travelling instead of running to stand still on the career treadmill. A guy i'd never met before told me he regretted his first marriage, but not his first child. I've talked with grown men about body image insecurity, about the depression that comes when you're injured, about the sense of utter desolation when you don't finish a race.

I learned about a friend's parents divorce on a ride, and a friend's divorce. I  These long winter miles let you ride with people you don't normally ride with and enjoy conversations you wouldn't normally enjoy. The combination of mild oxygen debt, an infathomable amount of time that needs to be filled and the knowledge that you will only fill that time with the people you're with gives rise to these fantastic, profound and existential conversations and thoughts. 

Bike racing brings out the best in people as well, there have been times this ear when i've laughed so hard I've had to stop riding. I nearly got shelled out the back of the Wednesday worlds when someone termed one of the guys who never takes a pull "the limpet" and i can't count the amount of races I've been too busy throwing jelly beans at people to be anywhere near the front. I've found out about children to come and proposed marriages, heck i even once proposed a proposal to the proto proposer . We seem to talk about food a lot as well.

Maybe the reason that we talk about these things is that we don't want to think about other things going on in our heads. 6 hour rides on your own can be a pretty dark place, last year i wasn't exactly in the best of places mentally having been cut loose by my team, lost a lot of the domestic situation i had become dependent on and i didn't know what i was doing or why.  I used to hate 6 hour rides, they were when i used to think over all these things and let them get ahead of me. Even last week, i was out riding, on my own 50km from anywhere when the fact that my grandmother had died a few months ago hit me like a ten ton truck. I had to pull over, sit on a rock and get over it before i could keep riding. I think it's healthy to have these moments, we're supposed to think, we need time on our own to work out our issues. 

Bike riding is an inherently introspective sport, we are each responsible for our own motivation, our own ability to suffer and our own results. It's a team game but individuals win and individuals win because of their ability to push themselves, in racing and training (albeit helped by a hefty does of genes). If i believed for one second anyoen could try harder than me i'd give up. Whenever i am hurting in a race, be it from the speed, my bloodsugar or an injury i just tell myself that everyone is human and they cant suffer any more than me. It might or might not be true, but i choose to believe it. More than any team sport or even other endurance sport I know cycling is a thinking man's game. both tactically and emotionally one must be fully balanced and make smart decisions to win a bike race, that's why i love it. 

Since i got back from vietnam i've been sleeping in a hypoxic tent, it seems to send me low every night (despite research suggesting hypoxia leads to hyperglycaemia), i don't know if it's the altitude or the lows but i can't seem to get out of my own way on the bike. I'm taking an HC kicking on some 3rd category rides. That and the golf ball sized bump on my achillies are not contributing positively to the "sensations" currently. At times like this, out training on your own you're constantly pursued by doubts which nag at you. Worries about performance, about condition, about control and about injury all mount up riding on your own, especially when it's slow and painful.  Luckily i've implemented my tripartite solution: plenty of Bird rock coffee time, a liberal dose of aero doping ( i might do some more tt stage races this year, so i'm deploying my lo pro rig) and a healthy serving of auditory stimulation on the long rides courtesy of my "disco classics" mix and the old favourite of bored base milers everywhere the "How stuff works" podcast. So i might be creeping but at least there is a spring in my step. 

cake doping: not yet banned 

everyone feels down sometimes.