Monday, July 24, 2006

Why I like endurance

One of the great things about putting in a good, hard day on the road or trail is that supreme feeling of tiredness you get right afterward - those rare moments when you curl up on the couch with a cold can of Pepsi and let your fatigue wrap around you in a blanket of calm satisfaction.

I have never experienced that after any of my endurance events.

Usually, I spend the first few hours after the ride wishing I owned a loaded gun. After a fitful night of sleep, I spend the next day in a "I-feel-like-I-was-hit-by-a-truck" state. By day two, I have a vague recollection of what normal might feel like, and by day three I'm itching to get back on my bike. There's no Pepsi. No supreme fatigue. Only the cold motions of recovery.

So a very good question that I'm often asked is - "Why?" Why put myself through it?

I think it goes back to high school, when I was looking for a place in the world. I was an odd duck like everyone else. I was introspective but not intellectual, smart but not studious, active but not athletic. I never played competitive sports and wasn't about to join the Mathletes, but I used to wonder - why can't there be a sport for the nonathletic? An intellectual challenge for the nonacademic? I never knew I could have it all in a single event - endurance cycling.

Endurance cycling, especially the kind that pushes you deep into the remote wilderness or the frozen tundra, is an exercise of willpower. An exercise of survival. An exercise of that dogged determination we like to call "inner strength." There isn't a choice in this world I could make that would allow to me to go out and run a four-minute mile. But I can go out and ride 100 miles, 200 miles ... maybe 1,000 miles ... because I decide to. I like that.

"It's all mental from here on out," people like to say. And it's true, except for the fact that your body isn't a direct extension of your mind. It can break down. It can run out of gas. It can fail the world's greatest Zen cyclist, just as easily as a Wal-mart bike can drop a derailleur. So you train. You go out nearly every day and you ride a little faster or a little further, and you feel yourself growing stronger. You learn that you can make a decision to be stronger. I like that.

And when I make a decision to be stronger, I make a decision to be less afraid. Hail and lightning. Bears and rattlesnakes. Rivers and drop-offs. These things scare me - to the point where my heart still skips a beat when I hear a Ptarmigan tearing through the grass even when I know there are no snakes in Alaska. But when I ride until I become so lost in the here and now that I forget to be afraid, I slowly learn that there's no reason to fear. I like that.

It's a cliche to say that endurance cycling is a Zen thing, but it's true. It's a rare experience to let my mind drive my body to its bruised and battered breaking point, only to watch it return with more confidence, more appreciation, less fear. I like that.

17 comments:

  1. Beautiful well-written post Jill.

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  2. Wonderful article, Jill! To quote what you once told me about one of my articles....This one is a sidebar keeper! Great epiphany, by the way!

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  3. Body and mind on the same page...I like that.

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  4. sascha sent me over.

    great post.

    i feel the same way about cycling, and about triathlon. it's a Zen thing to know you are capable of covering varied terrain, and distances, at speed.

    it makes me feel empowered and stronger.

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  5. Couldn't have said it better myself. :)

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  6. Very well written.

    I'm just wishing I could find some Zen in the whole recovery thing.........

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  7. That's it! That's absolutely it! Poetry in a perfect description. What a beautiful piece of writing, there's no cliche. This is authentic and priceless!
    Thank you.

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  8. Jill I wish I had your writing skills nicely put!

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  9. I've heard it said that distance running is a Narcisistic thing. I think that's true to some extend, and your observations prove some of this out. I mean "narcisism" in a kinder gentler way, not a Barry Bonds or Paris Hilton sort of way.

    We run/ride and reflect and ultimately we learn about our selves and to some degree, the world we live in from our limited and over extended perspective. This can be enlightening, frightening and, saddly depressing. Is this all there is? Can we push more, endure more learn more?

    Maybe over the next hill or around the next bend... we'll see.

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  10. What is the sound of one leg pedalling?

    Hmmm.

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  11. Maybe switch to Coke instead of Pepsi?

    j/k

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  12. Very inspirational, Jill. I’m beginning to understand what you mean and I still can’t ride 100 kilometers in a straight line. But I see what you mean…the slow improvement with the pain and that strange need for more just because we want to. I could only hope these feelings aren’t merely obsessive: here today, gone tomorrow. I wish these needs would last and last so I could ride til I'm old. I’m gonna try to do 100 this weekend just for the hell of it.

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  13. I love love love this post! Beautiful!!

    Great blog by the way. :)

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  14. Anonymous10:14 AM

    DUDE. Juneau is NOT the second biggest city in Alaska. Come on. Show Fairbanks some love. Sheesh.

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  15. I concur. Endurance cycling takes you to another place. Once you've got the mechanics down, it a matter of DECIDING to do an event, not ATTEMPTING it.

    Ride safe.

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  16. Anonymous6:36 AM

    Longer, harder, further, ... what about Older? Can't stop pushing limits? Fine as long as you're on the upwell of life, but you better be prepared for the downpull! Don't kid yourself, it happens. Don't want to be a sulk but this "zen-triathlon" hype is typical of our "ever-young" society that can't bear the idea of modesty, decay, death. Ride on!

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