At some point on the Sprint Ride yesterday morning, I ticked off the 3000th mile on my bike for the year. In January, it was my goal to ride 3000 miles by the end of 2012, and I’ve reached that point 3 months early. I’m a little proud of riding so much, but also a little apprehensive, because, like, that’s all I do with my free time, and it can get lonely. I feel stronger than I ever have on my bike, and it’s nice to look back and see how much I’ve improved over the year, but when you think about it, cycling really is a weird sport to dedicate so much time to. After a long day of work, or a long week of setbacks outside of work, I get on my bike and try to escape. I try to suffer. I try to cause my legs pain.
I finished reading The Secret Race this week, and in it, Tyler Hamilton mentions how when he was first discovering his love for cycling, the main draw was its escapism. He was had a coach tell him to “stay within himself” during a race, and Tyler’s only reaction was to think how backwards that advice was. Wasn’t the whole point to push all of your boundaries and lose yourself in the effort?
I suppose the escapism offered by cycling isn’t all that different from burying your nose in a book, or a good movie, or playing the guitar, but there’s generally a lot less suffering involved with those activities. At least 3 days a week, I roll up to a nondescript, empty parking lot on my bike with a dozen or so mostly middle-aged men, and we try to rip each others’ legs off. Some days I’m the one sprinting ahead of the pack for a sign on the side of the road, and other days (more often the case), I’m shelled out the back and burying myself to catch back onto the group. And so we do this for 30 or 40 miles, all with the same goal in mind – to feel the breeze blow by our ears at 30mph, to feel the lactic acid build up in our legs sprinting up a climb, to maybe try to set a new record on an arbitrary Strava segment, to come home and climb off my bike and have to sit still for 15 minutes before I can summon the energy to take off my sweaty kit and clean up.
The Chicago Marathon is 3 weeks away, and I woke up before dawn this morning to run 20 miles. My legs always have some soreness in them from all the miles I’ve been tallying up lately, and I was filled with doubts that I would actually get through my run this morning. I was tired, my hands were freezing even with my gloves on, and it was just me and the quiet, quiet Sunday morning. A funny thing happens after about 50 minutes of running though – my legs loosen up, feel light as air, and go on autopilot – running becomes almost effortless. You probably don’t believe me, but between minutes 50 and 120, I can float. My feet kiss the ground and pain turns to numbness, and my brain forgets my legs are even down there, doing their thing stride after stride. Invariably, some hitch brings me back to reality, but this time, I caught a second wind of sorts after breaking through the paper thin pain barrier that had risen, and I finished not really all that tired.
I don’t recommend this to anyone really, because I know it’s not an entirely sane way to spend a Sunday morning, but for me, for right now, it works. I was talking to a coworker who grew up in a small town in Indiana and used to be a really good cross country runner in high school. In explaining how he go to be so good, he matter of factly said, “Well, there was nothing else to do growing up in that town, so I just ran all the time.” I can never listen to music while I run, because I think, like Tyler, the goal isn’t to distract yourself from running, it’s to focus so deeply on the state of pain and the art of the act that you escape from reality. Sure, I think through other things while running – work, future life plans, the lyrics to the catchy song stuck in my head, whether girl X or Y likes me, what’s for dinner – but those minutes when all I can see is a few yards of pavement ahead of me and my mind goes completely empty as I float along, that’s divine.
And so I’m not even that sore or exhausted. I wish I was so pooped that I could collapse in my bed and get a long, full, decent night of sleep for once, but it feels like I could’ve done even more today. My toes are tapping and I’m antsy for more.