Who do you compete against? Are you more of a golfer or a tennis player or basketball player? Or maybe you’re asking the more appropriate question, “What is Don talking about this time?” Well I’m more of a golfer in the context that I’m talking about. Oh, I’m not a very good golfer, I only get out and play every couple of years if I’m lucky. By being more of a golfer, I mean I play against myself. The tennis player’s goal is to beat the other person. The basketball player idea is to be part of a team that competes against the other team so you aren’t doing it all by yourself but you are a critical component. I could go a lot of directions with this (yeah, that’s what I do) but that was my initial thought when I was out for a bike ride last week. Pretty much all of us aren’t just one type but we have tendencies to be more one way most of the time (that’s probably why we call them tendencies).
I love to ride my bike (I think there’s a song about that); it is one of my favorite things. I don’t get a lot of that in Minnesota in the winter time so through most of spring through fall, I ride whenever I can. Let me say before I go any further, I’m not talking about a Harley; I’m talking about one you pedal. I have a motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license but I don’t have a motorized bike anymore; I am the motor on the bike I am talking about. Now for the competing with myself part. I have a cyclometer on my bike (speed, distance, time, average speed, maximum speed, etc) and that’s the devil that helps me pit myself against myself. I almost never ride with others except my wife and those trips are more casual and sometimes those are on our tandem. No matter how fast I ride on the tandem she always stays right with me. I do compete with others in the fact that I pass many people and I try to go so fast that no one ever passes me. It does happen from time to time (darn it!). Someone passed me a week ago. I figured he was going about 1 mile per hour faster than me, maybe less. He was right there with me for a very long time – slowly pulling away. I can always remind myself (and I do) that he is at least 20 years younger than me, has a racing bike instead of a road bike like mine and he has a normal size body (read ‘lean’ or ‘trim’). So I am a bit competitive but those situations don’t bother me, they just spur me on (next year, I’ll be even faster – how does that make any sense?).
For me, it’s raising my average speed – every time, if I can. Because I love riding so much, I remind myself that I enjoy my rides no matter whether I’m setting speed records or not. With that being said, once I start pedaling I start thinking about getting that average speed up there. If I am riding to a location and then returning I prefer to ride uphill and/or into the wind on the first half of my trek and then really be able to crank it on the return trip. I learned many years ago doing the opposite can really make for a less fun experience. You take off on a downhill run and feel like Superman. You figure you’ll ride until you’re a little winded with half a tank left and then turn around and come home. We’ll, you only need 10% of a tank to go halfway so you go way too freaking far and when it’s time to head back, you need 90% to get back up that hill and you spent it all on the great ride down. Believe me, THAT ride home is a long one. Going up and against the elements lets you give everything you’ve got and when you finally turn around, it’s so much better that it feels great even if you have miles to go. One caveat here: it does suck when after riding for a couple hours into the wind, the wind changes and you have to ride into it going home. Yeah, it has happened to me!
To me riding feels like life in many ways. Of course, the corollary to this is that you need to work to make your life enjoyable so you can attack it like I attack bike riding. One of the first keys of biking is to keep your cadence consistent. The idea is to keep your legs pumping at a fairly constant rate and use your speeds, or gears, to manage your speed. Life is similar here in that you want to keep your activity going at a regular pace but find ways to maximize your actions. If everything is feeling too uphill and you are not going anywhere, you need to dig up some wisdom to make the most of what you are doing. I need to downshift on my uphills but I keep my legs moving and I keep going at the hill (same direction). I am going slower but I am still making headway, albeit slowly. When things are slowing me down with my uphill challenges, I know there is always a downhill run ahead to start making up time. Of course I can start a tangent here mentioning that if you get off the trail and head through the woods it may not be better up ahead – okay that’s as far as that tangent goes – you can finish that analogy on your own. I can’t give up on the hills. I do make sure I’m heading in the right direction and if I am I don’t discount the impact of my continued efforts. These are the times where I learn patience. I accept a slower rate of advancement but I appreciate that I keep moving and I keep my focus, knowing that there will always be tough spots but just as surely, there will be moments that appear where I can really go.
You may have figured out that I don’t coast down hills after grinding my way to the top. That may be what many people want to do but I can’t even consider that any more, it’s too ingrained in my head to keep pushing. For one thing, I want to hit the bottom of that hill with everything I have so it will take less of me to get up that next hill. Secondly, consistent pedaling has become my standard activity. Sure, I may need to give my legs a good stretch after a tough uphill run but after that I get back to it. I ride because I love riding – so ride. Lastly, I’ve got that darn cyclometer staring right back up at me reminding me of my average speed and what that last hill did to it. It simply taunts me! I need to push that number back up where it’s supposed to be. I need to complete my ride with a good number. And you know what? If I’m averaging 15.6 miles per hour, it’s going to take a long time at 15.8 or 16.0 to pull it up at all so I need a good run of 18.0 or 19.0 or MORE to get what I what before that next evil slow down (notice I said ‘need’ not ‘want’ – compulsive internal struggling happening – “Is this healthy?).
Most of my brain activity during my rides is not the internal struggles I’ve been describing. Most of it is thoughts – about everything (well about a lot anyway). One of the reasons I love my rides is that is one of my best thinking times (hence, you read about bike ride thinking from time to time). When I think while I’m doing what I love to do, I see the power in what I am doing. I see all the analogies (they used to call me Analogy Man) between life and the things that I love to do like biking and canoeing. I saw so many cool lessons in my bike riding that pertain to living – successful living. And don’t ever forget successful living is defined by your standards not by others so it doesn’t have to mean money, or styles, or whatever. It can but it’s always up to you. Here are my lessons (that I remember) from my bike ride.
1) Know where you want to be headed – then you can practice patience and still feel great knowing you are making headway in the right direction.
2) When you are over the current hump, take advantage of the smooth sailing and make the most of it. It only lasts for a set period time so enjoy it and don’t think it’s the end of the world when times get tougher, start looking forward to the next fast run – you know it will be there.
3) Find a way to track how well you’re doing what you’re doing. This is one we often miss. I have my cyclometer that tells me how well I’m doing, when I’m going fast and when I’m not. Develop or find tools that tell you how you’re doing on the things you want to be doing.
4) I mentioned this previously. I think these rules from biking work because I feel the same about other areas of my life as I do about my biking – I need to love it. Do what you can to love what you do. Otherwise why are you doing it? I’m not saying that’s always easy but it is worth it. Find a way to do what you love either by finding something different than what you don’t love or find a way to love what you don’t love today
By the way, on my 20 mile ride this morning, my average was 17.2 miles per hour – my best this year – so far (and nobody passed me).
Have magical day.