January 31, 2010

The mental side of randonneuring

I'm looking at things from the perspective that I'm getting a one-month late start on 2010.  Looking around the blogs and the forums and the mileage logging websites - pretending like any of it matters - I know I'm way behind.  Last year I'd already done two 200km rides before this next weekend is out.  Weight loss efforts have also taken a backseat, so it really IS like everything I said about new years is a month overdue.  Call it the weather, less than cooperative.  Call it winter blues, knowing we here in KC saw the sun only four times in January.   Falling back into old habits and comforts has been all too easy.  Mental?  Most likely.  Because of that constant noise in my head, I'm again drawn to the keyboard in self-analysis and journaling towards a better "me".

I did take my first weekend recreational ride in months last weekend, which felt really good.  It was warm, I felt strong, and the bike felt light and nimble without the commuter bags attached.  I even ventured onto gravel roads - which were still slimy with mud and goo from snow melt - and saw a lot of scenery that I hadn't looked at in months.  Breaking the routine always helps the mind.   I've re-familiarized myself with fruits, vegetables, and leaner proteins, and the whole portion control philosophy.  I'm no longer going to punish myself with ultimatums like 'last beers' or 'no more X'... Moderation, small rewards, will help prevent binges and feelings of deprivation.  Free-weights, pushups, and treadmill sessions will confuse the body a bit and work muscle groups that wouldn't seem to benefit cycling, but still will.  Staying motivated and knowing that spring is coming with each passing day - so the work I'm doing isn't for naught; the notion of which has made it easy to justify snacking and skipping workouts.  Keeping focused on personal health keeps the mind busy, and keeps the body willing.

Also, I'm eliminating things that's would cause self-induced stress and unrest - things that have proven to have physical consequences with me.  Life is and has been difficult enough without me worrying about planning a new permanent route or fun nightime loop that will finally be 'perfect'.  If It's FUN, and I can avoid being stressed about it, then it'll happen -- but I can't let myself stress when something comes up and prevents "X" from occurring.  Things like the Dark Side Rides will have to be farmed out again this year, the western and eastern Olathe-hubbed permanent routes will remain in the planning stages for another year, and I will have to forgive myself of that.  With my new responsibilities at work, things that I've traditionally tried to hammer out in an hour over lunchtime will have to wait.  I have trouble waiting -- I'm an instant-gratification kinda guy, and I once I get my head around something, I want it.  NOW.  Often that's unrealistic... sometimes that "want" is "finishing the ride", when I still have 60 miles left to go.  It has a strong mental effect.  Sometimes it's SO bad, what starts in my head becomes physical.  You ever "make yourself sick"?  I have.  Quieting things like that make for a good randonneuring season.  Breathe.  Let go.  Relax.

It's a mental approach that dictates examining goals, too, and I really jumped the gun on January 1st:  if I'm going to maintain a single-car household, I need to be more self-forgiving:  referencing the recent streak-breakage.  Do my best, no apologies.  Even bigger goals like the Tejas 500 will have to wait.  Yes, rides like Tejas are a challenge and stress comes with the territory - but if I can't afford to get there, I can't get there - so why bother worrying about the ride itself right now?  It's frustrating to feel "ready" for such a challenge, and have seemingly silly things get in the way of even trying it - but it's certainly not the end of the world.  Worst case, I'll instead focus on what I can realistically achieve here in town, ride-wise - with the same philosophy: if I can get to a brevet start, then I'll ride it and I can get picked up afterwards with some planning.  Calling the wife when I'm 20 miles from the finish.  It's easy.  Why do I make it so hard?  Well, it's a genuine concern for a group of folks to car-pool to a ride start, unless everyone is matched as riders.  Ever have to wait on your friend after a 40-mile training ride?  Now, make that a 125-mile ride.  You can only sit inside a Perkins for so long.  Vice-versa, I can't do that to someone else, lest I be the slower rider.  The ideal of having my own individual transportation to and from home is nice, but it certainly isn't the only way to work it.  So, to self: stop worrying.  Worry:  its what I do really well.  Its time to let go a little.

...so, speaking of self-induced stress - why did I even write this?  Yeah, sometimes being me sucks.  Again, this is that dribbly self-journaling mode I'm in - hoping it will all make sense in July when I forget.  Keeping riding FUN by keeping myself on a shorter leash.  I can't do it all, nor should I try, nor should I burden myself with always tossing goals out to the masses.  I have a desire to add value and make the posts here relevant by perhaps offering a take on things that someone else might also struggle with.  Making things harder on myself as a result shouldn't be part of the deal.  

For fledgling rando-riders that have yet to crank out 125 miles at a shot, the mental game can be a very real one.  Hard to overcome.  For others, riding is pure, fun, easy...even at long distances - and for a long time I've had real trouble remembering that fact during one ride or another.  Don't get me wrong:  if I *didn't* love riding, I'd probably not have this blog nor a constant desire to get out on a bike.  I do love it, enjoy it, and it always *starts* fun.  Often, though, I get too worked up about it.  I don't know really WHY I am the way I am;  why I feel defeated when I get passed on the road, even when it's completely casual and non-competitive.  Why some days I have a terrific ride, and other days everything becomes a personal battle, or self-inflicted warfare.  Why I've used words like "revenge" and "epic" to describe otherwise innocuous strips of pavement or actual events - like the event itself had reared up and spat me out.  Even commutes lately have become "epic", which confuses me.  Other times, I'll ride that same stretch of road without so much as a passing thought, even a smile.  Trying to wrap my thinking around rando and ultra-events and looking at ways to be more successful, there is a trend I've noticed.  At some point, it stops being fun; but, with only a few exceptions, it has never been about pain, or genuine suffering, never about the mileage at hand.  Sure, nutrition, hydration are recurring themes - but why?  Is my mind where it should be?  Do I make it harder than it really is?  Is something about my thought process so bothersome that I forget to drink, or eat?  Sure, at mile marker 250, things ARE hard... but if nothing really changes, what happens to my mind?  What is it that I'm doing to myself at that point that makes it so easy to gear down, soft-pedal, get frustrated, and start to question my fortitude?  Doubt?  Anger?  Some deep-seeded issues that I still haven't unearthed?  What's the key difference between those times where I ended a 600K with a smile, and those times where I'd be 10 minutes shy of DQ'ing on a 200km ride because I just didn't want to pedal anymore?  Were things that bad, or was it self-manufacturered?  What's really going on when I don't even realize I've been riding for an hour into a headwind, compared to those times where the light tinging of wind-chimes on my back porch prevents me from even suiting up?

I have to remember what many randonneurs have quoted... the source, I can't remember, but it's very true.
Whether it be your stomach, or whether it is mental:  Keep riding.  Wait 15 minutes.  It will pass.  Heck, even sit on the curb if you need to... but don't quit.  It'll pass.

Think about what you want to do.  Have an idea why you're out there for XXX miles.  Have a goal - even if you have to write it down and tape it to the handlebars:  know it, reference it.  
Maybe your goal is simple... maybe it's complex.  If it's too much, let it go.  Modify it.  Forgive yourself.  There will be other days.  There will be other years. 
Maybe your real goal isn't about cycling at all... that's okay, too.  Focus on the priorities, and ride when you can for the reasons you WANT to. 
Also, avoid burn-out ... which, may be responsible for a lot of this.  In my case, I've created a scenario that makes burn-out almost inevitable.  It bothers me, because in the short term I can't change that without flushing every goal except commuting... or buying another car.  I'm not ready to flush the goals.  Not yet.  I love long-distance riding... and the current theory is working on getting my head right, and riding a 200k.  After that, the commute should seem easier.  It's a theory.  Sunshine, green grass, and short-sleeves oughta help, too.  It can't come soon enough.  Perhaps the bus pass and the bike lockers will help.

So, my REAL goal and resolution for 2010:  come to grips with all these thoughts.  Life is difficult enough.  Instead of struggling with it so much, simply allowing myself to pull on the helmet, fill the water bottles, open the garage... and enjoy... and if it isn't right, let it go.  Dump the caffeine (it doesn't help ANY of this unless it happens to be 4:00am during a 600km brevet).  Dump the excuses, the doubt, the worry.  Dump the extra body weight.  Use the mental noise to my advantage, and use it for good.  I may not ever be able to change how I think - but I can change what I do with it.  After all, it's all in my head.  Like a friend recently mentioned to me... I'm evolving.

Thanks for reading!

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