Friday, May 23, 2008
Motivation. It’s that most fleeting qualities. With it, you have the power to dig deep in training. Every day is another opportunity to work toward a better you. It is the savings account from which you draw the fortitude to bury the needle for another few seconds, to refuse the slice of cake, to head out for the ride in the dark.
It is as mysterious in its presence as it is in its absence. Its switches are nonsensical, ironic. One bad ride can light a fire that melts the asphalt beneath your wheels two days later. Or it can lead to a sense of futility causing you to skip rides, fall off the PROgram, pig out, even.
When the well is empty life is duller for it. There’s no spring to your step, 20 miles can seem long and cleaning the bike is just a chore that can be put off for another week. Forget about intervals. Why go hard? What’s the point?
And there’s the mystery: We know why. We know that the feeling that comes from riding well can kill office stress, melt daily disappointments and enable us to ride with the lead group at Flanders. Okay, maybe not that last, but you must admit, when the well is full you feel totally PRO. You ride with wattage to spare.
But the empty well can be depression itself. It is the cycle of disappointment that feeds on disappointment, the snake that eats its tail, but instead of winking out of existence, it grows. How we reverse that vicious cycle is anyone’s guess. A blue sky that moves one rider back to the saddle can fill another with shame for the days missed.
For those who’ve had the well run dry, you know the revulsion you feel for the big ring, a stomach-turning horror that makes overtraining seem like simple recovery between intervals. The dry well is the existential crisis that causes you to ask the unthinkable: “Why do I ride a bike?”
And yet, the reprieve is always around the corner. Whether it’s the ’89 Tour, a rerun of Breaking Away or a warm day too beautiful not to ride, we all have our triggers. Thank heaven. And for all the heartache of the empty well, we can suddenly find ourselves seeing once again the natural order of the world. The bicycle is a thing of beauty, a potent antidote to the world’s ills, an eternal E-ticket ride.
As if we were hawks riding thermals, one good ride begets another and another. We’re easier to live with, if utterly verbose about our exploits. We conduct our days more efficiently as we divide the day between riding and the activities that support it, and all the rest.
So powerful is the full well that we find cues to even more motivation in elements as simple as the open road. That shouldn’t strike us as a surprise, though. It was always thus: Half our love of cycling is a love of the open road itself and that ribbon of asphalt is life unfolding in an ever unexpected way.