Sunday, October 5, 2008

Limits

Don’t say that. Don’t wear that. Don’t drive like that. For most of our lives we’ve been taught to live within confines, not just accepting the rules, but very often anticipating them and adapting to them before stepping out of bounds. We frame it as what’s appropriate.

The limits we choose to respect define us as surely as the ones we don’t. We are loyal to friends and family. We follow traffic laws (most of them). We pay taxes (whatever the accountant deems necessary), and sometimes we attack even when we know we’re riding on borrowed legs.

Each ride we go on is defined in concrete terms. We have a finite number of red-line efforts. Our endurance is measured in a hard number of hours. We know how much we have to eat and drink each hour to stave off the bonk. We know how fast we are willing to go in a corner before we apply the brakes. It’s a peculiar calculus, where each variable affects every other variable for no ride comes with an unlimited budget.

Each of these dimensions taken individually doesn’t mean much. Taken together, they form a picture of a rider. From strength to staying power to metabolic rate and nerve, we can be certain we each ride or race with someone who knows our limits as well as we do.

These limitations not only define the sport, they dominate it. Every dimension of cycling has the potential to liberate as well as constrain. An 11-23 cassette gives us seemingly endless gear options, unless you’re not a PRO and find yourself in the Alps and then we all wish for more gears … or a rocket pack. Carbon fiber handlebars absorb vibration but if you crash, they are strictly single-use.

But training is a bit like digging for buried treasure. You never know what you might find. For weeks and even months, our progress can be predictable, sometime frustrating, but then we peak and suddenly there truly is a new you. You catch the competition off-guard. Your friends suggest you pee in the cup. But for you, the surprises are endless and the deepest efforts fun, even long after you pin the needle.

The mere concept of succeeding in competition, of winning a race is to believe in surpassing limits. And that’s the trick isn’t it? It’s un-training your mind to exploit that fitness to its fullest measure. How far from the line can you attack and hold it?

Each time we surpass an old limit we must reassess who we are as a rider. And the further we surpass those old limits, the greater the surprise. Who would have thought that after months and years of work, what we find at the end of a sprint is a person we barely know?


Image courtesy John Pierce, Photosport International.

7 comments:

Bret Moss said...

That was YARD with three men on base, Great Job!

cutty said...

"Who would have thought that after months and years of work, what we find at the end of a sprint is a person we barely know?"

AWESOME.

Paul in Colorado said...

Thanks for that post......I'm recovering from a nasty crash, early cross season and wondering "should" I race and take the chance again.....thanks for the answer, hup,hup.

Matty Formaldehyde said...

Never truer words have been spoken. Great post!

frilly said...

Well said Padraig. As a novice cyclist I feel this way most of the time--always discovering new limits. I know its unrealistic, but I hope the feeling never goes away.

Wade Wallace said...

Excellent post. Well put...

Anonymous said...

Great post and I love the site. I find many of the posts to be very inspiring and well written.

But I have to disagree with your statement, "Each ride we go on is defined in concrete terms." No ride is ever definitive. Every ride is different based upon one's physical, emotional and yes, even spiritual state of mind at that time. You're making the choice to define your ride by the parameters you define.

True, "no ride comes with an unlimited budget." But the factors you define as limitations are purely your own modes of thought. If any great rider, artist, inventor, composer, etc...came to the table and said, "Here are my perceived limits and I'm going to create/live from them," than a lot of great things would have never been created nor accomplished. It's all about not placing limitations upon ourselves from the outset...which is much easier said than done, admittedly.

True, we all have "shortcomings" as riders and human beings, but it's far easier to go beyond them if we don't build them up as obstacles to begin with. Just my two bits.

Cheers.