Monday, November 1, 2010

Balance, pt. 2

This previous weekend, Laura and I each hauled a load of stuff to donate to the newly opened Goodwill store within walking distance from our apartment complex. My load entailed a suitcase, which I haven't used in a few years, filled with plasticwear and bicycle jerseys I don't use anymore. Laura's load entailed a large grocery bag full of junk soon to become someone else's treasure.

Getting rid of stuff is not hard for me. Not usually. I don't like clutter, and I realized soon after college after I made that trade that so many of us make by giving away my time in exchange for money, that in our throwaway, replace-anything civilization, it's better to error on the side of discarding something than on the side of keeping. I think a lot of people miss learning this lesson because it's easy to overestimate the cost of obtaining and underestimate the cost of maintaining.

But getting rid of a suitcase full of junk was the easy thing I gave up last weekend. I gave up something else that, even though I've come to expect giving it up each autumn, is never easy to part with: bicycle fitness. This is a personal lesson in balance.

Despite not having any bicycle or triathlon race event planned for at least a few months, I've continued training hard these last few months and am in a great bicycling form right now. Recently, I clobbered my PR by a minute for ascending South Mountain; this sort of gain is suppose to be unobtainable for a non-beginner, and it marks a real high point. Laura calls this sort of talk “bragging”, but I think it's more accurate to call it a “factual statement of awesomeness”. Admittedly, though, “awesomeness” is indeed an exaggeration; I occasionally ride with guys who are awesome, and even they are far below the level necessary to become a no-name pro. In cycling, as with most sports, there's a tremendous gap between above average and elite.

That's the kind of lesson I try to keep in mind to put things into the proper perspective, because counter to the realization that I'm only one totem higher midway up the pole than I usually am, there's a visceral joy that stems from doing well in a sport, and that joy can be blinding. These days that joy is getting in the way of some goals I've established for myself this winter, including another fitness goal of running more as well as some non-fitness ones, such as completing some simple construction projects.

The strength of bicycling is also its weakness: a tremendous amount of time can be devoted to it. My before-work rides on Tuesday and Thursday mornings are a tad over 2½ hours each. My “long” ride on Saturday morning is almost double that. This sort of schedule will force nearly anyone into good form. That's the good thing. It's also the bad thing because once you're in good form, it's hard to give it up, even when there's no longer any reason to maintain it because, to reiterate that aforementioned tosser-outer maxim, it's easy to overestimate the cost of obtaining and underestimate the cost of maintaining. This applies to fitness just as much as it applies to household junk being hauled off for donation.

If you are an elite cyclist, then you are exempt. Winter is the time that you put in base miles, which basically means long, low-effort rides that aim to prepare the mind and body for another season of hard training the next year. Though I'm not elite, I did exactly this sort of training last winter, and my firsthand observation is that it works. It sets you up to become strong. There's no substitute for a long ride and how it conditions the body to dig deep into its reserves. But there's also no substitute for having a real life. Even here in the Valley of the Sun, where there is no true winter, the days shorten and to one acclimated to the extreme summer heat, it gets cold enough. I especially feel the lure of winter's late sunrises, when, minus the artificial lighting in our homes and streets and everywhere else, all of nature seems to be suggesting to each of us to go to bed a little earlier, wake up a little later, and to put in “base miles” in our real life by focusing on our indoor pursuits and the people we're close to. There's no way around that this means, for me, giving up to some degree on a hard-earned level of fitness, but I remind myself that just because something is hard-earned does not mean it's worth hanging onto. I think this is part of what's entailed in striving for balance.


Anonymous said...

Forget balance.
I choose to embrace the phrase "factual statement of awesomeness".
I see t-shirts and bumper stickers.

cmbrandenburg said...

Anonymous—embrace away!