Monday, November 8, 2010

This Sucks

Cyclocross always seems like a good idea in July. Everyone is tanned and lean, winning races saying, "I'm gonna do this EVERY weekend 'til December!" Then September rolls around and it's, "I'll get by on residual fitness!" October arrives and it's dark, cold and wet every night. Training more or less stops but it's easy to say, "all I have to do is hit the trainer a couple of times during the week between races." Of course actually getting on the trainer in October never happens. Improvement without putting in any effort proves to be wishful thinking at best and pure delusion at worst. The continual back slide down the results sheet commences. Videos of guys with names like Sven, Zdenek and Klass make it look easy flying around unhindered by municipal bureaucrats in flashy skinsuits on carbon wonder bikes . Last Sunday my reality looked more like this:

Which leads me to this conclusion: cyclocross sucks. I should explain that. As a 30-something weekend warrior I have no business employing a coach. In fact I'd go so far as to call myself an uncoachable cynic. However I've been riding, training and racing long enough to figure a few things out on my own. To me the main principle in training for bike racing is: do it until it sucks. This is different from the popular training philosophy of "ride lots." It is important to ride a lot but sometimes you just have to do it until you break. Until it sucks. I'm not talking about the days when you head out the door in the rain and immediately say, "this sucks." I'm talking about 4hrs after that moment when it REALLY sucks. Or the second lap of a long race when you've blown up after starting too hard and the self doubt creeps in. Or on the last interval you think you shouldn't have done. Or, say, the mid point of a cyclocross season. I think coaches call this idea of going outside your comfort zone something like "over reaching." The body and mind adapts to the increased stress and improvement occurs.

Every race has a suck point and how you deal with it usually determines the outcome. Thinking of my season as one big race, cyclocross is undoubtedly my suck point. So like I said: cyclocross sucks. For me. In spite of this -- or perhaps because of this -- I've been showing up for something like ten years now. Check the wicked orange Barracuda jersey:

And I'll keep showing up. Pushing through the suck and -- presumably -- coming out stronger in some way. Almonte put me deeply in the suck zone. But the important part is what happens next. So I'll throw myself on the anvil next weekend. How about you? Think I'll wash my bike first.

Note: no City of Ottawa lawns were harmed in the creation of this blog post.


The Vegan Vagabond said...

I love this post!

I live by do it till it sucks and so unfortunately I didn't even make it to cross in the 2010 bike race.

Matt Surch said...

I love your introspection Rob, how you know what you think, and articulate your perspective in such an honest way. Chapeau.

I completely share your 'suck factor' insights. Cyclocross is the hardest discipline I race, because there is indeed always a 'this sucks, I suck' point in the race. Well, actually, the first race this year didn't have any of those moments for me, but that was an anomaly. Normally, I find myself making excuses to myself for why I'm sucking. I feel like quitting, but I know I can't; quitting lasts forever.

In his brilliant book, The Rider, Tim Krabbe reveals that he too felt the suck factor loom often, if not in every race:

"How often, fighting away in a long beaten peloton that nontheless lay down a hellish tempo I could barely follow, have I longed for a flat tire? A puncture, permission from beyond to stop the dying."

In Almonte I received that permission, though I did not ask for it. Upon puncturing my dying ended, and I was not sad. Had I been suffering less, I would have been upset, as Jamie was, but I was deeply in the 'suck zone.'

Our tendency to overreach is indeed what makes us suffer, but it also makes us stronger, as you say. Those moments where we are in fact strong enough and overreaching is not necessary eclipses all the moments of utters suckiness. I know this to be true because I've been there, I've felt that. This memory motivates me to get onto the trainer in October; staying healthy is the greater challenge.

BMX Jim said...

I like reading these blogs without going to the bottom to see who is writing them, in order to see if I can tell who it is. It is interesting to see how closely the writing matches the personality. Your dry humor is very amusing Rob.
I SERIOUSLY understand those moments of suck this season, having always thought of myself as capable of better, and coming close but not close enough. I suffer from the comparison,,,it sucks having fast friends like Matt and Rodd, and now the likes of you and Neil and the rest. At the same time, we all know that something in each of us pushes us out there to suffer and suck, and eventually improve.
I hesitate to use a golf analogy on a bike blog but here goes. In golf, when you stroke a perfect shot, it brings you back to play again despite all the subsequent terrible shots, searching for the perfect one again. I think Matt hit that perfect shot at the Roubaix and again at Brittania this year. I had my own moments of breakthrough on some training rides this year that make previous efforts seem trivial. Clearly though, I still suck, time to hit the trainer

David Bilenkey said...

Brilliant Rob. Brilliant.

Pascii said...

It feels (mildly) good to know that it sucks as much at the front of the pack as is does at the back. Thanks for the insight Rob, Matt and Jim. It sounds like Almonte did not discriminate. Looking forward to sucking my way up the ladder, bit by bit, until I wish I was dead.

jay2179 said...

"Turn up the good, turn down the suck!”

Madmountainmike said...

I love the emphatic poetry of introspection that resonates in this post Rob....but you defintely had me at: " uncoachable cynic...." : - )

Only a few to go - Keep on Suckin' !!!

Matt Surch said...

You got it Pascal. I met Masters honch Ted Ingram in Guelph last year at the True North cross races. Good guy, very strong and talented rider. He said something to Rodd and me that really resonated: "If you don't want to quit when you are racing, your not riding hard enough."