The incredible heaviness of other people’s training

I used to have a friend in real life who vanished from Facebag one day. “Yo, dude,” I said. “What happened?”

“I couldn’t stand all the happy people.”

“What do you mean?”

“Everyone was surrounded by a loving family in a beautiful home with a new bike and a cute dog. My life felt like shit.”

“It did?”

“Oh hell yeah. I was like ‘There’s no way that all 1,500 of my Facebag friends are that happy.’ You know? Divorce and suicide and drunkenness and jail and cheating on each other and debt and getting fired and loneliness and you know, reality. But even though I personally would see a friend at AA, there he’d be smiling on Facebag as if he weren’t on the knife edge of suicide and collapse.”

“People want to be happy.”

“I get it. But it made me feel like a loser. So I’m out.”

“And?”

“I feel great. No more time spent looking at other people’s happiness. I can focus on my own miserable fucking life and how to make it better.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. So for someone on Facebag it may not mean a lot when I get through Christmas without having a screaming match with my parents, but for me that’s progress. Feels great. My success is mine. Don’t have to compare it to some dude’s Ferrari that his wife bought him for the holidays so he can drive the fucking twins to Harvard en route to cashing in their billion-dollar winning lottery ticket.”

After that, every time I ran into Friend, he really was happier, and each time I asked him if he missed social media.

“Oh sure,” he’d say. “Like I miss having my big toe gnawed off by a pit bull with rabies.”

So I recently joined my club’s Strava page. On Strava I don’t follow anyone because I only use it to keep track of mileage. I don’t ride with a Garmin or a power meter or a heart/jock strap, don’t know how fast I’m going, how far I am from home, or when I’m getting back. I don’t give a fuck how far anyone else has ridden or how many KOMs they’ve harvested or how many miles they rode this week or month or year. Why not? Because crappy though it may be, my training plan has remained the same over decades:

  1. A little > nothing
  2. Ride with people when you can
  3. Go hard

As you’d expect, the results haven’t been spectacular, except in the one simple metric that matters, i.e. I’ve kept riding all my adult life, with almost zero interruptions. As people I used to ride with and race with have fallen off the radar screen and gone over to the dark side of Cheesecake Factory, unlimited servings of alcohol, or even triathlons, I’ve kept plodding away. Without any goals, without any targets to hit or to miss, and with nothing but the pleasure of riding a bike to keep me going combined with congenital meanness, it’s kind of worked. I’m hardly the last man standing, but many have come and gone and I’m still at it. Wish I had a nickel for every cycling enthusiast who was going to keep riding until he died and quit after five years with a quiver of bikes, a closet full of kits, and a garage turned into a professional indoor training space-cum-mechanic’s lab.

In other words, just plodding the fuck along, immune to the awesomeness of everyone else, works for me.

So when I joined the Big Orange Club Strava page I got a huge shock. Like, I suck. Not just the usual “Oh well, I suck,” that I accepted long ago, but the “Man, you are probably the worst cyclist in history and should donate your bike to an underprivileged fixie rider.”

The reason I suck so bad is that the club’s leader board is astounding. People ride 300+ miles a week and climb more hills than a Sherpa. It used to be satisfying to knock out 150 or 190 miles and think “Great week! Way to rock it, Wanky!” but no more. That won’t even get you up to the middle of the club scatter graph. Dude, if all you got is 200 miles a week, YOU SUCK and why are you hanging out with us?

At least that’s how it felt. And the following rationalizations, by the way, don’t work.

  1. My rides are quality, not quantity.
  2. Most of the people ahead of me on the leader board don’t race.
  3. Miles don’t equal speed.
  4. I dropped him and him and him and him and her and her and her last week and wasn’t even pedaling hard.

Those rationalizations don’t work for the same reason that my buddy’s observations about the imperfect lives of his Facebag friends didn’t work. When you see more miles and more climbing, it automatically makes you feel slower and less fit and more like a worthless slug. What’s worse, looking at some college kid with 389 miles makes me want to compete, even though it’s that very type of obsessive competition that I have never done and the avoidance of which that has allowed me to keep pedaling my bike for 35 whole years.

In fact, I even had it summed up in a little aphorism: “If you ride to achieve you’ll eventually quit. If you ride for fun you’ll ride for life.”

The huge challenge with cycling, especially as you get decrepit and your wife gives you birthday cards that gently make fun of your erectile dysfunction, is forcing yourself to roll out–not out of the house, out of bed. Once that battle is won, a fierce life-and-death struggle that begins and for most people ends with the gravitational pull of the warm pillow, everything else takes care of itself. But when you think that you’re already behind the 8-ball on Wednesday morning because you’ve only got 51 miles for the week and the club leaderboard has a dozen people already knocking on 150, it makes you want to give in to the siren song of “sleep more, ride later.”

The later, of course, never comes.

The other problem is that our club’s Strava leaderboard seems to feature people who are at completely different points in their cycling lives from me. Maybe they’re new or new-ish riders who are still on fire for all things bicycling. Maybe they have a coach. Maybe they are in their 40’s and doing their first athletic activity since high school. Maybe they’re trying to upgrade in 2017. Maybe they have one of those things, what are they called? Oh, yeah, goals. I’ve heard of those!

Whatever they’re up to, they’re doing something different from me, which is struggling simply to keep riding because nothing looks fresh and rosy and pink and fluffed when it’s in its fourth decade. I’m not fired up by having big miles or lots of climbing or racing or the Donut Ride or anything. My fire was doused in ice water years ago and all that’s left now is a 53-year-old bag of skin trying to slow the inevitable skid off the edge into the abyss.

Sure, I get fired up when I’m finally on the bike and pedaling, but that’s like saying I feel good when I win the lottery. Any fool can be happy when he’s doing something fun. But the trick is to get fired up beforehand, because without that you never make it out the door, and igniting the spark at 5:00 AM when you’re only seven years younger than a dead Princess Leia, two years younger than a dead Prince, the same age as a dead George Michael, two years older than a dead Michael Jackson, and eighteen years older than a dead Mozart, striking the flint is harder than you think.

And since the club leaderboard makes the battle with the pillow exponentially harder than it already is, I finally succumbed and hit the “leave” button on the club leaderboard. No offense, but I feel better already.

END

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37 thoughts on “The incredible heaviness of other people’s training”

  1. “Yeah. So for someone on Facebag it may not mean a lot when I get through Christmas without having a screaming match with my parents, but for me that’s progress.”
    –Exact description of my 12/26 dinner with Jan’s two adult children who both drank too much and had at each other llke no tomorrow was comin’. The F-Bombs kinda spoiled the green beans.
    …and…re:
    “My fire was doused in ice water years ago and all that’s left now is a 53-year-old bag of skin trying to slow the inevitable skid off the edge into the abyss.”
    -See your local Chinese internet supplier…fix you up in a jiffy.

    1. As long as other people have each other by the throat, that’s mostly okay. Mostly. As long as I don’t have to do any of the choking …

      These days the Internet supplier could well be a local LA Strava hero.

  2. “…one simple metric that matters, i.e. I’ve kept riding all my adult life.” Amen Seth. That’s sitting atop the leaderboard of life!

  3. Thanks. Pretty much sums up everything I feel about being a Strava member right now. Need to get back to zero fugging goals!

    1. Right? Goals? Really? I thought those were for work. Who has goals for their fuggin’ hobby? It’s like having goals for sex.

      1. Achieve orgasm x 2
      2. Assist partner with orgasm x 1
      3. Brush teeth.
      4. Improve over last year’s orgasm assistance coefficient by 50%.
      5. Wash face x 2.

      Etc.

      1. While we (and our wives probably) would appreciate the “Orgasm goals,” I’m just sticking with “Keep having fun riding a bike.” It’s probably more attainable anyway.

  4. This post reminds me of something I was told decades ago. “There is always someone faster and someone slower than you”. The one time I looked up my Strava ranking on a local climb I was 1900th, or 3300th, I forget, but I still climb that hill with who knows how many tens of thousands of others. Each one with their own personal reasons for doing it.
    So Happy or Unhappy New Year, and just keep pedaling.

  5. I really don’t get why other people’s successes/achievements make one feel worse. That’s why I don’t get how or why Facebag and Strava are depressing to some.

    Stop comparing. Just stop.

  6. “If you ride to achieve you’ll eventually quit. If you ride for fun you’ll ride for life.” Great aphorism. Thanks.

  7. Strava: I have fun naming my rides and seeing how many age group KOM’s Hines has over me and alerts about Spaulding’s dog walks. Other than that? Yawn….

  8. Favorite post of 2016.

    Seth, I found a “compromise solution.” I have a 5 year old Garmin which won’t record the first 60% of any ride. It just stays on 0.0 miles for an hour (or two) after hitting Start. So, according to Strava, I’m at 2519 for the year. But, I’ve hardly missed a World Famous Montrose (40 plus) or a World Famous Rose Bowl (2/week from March-Oct). That’s 100 miles without trying. Add my 5 mile trips to Highland Park for hipster-watching and the 2 or 3 short rides I do with friends who refuse to ride clipless (Smart Friends) or wear “spandex.” That must mean (IT MUST) that I’m consistently doing 150-200 miles weekly (8000-9000 miles for the year is my estimate). And, yet, I feel as you do…except, I don’t.

    When I peruse Strava or Instagram it’s as if every kid/old person I know is going to have a 20,000 mile year. They all enthusiastically “participate” in all the challenges. I say, fuk the Festive 500! I’d lose all festiveness if I had to try to get 500 miles in (or 8000) as a “goal.” Better to see those 2500 miles recorded and to know that I probably have another 7500 miles worth of unrecorded fun.

    Happy New Year!

    1. Happy New Year to you, too, Al. It’s fine for everyone who loves it, and if they’re riding, they’re winning.

  9. Thankyou! I was just going through the fact I’ll be around 5,500 miles this year and then realizing that in this group that barely registers as riding….

  10. So damned funny! Especially the thread about wife’s “performance.” (double-breasted mattress thrasher) At my advanced age, riding for fun is all I can handle.

  11. Old age is a moving target. “If you ride to achieve you’ll eventually quit. If you ride for fun you’ll ride for life.” I’m in my seventies and still riding for fun.

  12. I too have be riding bikes since before I can remember & I’ve never really had a goal other than when I get really out of shape, like I am now, to be able to ride with my buddies & have enough energy when I get home to be a good Husband & Father & be able to be a nice human at work. What keeps me riding is just the thrill I get use no matter how short of a ride I do I always get a thrill. It could be a quick descent around the Golf Course wondering if a peacock will cross my path as I lean it in to the corner. It could be a quick patch of dirt I hit on an unexpected encounter with Surfer Dan. It could be a wheelie up Via Monte Mar or a crash on mybMTB trying to keep up with Dutchie but they all leave feeling alive. It’s a feeling I’ve never been able to duplicate in any other activity & I’ve tried & played them all including motorcycles but nothing compares to me. So as long as I can throw a leg of a bike I will be out there getting a thrill. Strava for me took away some of that thrill as I started looking at Segments instead of the real world…you know running lights to be faster, crashing your brains out on your MTB because you are trying to PR, spending more time looking at friends rides on Strava than riding….just a few of the pit falls I’ve encountered. I too have never owned a heart rate monitor, power meter, or even a bike computer since I had an Avocet 30 back in 1994. A trip to Mallorca around that period made me just want to ride for the thrill & no technology could ever enhance it as I had the time of my life on an old steel bike I rented from Stephen Roache. I’ve come & gone over the years but I will always ride as little not as I can drag my fat ass up on that saddle & clip in.

  13. It’s called a “club” because it hits you over the head and hurts. Walking away = no clubbing. No clubbing –> 🙂

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