There are Levels, Man

April 30, 2012

The title of this post comes from a quote from the inimitable Joe Rogan, announcer for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  During one fight, speaking of a particularly high-level fighter, the often-boyishly-enthusiastic Rogan said, “this is what I’ve been saying, there are levels, man…”

By now the alert reader may be wondering how my planned ride this past Saturday (the KCMBC Spring Classic) went.  Well, it went…by the wayside.

This was to be the first organized event I would participate in. I over-zealously registered without knowing the course.  My assumption was that, with 70-mile, 46-mile, and 26-mile options, that the shortest course would be understood to be for those newish to the cycling game, and therefore not overly challenging. And, perhaps it’s not overly challenging to someone in better shape than myself.  But, having received the course map last week and driven out to survey it, I knew in my heart of hearts that this course was too difficult for me.  I would be struggling very hard and still not be able to finish.

It wasn’t the mileage.  I’ve gone 40 miles in a day before, and gone over 25 miles a number of times.  Mileage wasn’t the issue – the hilly terrain was.

And with that, I received, in a very short space of time, a number of different insights.

One is, I’ve spent too much of my riding time on the flat stuff.  It’s a deliberate choice for the most part – I am, as mentioned several places in this blog, overweight and working to lose weight and get into shape.  Hills are hard work for me.  The worst bonk I ever had (chronicled in this post) involved what at the time seemed like a killer hill.  I’ve gotten into the shape that over relatively flat surface (not pancake-flat, but with mild grades), I can go for a long, long way – but if there are more than a couple hills involved, my total-ride gas tank gets depleted quickly.  So, it’s been a conscious choice to enjoy riding the bike miles versus working hard on hills, with the knowledge that at least initially the rides would be fairly short.

Second insight – I’m still a babe in the woods in the cycling game.  I never fancied myself a badass, but I was getting increasingly satisfied with the results of the work I’d put in.  However, seeing this 26-mile course – realizing that to these organizers, who know what they are doing, this probably was at least a relatively basic course – gave me great respect for the fitness level of folks who have done this a while.  I’m a fairly competitive person by nature – even if all I’m competing with is an idea rather than an actual person – so this realization sparked in me a fierce determination to “get to where they are”.

Third insight – “There are levels, man”.  It’s one kind of cyclist who can ride for 25, 30, 40, 50 miles at a stretch in a defined range of terrain.  It’s another who can do the same distance over much harder terrain.  The first cyclist is comfortable and confident that he can put in the miles within parameters.  The second is confident that he can handle a much wider range of adversity being thrown at him.  I wanted to become this rider.  As I mentioned previously, I have an interest to one day join the slightly crazy ranks of the randonneurs; this is out of the question without this experience under my belt and confidence to tackle whatever the ride may consist of.

Fourth insight – Almost immediately, I was cognizant of a reversal of roles, in a way that was very pleasing to me.  Chicken and egg:  initially I started riding the bike only as a means to an end – only to help me lose weight and get in better shape, period.  Riding the bike wasn’t the point; losing weight was the point.  Now, falling in line like a domino within the cascade of the above insights, was the recognition that now, the mission was to get myself into the best possible shape so as to be able to enjoy better rides.  Further, longer, more challenging, rides.  The concepts of losing weight, getting into better shape – these were now the means to the end, the necessary preparation in the service of become a better cyclist.  This was rather unexpected, but I like it.  It’s a win-win.

And so, I had to face the fact that, as I told my friends, there will be a day when I’m able to complete rides like this, but that day is not now.

It was an unpleasant reality but reality nonetheless; getting upset over it would be pointless.  The thing to do is determine what I want, and then give everything I’ve got to get there.  And that’s what I realized this day.

I’m going to switch up the ride routine.  Previously, I’d do largely-flats (fairly gentle grades) for a few rides, then maybe a day of hills, then back to flats.  Now, I’ll incorporate a lot more hillwork.  I’ll push to improve my endurance on the hills and the ability to fight through them for further distance.  I’ll work on sprints.  I’ll incorporate the advice of a couple of wonderfully helpful “mentor” friends I’m blessed to have.

I don’t watch a lot of movies, but I am known for drawing parallels between some given situation and the ones I have seen.  An appropriate parallel here is “the judge” in the movie The Natural.  In an interesting scene, he explains to Roy, the main character, that as a child he was frightened of the dark.  He used to wake up in the dark sobbing, as though it were water and he were drowning in it.  But over time he had so thoroughly overcome his fear that he now preferred a dark room.

The analogy should be obvious.  I will make my weaknesses my strengths.  I will give everything I’ve got to overcome my apprehension of, and avoidance of, hills and challenging terrain, until I am fully comfortable with, and even prefer, challenging conditions.


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