Coming back from (self-imposed) exile (a long rambling self analysis)

August 25, 2013

So obviously I’ve not posted very frequently lately.  Simply put I believe I encountered some hybrid of bike burnout mixed with a sort of wall / plateau in my fitness level.  I’ve encountered the latter a few times in my 4+ year journey, so I can be patient with myself in working through that; however, I hadn’t really encountered the former yet.

Is this the end of bicycling for me?  I pondered this question more than once over the past few weeks.  The knee-jerk reaction is to say “no, don’t consider it”.  But knee jerk reactions, while often surprisingly “deep rooted”, can also at times lead you astray.  So I’ve had to actually face consciously what I didn’t really want to:  have my interests shifted such that riding the bike won’t be in the picture frame of my future life.  After giving it a fair amount of thought recently, I think the answer is NO. There’s still a lot I want to accomplish in terms of goals (some of it rando related, some not) and there’s also still plenty of enjoyment to be gotten from it.

A ride this morning with a neighbor who has also started riding recently provided the confirmation I need.  Funny how events transpire to get you where you need to go.  I tend to keep to myself and not interact much with my neighbors; so imagine my surprise when a couple weeks ago my next door neighbor mentioned that he’d seen me riding my bike around town and struck up a conversation.  He enjoys riding the local trails (Prairie Spirit, FHNT) and asked if I’d be interested to join him sometime.  Sure, I said.

Yesterday he told me he was planning a ~21-mile round trip this morning on the FHNT, and would I like to join.  I fought through my recent malaise around riding and agreed.  It was with a lot of hesitation that I got up this morning and got ready.  I knew this ride was going to tell me a lot.   Would I view it as a “chore” (the bike part of it – not the conversation & company) or would it remind me of the best parts that I like about cycling in the first place?

Happily, it did the latter.  The conversation & company were certainly good; and, the “bike part” of it was wonderful.  It was great to be on a bike again and just enjoying myself.  No particular speed needed, no particular destination (we had a route in mind though), etc.  I didn’t once feel “tired” or “bored” or “ready to be done with this ride” as I sometimes have lately.  This feeling I refer to is different from the one cyclists commonly get at the end of a long ride:  “Let’s be done with this already”.  That’s normal and virtually everyone has that. In contrast, recently I’ve felt almost a dread about getting on the bike and just felt like I was going to do a “job”.  Classic burnout symptoms.  But I didn’t feel like this on this ride.

After arriving back in town and with him splitting off for home, I gave some serious thought to tacking on another X miles with one of my local routes.  Maybe north to the “LeLoup Loop”.  Maybe south to Princeton on 59 Highway and back.  Maybe the “Tour de Penland” on Old 50 Highway to JB Highway. Maybe the PS Trail.  However, I made a studied choice to end the ride there, and now I am really glad I did. I did so not because I wasn’t physically ready to add that extra mileage or because I “dreaded” it as I have recently; but because I remember the feeling from early in my bike riding days of “leave ’em wanting more”, the old entertainers’ advice.  That is, at the end of a bike ride I like feeling like I COULD go on, WANT to go on…but that there’s tomorrow and let’s tackle it then.  That’s the kind of feeling that drives a person back to an activity.  Lately I’ve been feeling quite “full”; “sated” from bike rides.  The opposite of wanting more.

In this analysis the skeptic might see a glimmer of cause for concern.  That is, when I do ramp back up again, won’t I just feel “full” again and therefore be back here again?  A valid concern, I tell my worrying self; but I feel pretty strongly that part of the reason for the “full” feeling is fitness related.  That is, I’ve been on several rides lately that pushed the edge of my physical ability at the time. That physical ability was largely betrayed or handicapped – handcuffed – by poor eating habits, my old demon. Put another way, when I am eating really well and clean and staying active, I don’t really feel this “ok, this is plenty enough” feeling at the end of a ride, because I still feel like I can go on.  So, that’s the feeling that must be pursued.  And that is accomplished through a combination of riding, continuing to push your skills and your ability, and – critical element – keeping the faith with eating and giving yourself every  opportunity to truly enjoy each ride instead of feeling like you’re battling something.

This post has rambled on long enough, but I trust the highlights are clear to others and to myself.  I’m excited to realize that I don’t feel I am yet “done” with the bike.  There’s still goals I want to reach and there’s still fun to be had.  It’s important to keep both in focus, and the best means to do that is to continue improving my overall fitness through exercise and eating.  That’s really what it comes down to.

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