One of the things that I love the most about cycling is that it enables an escape from a difficult day. When work goes wrong, when something is amiss, when I’m irritable…cycling provides a positive tool for eliminating stress, burning off negative energy, and inducing a state of fatigue that is more conducive to relaxation than stress induced anxiety is. And I remember a time, in the not so distant past, when I could bury myself in a ride and seemingly not tire–a time when I could ride harder and harder, never hitting bottom…or at least never hitting bottom for too long. That was a feeling of empowerment, of betterment, and of constant, perceptible growth in my abilities.
One of the most frustrating things about dealing with Celiac’s is a different kind of being buried. It isn’t watching others smother a piece of sourdough or french bread with butter before downing their pasta dinner, all while polishing off a nice, hoppy IPA–I mean, that’s not terribly fun, but I can get past that. But for the past–??–maybe five or six months, I never know what kind of rider I’m going to be. Some days, I can go out and ride to my full potential. And other days, I just get buried. I’m not out of breath, but I’m out of legs, and far too soon. I try to dig deeper–to groan, to curse, to breath faster, to breath slower, to try a higher/lower gear and a faster/slower cadence–but nothing works. Nothing quells the growing stiffness in my quads. Nothing dulls the ache–not a burn, but an ache–in those muscles. And all too quickly, I start to feel buried. Riding with the pack becomes hanging on, becomes staying in touch, becomes giving up on riding with the pack, gutting it out, and riding my own ride. It isn’t pretty, but I’ve not come up with better solutions yet.
I’m hopeful that with time, a stable diet, and full recovery from anemia, this all becomes a thing of the past. I’m just so angry with myself that this is happening–this feels like excuses. It feels like I’m just giving up too early, cutting myself a convenient break, and blaming my riding failings on a convenient scapegoat. It feels like something that I’d be critical of in another person; I can see myself hearing someone else talking about this issue and thinking, “he just isn’t trying hard enough.” And yet, no matter how many times I beat myself up over this issue…no matter how many times I analyze and reanalyze my rides, my GPS data, my performance over the past year…I cannot come up with another plausible explanation.
Getting dropped tonight was a good thing, I’m telling myself. It allowed me to get in those extra 7 miles I needed to reach my unstated, yet hotly anticipated 2011 goal of a century for each of my 32 years. That accomplishment just seems to ring hollow, seeing my average speed decline since July, and
feeling knowing that while my technique may have improved, I was a stronger, faster cyclist 1500 miles ago.
Often, when I’m working on a writing project and reach a mental block, I’ll just start typing so I can see words on the screen. The simple act of tapping away at the keyboard, something I spend altogether too much of my life doing, can get my thoughts flowing again and can help me lead myself out of the block. And yet, looking at this on the screen, it isn’t the catharsis that I had hoped for. It’s just a statement of something that’s painfully obvious to me, without a clearly defined path to progress. So here’s to the hope that the coming new year reveals something worthwhile in terms of a resolution to this issue. Until then, I’m going to ride until I’m dropped and then stop for a moment, to contemplate the continuation of this syndrome and to ensure that whomever I’m riding with doesn’t feel compelled to wait for me, then lower my head, clip back in, drop down a gear or two, and keep riding against the grain.