Throwing Darts for Glory

The reason for this peculiar title was the best phrase I could think of to summarize what my intentions and goals were for today’s race. I was going to throw a dart at the board and see where it would stick. Spoiler alert, I missed the board by a mile (or by 1.61km.)

I was more than five pounds overweight, more than ten beats too high when establishing a target heart rate, and lacking eight hours of conditioning due to the condition of my foot. The past few days have been depressing to say the least, and today’s race was the final nail in the coffin. By the summit of the first climb, I had reached a new maximum HR and told myself I would recover when things got flatter and eventually went downhill; wrong. I every time I looked at my bike computer, I was well above 180 BPM and felt like my my legs were seeing how long they could hold their breath (if they had lungs.) I did not pay nearly enough focus and attention when the race finally began. Embarrassingly enough, I rubbed wheels with another rider on more than one occasion and nearly crashed myself out. My new shoes felt well given my still healing foot, but I forgot to adjust my saddle height due to the smaller stack these shoes had. I think I pulled a muscle in my groin too. Today’s race was a joke and I should have stayed home. All signs pointed to me not doing well today, including the binging I did the past few days and the bottle of wine I finished for Valentine’s day, alone, before noon.

While I was gasping for air, and on my teary-eyed drive home today I began to ask myself are these emotional jumps really worth all that I do. I already know how my mood can swing from one end of the spectrum to the other, sometimes even without an apparent enabler. So when you throw in bike racing as a whole, this can lead to the highest of highs, and equally lower lows not only by one’s self, but by those surrounding you.

I have a friend of mine that is one of  the more elite hill-climbers in the cycling community. He is incredibly fit, doesn’t have many obligations in life other than buying food and paying bills. He is very well conditioned and has an incredible power-to-weight ratio. If there were ever a race or competition that went straight up and involved a bike, everyone would be rooting for him. Just a few weeks ago there was a race that favored riders of his type. I am not sure the exact details, but he ended up not finishing the race. This was a surprise to me and everyone he knows. What came as more of a shock was how disappointed everyone immediately became towards him. I can only imagine the painful interrogating questions he had to deal with after all was said and done.

“What happened? You were supposed to win the race!”

“Why didn’t you win? You’re super fit. But you ride all the time.”

“This was your race! You should have done better.”

Then without a doubt, once all these unanswerable and hurtful questions have been asked, then comes the lecturing….

“Well what you should have done is….”

“How much sleep are you getting? Are you eating well? What type of training have you been doing?”

“Who else was in the race? What was the weather like?”

“Well next time….”

All of the above mentioned things may seem like the right thing to say since they are usually the first words out of people’s mouths, but please take my word; I cannot stress this enough, you are doing more harm to that person’s self esteem and psychological well being by poking and prodding like this. Unless someone engages you in a post-race conversation, there should be a 48 hour courtesy period where the athlete can gather themselves and think about what they’ve done.

It’s this emotional rollercoaster that is brought on either on one’s own, or by those around them. It just got me thinking whether the ends justify the means. Is this something I want to continue doing despite the emotional hardship that can come from it. I often think of game show contestants who get that one question wrong that could have gotten them thousands, if not millions of dollars. When they get it wrong I see that they smile and give a yell of, “Aww shucks” but deep down inside I know that they are not going to be able to sleep for weeks. I go through these emotional drifts time and time again and while it is not the healthiest thing to wallow in self-pity, it is therapeutic to me. When you’re out drinking with friends, drinking more than you should have, what’s one of the first things you do the next morning if not that same night? You purge. The booze either comes out of one end or the other. And while all events leading up to this are miserable to say the least, once it is over, you have never felt better. This is one the ways I describe my behavior.

I’ve been like this my entire life. While this doesn’t justify acceptance or that it’s okay to be this way, it just makes things more challenging to change. Perhaps it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain. Maybe there is too many of a certain type of hormone I produce when things like this happen. Perhaps medication will help it, or maybe the post ride/race binge eating I do will make things better. Neither of these are things I am comfortable with doing while the second one still goes on and is snowballing into a bigger issue. That is the addictive personality trying to find a means to show itself when times get rough. Before it used to be liquor, and now that I have drastically cut that out of my life, I go to the kitchen instead of the bar. I can remember people saying that you should keep a food journal, noting down not only what it was you ate, but how you felt before, during, and after your meals to help identify a deeper psychological issue. I can say that before, slightly during, and mostly after, I feel crummy. If I had to measure it on a scale from one to ten, ten feeling melancholic and one feeling pretty good about myself for before, during , and after my meals it would have to go 5/8/6 with slight variations depending on the situation.

Now that time has passed and I have had time to do a little reassessing my goals and what it is I want to gain from competitive cycling, I feel that I have what it takes to do well and will continue to strive for that higher of highs. If I had to pick out something I could practice in preparation for the next race it would be to train harder. I like to see myself suffer and self loathe enough to rise from it and prosper. This sadistic cyclist duality is starting to make sense now.

Train harder smarter, and weigh less. Things are going to hurt and I need to be mentally alright with that. Just roll with the highs and with the lows and let them come and go with the tides.



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