Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Finding the Body-bike-road Continuum

In the last couple of days, while riding my regular workouts – distance, climbing repeats, etc. – I’ve discovered a kind of consciousness arising in me that I am very, very interested in. When it happens, the word animal arises in my mind spontaneously. I watch the athletes on the Olympic broadcasts and see something similar sometimes – a blend of power and looseness, a total absorption in their activity at that moment.

On Sunday, I was just starting the final third of my long ride for the week. It had been a good morning; I’d gotten out early, picked a good route, ridden within myself and was feeling up. I’d made the decision before I left to hold a little back until the final third, and then, if I felt strong, to unwind the engine a bit and treat the last stretch more like a time trial – just to see how it worked. A few miles into that, I was flying down a pretty, winding country road, and something just came over me. I hate to sound corny, but it really was like the bike, the road and my body became one thing.

I’ve had breakthroughs in cycling fitness, and leaps in my technique, too, but this is only the second time that I have experienced the entire feeling of being on the bike in a very different way. I felt like I was a gazelle or a leopard, leaping down the road in a feral, fluid blur. (Not that I was going super-fast – the feeling involved more than just speed.)

I guess it’s popular to call that the zone these days, and perhaps that’s what it is. All I know is, my day-to-day mind falls away unexpectedly; it stops thinking about the very long list of annoying details awaiting my attention, or interpersonal struggles, or questions about the future. It’s like I become entirely body all of a sudden – or maybe more like my mind deserts its habitual post (churning away just behind my forehead) and, like some fluid special effect in a wizard movie, just floods my muscles and bones and nerve endings. It didn’t last long; a few minutes, probably. Same thing yesterday on my climbing repeats.

I tell you, it’s really quite a feeling. I want more of it.

I’ve been meditating for 15 years. Some mornings I get into a good place, and body and mind also join together at those times, along with – if I’m lucky -- spirit. But this is different – it’s even different from the feeling I get from yoga, which I’ve been doing even longer. One stated goal of yoga is roughly the same: To synch up body, mind and spirit. But this feeling on the bike is different from both of those practices. It’s like I’m achieving that state, but in a highly active way, body working hard, moving fast. It usually comes when I find that place where only the muscles I need are doing the work; the rest of me is relaxed. (Very yoga, by the way.) This is something I’ve been focusing on lately in my cycling, because I’ve heard it’s a great way to improve performance and endurance. I never imagined it would leap me across a gap I didn’t even know was there. I sure hope I can continue to cultivate that state, because, simply put, it’s really addictive.


welshcyclist said...

I think I know what you mean, even though I'm not a very fit cyclist, I try to put in alot of miles. Very occasionally I feel as though I have broken through into that "zone" or whatever we should call it, and I feel fantastic, everything just comes together, my pedalling feels as light as air, yet I have a wonderful feeling of power. I can't explain it any other way.

Velosopher said...

welshcyclist, if you find it hard to describe what happens when it does happen, then there's a good chance you're experiencing something very similar. The chief feature of my few experiences with it is that no matter how many words I spill, I can't capture it. Except to say, "I want more!"