Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving Cyclist's Prayer

Well, it’s the fourth Thursday in November, and while I can’t say I’m exactly grateful for what happened this morning on my ride, I am grateful for some of the insights it’s provided me. Somehow, I’ve managed to either injure or re-injure my left knee. Velophoriacs will know that I spent a good part of the last 12 months trying to shake a very nagging knee injury – actually, both knees, which have chondromalacia.

I have a bunch of theories about how I got it, how I usually am able to fix it, and why it cropped up again today, but I’ll bypass those right now.

I got in a perfectly horrible mood as the pain set in. It started right about when I got all the way “out” for my out-and-back route, and was about to turn “back”. The further I rode, the more it hurt, the slower I went, and the more I started bona fide, vile, base cursing at the top of my lungs. I was thinking about how many months total out of the last year I’ve actually been able to ride the way I wanted. Between knee injuries, overtraining, finishing grad school, moving, and so on, it wasn’t a good number. I was losing it.

Now, I’m back at the house. I’ve showered, had a bite, and some time to relax a bit and think. My usual thing is to take an injury or piece of bad luck and expand it into a disaster – very black and white. As a therapist, I know just how harmful this is to one’s mental health. Doesn’t stop me. I drag myself down into the pit of despair.

Yet today, for right now, I’m just chilling. I’m feeling more… factual about this injury. It’s not because “I’ve done this so many times, I can’t do it to myself again.” It’s not because I know that, every time I do this, it almost never turns out as bad as I think it will – even though I know it’s as possible I’ll feel better tomorrow as it is that I’ll be off the bike for a week or even much more.It’s a different reason this time.

It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m grateful. I came very close to having a bad car accident earlier this week, but God saw fit to make the whole thing pass in the blink of an eye, and I drove on – fully amazed. Not a scratch. It made me think; my life is so much better than I know it is. I was grateful that night, you better believe.

Probably the most important lesson I have to learn to make my life better is this: I have what I have. It’s as simple as that.

In my first year on the bike, which just ended a couple months ago, I pushed, pushed, PUSHED myself to be a faster, stronger rider. I wanted to be a great rider so badly, I could taste it. I thought about it day and night. Nearly drove my saintly wife crazy. Partly as a result of that, I spent much of the year injured or so exhausted I could barely function.

Slowly -- very, very slowly -- those “negative” results are teaching me that I often become obsessed with an idea that is not based in reality. Then I make myself miserable trying to realize it, no matter what it takes.

Like life itself, training can be very confusing: Sometimes we need to push harder, and sometimes we need to pull back – or walk away. When I get fixated on one idea, one goal, it becomes just about impossible for me to pull back. I tend to either want it all, or say “It’s not worth the frustration; I’m ditching the whole thing.”

Today, for Thanksgiving 2008, in addition to all the other wonderful things in my life – my loving and kind wife, my job and career, which I like, my relative good health, my nuclear family all alive and relatively okay, and so much more – I want to say a prayer of thanks for the GOOD rides I had this year. The ones where I really enjoyed myself, whether because of gorgeous scenery, incredible fitness that let me fly past previous limits, great company, or any of the other delightful things that can happen to me on two wheels. And a prayer of EQUAL thanks for the pure flame of desire that keeps me banging up against my shortcomings as a human, so I can learn to balance them out and be happier with what I already have.

Maybe, because of the built-in limits of my body and my life, maybe I’m not destined to be the rider I thought I could be. Or, maybe it won’t happen for a few years, while I work out the kinks as a beginning serious cyclist. Either way, I will live on. And that life is a gift much, much larger than any one goal, no matter how alluring.

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