Friday, December 5, 2008

Competition and Joy

… being free of the need to win results in greater personal power and performance. Let the possibility of winning keep you alert and sharp. If you win, terrific; if not, feel the joy and satisfaction of having participated. Focus on how well you are mastering specific skills. Notice how the event provided you with an opportunity to display your skills against challenging competition. Win or lose, you have to dig down inside and discover other aspects of your essence.

Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch, Thinking Body, Dancing Mind
Is this something you can do? Can you compete just for the joy of it?

More and more these days, I’m convinced that it takes true self-esteem to do this. Personally, I don’t know if I’m capable of it. My worst self sometimes comes out in competition. I tend to become very “all or nothing,” and to take losing -- and winning -- much too personally.

Which is why I’ve stayed away from racing so far. If I trained for racing, I would likely take the whole thing ridiculously seriously, all out of proportion to my low level of experience and talent. And all because I can’t stand to perform one iota less than my ultimate. And – to give the full confession -- because I hate losing more than I love winning. Sri Bobke says this is the secret to being a great racer. The problem is, if you start from there, you can never enjoy yourself – you’re always trying to pedal faster than the inner hounds snapping at your metaphorical heels. And those suckers have no ceiling on their VO2 max.

Still, I can’t stay away from the thought of racing. I tease myself with it over and over. And, if I do it, being the good therapist I am (or try to be), I would have to take the challenge that Huang and Lynch throw down in that quote. So, there’s a chance it could be a healing and empowering experience on an important level.

Last night, I was browsing around the ‘net trying to find out if anyone else out there is bent enough to think about the kinds of things I do when I’m riding my bike. I found the following at, a blog by a fellow who calls himself Grizzly Adam:
I see myself focusing more on speed in the coming year. More on racing, on competition, on winning. The last several months have seen me explore the intangible, even spiritual side of mountain biking… If the idealism I am envisioning is possible in reality, then 2009 will see a merging of both sentiments, both aspects of riding. That is, the speed and the serenity will combine into what I hope will be something like the observations of Abbey and the competitive cruelty of Eddie Merckx.
(Go here for the whole piece – and check the rest of the blog out while you’re there. It’s good writing.)

So, we might be few, but clearly I’m not alone out here, trying to pedal holistic circles long enough to alchemically merge some of these polar opposites inside me. Wish me luck, and lots of glucose.


suitcaseofcourage said...

This was a particularly good post and mirrors my sentiments just about perfectly. When I didn't have a team to ride with/for, I was always out to win. And that put insane pressure on me. I'm now hoping to join a team and am REALLY looking forward to being free from "having" to win. I'm sure I'll enjoy racing even more.

Now, I gotta digest this post some more . . . good eatin'!

Velosopher said...

Wow, SoC, you are really kind. Thank you so much. It means the world to know that people are out there eatin' up the stuff I cook up in the quiet of my kitchen, laptop and snack on the table.

Thanks for the thoughts about your own journey with this question. I know I'll be posting more about this, it's one of the salient things happening in my mind these days. I'd also be curious to know of any posts you've got that touch on the topic.

De.Corday said...

Sorry, i just stumbled here from No One Line, so this is the first post I've read... do you ride with a group often? I find that riding with the same group has let me put a lot in perspective... Its shown me that my fastest friends (the kinds who can time trial 5mph faster than me) have days where they can't hold on to my wheel, and its also shown me that even when they drop me they still respect me as a rider. I'm still terrified to race (still on the fence regarding a March Crit), but it's definitely calmed my all or nothing instincts. Just my .02.

Velosopher said...

De.corday, you're most welcome here to read and comment on any post at all. I appreciate your thoughts. Because of constant change in my life since I got back into cycling 16 months ago, I've not been able to establish a relationship with one group ride, but it's definitely a goal of mine. I'm not surprised at the kinds of things one can learn from such an ongoing and engaged relationship.

If you surf forward in my posts, you'll see that I decided just recently to take on racing. But the life changes keep coming, so I'm not yet able to pick a date.

Best of luck with your decision -- either way, enjoy the ride!

No One Line said...

I get further confirmation that you are an interesting, calm, thoughtful person, Velosopher.

For me, competing is still me with-and-against my body, and "against other people" is just the context. Maybe that's why I'm much more interested in cycling competition than other sports. I don't view cycling as being about defeating the other (well, I do, but not in its essence). I view it as being more about controlling/stewarding/applying my body.

I also take consolation in combining two facts. One is that compared to nonriders that I know, I am in amazing shape. God-like. I can ride a bike all day, climb hills, and sprint a bicycle over 35mph. The other is that I am the weakest of sauces compared to professionals, who are freakish in their physiology and ability. In a spectrum that broad I simply must conclude that a victory of mine, no matter how well executed, is in a large part due to the random or at least haphazard combination of other riders present, despite USAC's categorizations.

I'll still train and race, of course, but I have to see it as me with-and-against my body, with-and-against my bicycle, with-and-against the road.

Velosopher said...

NOL, that was really very gratifying to read. Thank you for your insightful perspective on competition!

It's pretty much what the quote at the top of the post was saying, isn't it?

Suitcase of Courage said...

Thanks V for pointing us back to this post - I didn't know the comments section had developed the way it did. I particularly liked this from NOL:

"In a spectrum that broad I simply must conclude that a victory of mine, no matter how well executed, is in a large part due to the random or at least haphazard combination of other riders present, despite USAC's categorizations."

Now THAT puts things in perspective - and, as you rightly point out, is perfectly in line with that you're saying.

Racing can be even more fun this way. Hope to see you (and DeCorday!) out there this season!

Velosopher said...

SoC, I agree that NOL's comments were extra-fine on this thread.

We definitely have formed a counter-cultural niche, here. If this were the 1950s, someone would have called HUAC by now. It's really heartening to find racers who do it for the joy; seems like win/lose to you guys is just another variable. It's great.