It happens every year.
I love riding fast. I love feeling strong. Crushing a 30- or 40-miler is just pure joy. So, when I get on a bike alone, I find it very hard not to push. And when I push, I get stronger. (So far, so good.) And when I get stronger, I set racing-type goals. (Uh-huh…) Then I push more. (Uh, wait…) Somewhere around there, a major stressor (or two, or three) pops up in my life. Still I push. (Yes, I do include recovery weeks.) Slowly, subtly, I start losing sleep. Start feeling dead in the legs. Start not wanting to ride, and feeling cranky all the time.
Still I push – because I set a goal, and reaching goals is noble, right? It makes us feel good, right? Onward!
But is that really why I push so hard? No.
I push because I hate myself. Or some part of me does.
The part of me that wants to prove that bully from summer camp wrong by ripping the legs off of his stand-in on the latest group ride – but at the same time, agrees with him that I’m a worthless lump. It’s shame, pure and simple.
It’s sometimes said (a little simplistically) that strong competitors either love to win or hate to lose. I’d have to put myself in the second category. If I can ride faster than someone, I often feel an unhealthy high, which comes more from relief than joy. “Phew!! I'm okay. I beat someone, so I must be okay!” How far is that from the pure joy of crushing a solo 40-miler? It’s measurable only in light-years.
This stuff feeds off shame like a cancer. After decades of working on myself, I like to think there isn’t any self-hatred left; then I start to feel strong on the bike, and Voila! Mr. Kill-or-be-Worthless comes crashing through the locked door to the basement of my psyche, and starts setting off M-80s and stink bombs.
I’ve basically never known the bright joy of healthy competition. I have friends who compete that way; the rush, the effort, the jostling for position… it’s all goodness to them. If they win, great! If not, oh, well – they have a killer story. I would really like to know what that feels like.
Until that day, I may have to steer clear of most competition -- or find a way to sneak up on it and take it by surprise. All suggesions are welcome.