By Kevin Kolodziejski
Of Socrates and Cyclists
What do you sometimes share in common with that esteemed Greek philosopher, not when you are discussing virtue, justice, and piety with fellow citizens but when you are pedaling Treks, Giants, and Cervelos with fellow cyclists? You generate outrage in . . . shall we say? . . . less-than-enlightened individuals.
It’s just the less-than-enlightened Athenians back then acted upon their outrage differently. Sure, you’ve been cursed at and cut off by some moronic mouth breather behind the wheel (time to end the euphemizing and call a spade a spade), but you’ve never been taken to court by some chariot-driving dimwit with season tickets to the Lions vs. the Christians and a frequent-user discount at the downtown vomitorium. Worse — much worse — a jury of his myopic peers has never sentenced you to drinking from a water bottle laced with a little bit of hemlock.
Before Socrates received such a death sentence centuries ago, he said something about life I believe applies to every ride — even the ones marred by ugly encounters with moronic mouth breathers. He said, “The life which is unexamined is not worth living.” To wit, I’ll say, “The bike ride which is unexamined is not worth taking” and explain why.
The Italians Are Only Half Right
“Una brutta corsa e meglio di nessuna corsa” sounds really cool when a native speaker says it and means “A bad ride is better than no ride at all.” So how could I, a guy who has had hundreds of bad rides in the last 35 years yet always comes back for more, find fault with any espresso-sipper saying that? It is, ironically, because I love all aspects of cycling.
Not only the act of riding but also the end results.
Now maybe something is getting lost in translation, so I’ll clarify with compass directions and common idiom. If an Italian uses that phrase when a ride “goes south” — when a recovery ride has the opposite effect or a group ride gets mucked up by a mechanical or bad weather — I’m in full agreement. At the end of the day after a “bad” ride like that, I have no regrets. I’m still content. I still feel, to borrow Joe Rogan’s words, I’ve “earned the sunset.”
But there are certain times when the riding needs to “go north” for me to appreciate the close of day: when the group goes all-out on the ride we call the Derby, for instance. Now you can say I’m psychopathic about cycling (or in deep denial of my age), but if I lose contact with the leaders near the end, I’m as bummed out as if I crashed out of the Tour de France wearing the Maillot Jaune. But there’s something I do to counteract that — and you can do it too — all the while paying homage to Socrates. Examine each ride. But, unlike Socrates, don’t rely on Plato to write down your ruminations.
Do that daily, review your writings frequently, and guess what? You’ll see the patterns that lead to that great ride two weeks ago and that absolute stinker two days ago. Either way, you’ll strengthen something just as important as your glutes and the quads.
Belief: The Antidote for the Bummed-Out Biker
While you may associate writing down what’s noteworthy about each ride — the climatic conditions, your bodily sensations, heart rate, and perceived rate of exertion — with toe clips, 12 speeds, and downtube shifters, doing so and reviewing your rides regularly provides what users of power meters and clients of coaches really seek: the inexorable strength in belief.
Years ago, I got to know a rider who bagged a few top-10 finishes late one season after being pack fodder for years. Inspired, he picked up a power meter, hired a well-respected coach, and rode with more focus in the offseason than ever before. But he only raced two or three times the next year, finished well off the front in each, and was riding merely for recreation by May.
Months later on a group ride, I asked him what happened. He claimed the coach’s workouts created burnout, yet when he detailed them, I couldn’t see how. What the guy said more than once was more telling: That from the start, he didn’t believe the coach’s workouts were working.
Do not dismiss his verb choice. I’m sure he would not have believed he was burned out in May if he had garnered great results in April. Instead, he would’ve believed in his workouts and his coach and garnered more great results. Fervent belief, my friend, can produce a power that rivals Tadej Pogacar’s.
Belief Changes the Brain
A bit skeptical about what you just read? If so, another personal anecdote is unlikely to suffice, but research from Yale University just might. Published in the July 2011 issue of Health Psychology, the study titled “Mind Over Milkshakes” is simple enough.
Researchers recruited 46 subjects to drink milkshakes on two different occasions. Each time they took before-and-after blood samples, and each time the subjects read a full description of either the 620-calorie “indulgent” shake or the 140-calorie “sensible” one. Except the full descriptions were full of it. The shakes were the same. Both contained the same ingredients and 380 calories.
The blood samples taken after the subjects drank the shakes, however, were not. Those taken after the subjects believed they had consumed 620 calories created “a dramatically steeper decline” in ghrelin than those taken after the subjects believed they had consumed 140 calories. This is a big deal.
When ghrelin circulates in your blood system, it signals to your brain the need to eat. As a result, there’s more of it in your blood when you feel hungry and less of it in your blood when you feel full. But not in this study. In this study, the amount ghrelin secreted and circulating in the blood system “was consistent with what they believed they were consuming,” not with what the subjects actually consumed.
Talk about the power of belief.
And you can build it and tap into it by examining each ride.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.