By Kevin Kolodziejski
A Question to Ponder Before You Resolve Anything on January 1
Your neighbors do it, your co-workers do it, your relatives do it. In all likelihood, you do it, too.
You all do it despite the fact one study shows you’re not particularly good at it. Another finds about a 90 percent chance that in a few months’ time you’ll have little to show for it. Because by then you’re doing it no more, and any good from previously doing so has walked out the door. So what’s the “it” I’ve been teasing you with?
Making a New Year’s Resolution
It’s a cultural tradition, possibly a bit of fun, and certainly a hopeful action, so many cyclists make a riding-related, results-based New Year’s resolution. But as the aforementioned studies suggest, the New Year’s resolution as an agent of change is woefully ineffective. What starts out as fun and creates hope inevitably causes frustration. The sort of frustration that makes quitters out of the general population.
But you’re not part of the gen pop or a pipe dreamer, either. I know this because of a conviction I hold and shared with you the first time I ever wrote for RBR. That when it comes to cycling, you and I are twin sons of different mothers.
That while we enjoy cycling so much for several reasons, when all is said and done, it’s not really the camaraderie, competition, or cal burn that makes cycling a gotta-do-it-all-the-time activity. It’s the way it makes us feel.
Riding to Feel
We love how three weeks of emotional highs and lows are somehow packed inside a demanding three-hour ride. We accept the lows as part of the process and crave the highs to such a degree that we take steps to insure they happen regularly when we ride. One of these steps is goal setting.
But what I’ve found out — and you need to seriously consider — is how easy it is to concoct a results-based cycling goal (possibly in the form of an alcohol-inspired New Year’s resolution) that’s a bit misguided, a bit off target. Those work about as well as some kid with a lifelong addiction to Call of Duty making a New Year’s resolution to never play a first-person shooter game again. So what should be your goal (your sober New Year’s cycling resolution), your true cycling bullseye?
Riding to Feel ‘The Feel’
Remember that well-known observation Malcolm Gladwell makes in Outliers? The one that often gets mentioned in articles about what really makes talent or produces genius. That it takes 10,000 hours or so of practice or apprenticeship or whatever you want to call climbing the learning curve to reach a truly high talent level in a profession or an endeavor.
Messing around with numbers one day, I discovered that for me and cycling that hour total was pretty close to accurate. Hold on now, I’m not claiming to be a genius or that I ever possessed a more than a modicum of two-wheeled talent. But what I know is that it took nearly 10,000 hours atop those two wheels until I started winning important races with regularity.
In fact, I actually had two years in my late 40s where I raced a bit less, did mostly time trials (with a few hilly road races thrown in for good measure), and won just shy of half the races I entered. Now I’m not trying to impress you. Winning a TT in Pennsylvania carries the same clout as receiving a participation trophy from your Little League baseball team that went 1-15. Here’s why you need to know I won my fair share of races.
Because when I reminisce about cycling, I don’t get nostalgic about victories. I focus on feelings. And especially those times — whether I won a race or survived a turn-your-insides-out training ride — I felt what I’ve been referring to as “The Feel.”
Defining ‘The Feel’
How to best explain what I’m talking about? You know those rare times when you’re riding really hard, and the effort does indeed feel hard but paradoxically doable? Next, your body and mind by some means even further synchronize, and you find yourself going that little bit harder. Thriving on it because it just feels right. Filled with the sense of “I can do this,” so you increase your effort again. Your eyes might bug out, your legs may burn, salt might outline your chamois and slobber slime your seat tube, but you’re feeling mysteriously might fine.
It’s riding the red line the way Karl Wallenda walked the high wire. It’s exceeding your limits while knowing you’re doing so and not feeling any effects from it 10k later.
It’s “The Feel.”
It’s why I still turn the pedals nearly 600 hours a year.
To feel that way for five.
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.
“That when it comes to cycling, you and I are twin sons of different mothers.” That makes me wonder if you’re writing mostly to men, and how many of us RBR readers are women. This newsletter was introduced to me a few years ago by a cycling girlfriend. I’ve forwarded it to a dozen others. I like improving my skills and gaining cycling knowledge. This year I spent roughly 500 hours road bike riding 8500 miles, mostly club rides or with husband*, no races,. However I can relate to the “feel” when I’m hanging in with faster club riders or during a breakaway, or when I have a personal record, like averaging 19.2 mph for my first century this year….it was flat. I enjoy your well-written articles and this newsletter. *My husband doesn’t ride as much as me, and he can almost keep up with me.😉 Yay, women cyclists!
Elsewhere in existential cycling, that “feel” relates to Rule #5 and therefore also to cycling or living the “V“ (pronounced “the 5”). The “feel” exists, but if you are not cycling the “V,” then you do not have the feel. In the end, only the “V” matters.