By Kevin Kolodziejski
Have you ever had a pretty bad ride somehow turn into a pretty good one, seemingly without rhyme or reason?
If so and you’d like an explanation of how that happened, I just may have one for you. It’s based on personal experience, a bit involved, and you need to answer an additional — and seemingly odd — question first. Have you ever seen a set of Russian tea dolls?
Also known as nesting or stacking dolls, they’re beautifully and elaborately painted and made of wood. Their insides are hollow and they unscrew in the middle so that the four or five individual dolls fit one inside another. Often, the largest portrays an older peasant woman. If that’s the case, the other depictions of peasant women get younger and younger as they get smaller and smaller, and the set ends with an infant.
Keep those dolls in the back of your mind as I tell you what was front and center in mine one night as I prepared for bed not too long ago. That morning, I had ridden better than I could’ve ever hoped for — indoors as a result of the Canadian wildfires and on a time trial bike affixed to a rusty old wind trainer — for 90 of minutes of mostly intervals. But this only occurred after a 35-minute warmup that was, well . . . far more painful than promising.
So as I turned down the covers, I reviewed the ride and racked my brain for the hows and the whys that led to the turnabout.
Reviewing the Ride, Racking My Brain
Even when I increased my effort toward the end of the warmup, that dead-legs feeling — the one that normally means it’s best to spin easily and recover — never really dissipated. So what in the name of Jens Voight got into my head, made me say, “Shut up, legs,” go aero, and do intervals? Doing aero intervals was something I had given up long ago once it started producing a pulsating pain in my ball-and-socket joints and glutes, the aftermath of titanium rods being attached to my femurs after fracturing them in separate crashes.
Yet on this day, I did 12 of what I call “on-off” intervals, riding a bit harder than TT pace for 4 minutes followed by 1 minute of easy pedaling before finishing with 15 minutes of high RPM work to enhance form and a 15-minute cooldown. Granted, the discomfort in my hips and glutes wasn’t too bad that day, but there had to be something more, something more than less discomfort, that allowed me overrule common sense and experience that special sense we all get on an especially good ride.
And then I spied that something more as I sat on the bed and put my eyeglasses on the nightstand.
Holiday’s Right: The Obstacle Is the Way
For a fortnight or so I had been reading The Obstacle Is the Way (Portfolio, 2014) by Ryan Holiday, specifically because of what I had suggested about two weeks before that to the readers of the weekly health and fitness column I write for a newspaper in PA. To reread “quake” books — books you had previously read that rocked your world and got you thinking right.
The explanation for that morning’s magic ride is that book’s title, the meaning of which Holiday explains in the introduction by posing two questions. What if those “frustrating, unfortunate, problematic, unexpected” obstacles preventing you from doing what you want to do weren’t really so bad? What if you could actually find certain benefits “embedded inside or inherent” in them?
That would certainly produce a positive mindset. The sort that caused Holiday’s long-gone mentor Marcus Aurelius to realize “what stands in the way becomes the way.”
Pain and Poor Air Quality: No Problem
The first thing in my way that morning came via Canada: the poor air quality brought on by wildfires. It would keep my ride inside, something I don’t like doing in the summer in my sweltering attic. The second came from a workout plan that originally called for a hard 60 minutes of riding as part of a longer outdoor ride.
Since I train based on heart rate, rate of perceived effort, and not a power meter, it does you no good to hear additional details of the ride that needed to be moved indoors. But since your mind, just like mine, can sometimes go awry, it could be good to hear a bit of what’s in Holiday’s book.
Like his view on perception. “Just because your mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative doesn’t mean you have to agree. Just because other people say that something is hopeless or crazy or broken to pieces doesn’t mean it is. We decide what story to tell.”
Beside those words in my book, I have written, “Who’s always in charge of you?” It’s the question I found myself asking the during the aforementioned workout warmup. With each answer —“I am in charge”— I found more resolve. And by interval number 2, I felt really, really good. And really, really grateful I could go this hard — even though it wasn’t nearly as hard as what I could do before broken leg number 2.
Time to Recall the Russian Tea Dolls
It’s time for you to recall the Russian tea dolls and for me to get deep.
Your body, soul, spirit, and mind are separate entities, but you are only truly whole — and therefore only truly healthy and capable of those especially good rides — when you unify them, when you find a way to fit one inside another inside another.
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.