By Kevin Kolodziejski
Of Einstein, Insanity, and New Year’s Day Resolutions
An article that alludes to New Year’s Day resolutions and appears on the 20th of January may seem 20 days late. Actually, it’s 12 days early. That’s because it’s not about making them but breaking them.
According to a survey conducted by OnePoll and cited in the New York Post in 2020, the average person abandons an NYD resolution in 32 days. In fact, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed gave up on theirs before that time. Before I write what I think about that, I’ll share an image stuck in my mind. It’s of Albert Einstein, wizened and wild-haired, and what he’s saying as I see him has nothing to do with the curvature of a four-dimensional space-time continuum. Instead, it’s that famous line writer Garston O’Toole argues that he never really uttered:
That doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.
Whether Einstein actually said this or not, it happens to be true. It’s also happens to be the perfect saying to remember if hearing “Auld Lang Syne” or seeing the ball drop on Times Square makes you resolve to do something about your cycling or present circumstance in general. Considering the aforementioned stats, doing so is such a sucker’s bet that we really should question your state of mind.
Another Example of Insanity: Biking the Iditarod Trail
The same sort of questioning should be done about anyone who tries to bike the 1000 miles from Anchorage to Nome in what’s now called the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a holy grail so absolutely gonzo that it was once only attempted with dog sleds. Do this bike race and you’ll encounter blizzards, gale-force winds, and minus 50 F temperatures on some days. On others, you may push your bike through powdery snow or slush for hours. Regardless of the conditions, you must carry all the gear you need with you — though you can send additional supplies to the villages on the course before the race starts.
In 2020, the trio of riders declared the winners covered the course in a mind-numbing — and limb-numbing — 22 days, seven hours, and 30 minutes. That’s two and a third days longer than the Tour de France and done without the TdF’s two mandated rest days. What do you think Einstein would say about such a race — and that this year’s limit of 75 competitors is already sold out?
How One Iditarod Biker Avoids Boredom
Troy Szczurkowski finished third in the Iditarod in 2019. In an article for Australian Mountain Bike Magazine, he addresses a misconception people have about the race. Because the pace is so slow — the 2020 winners averaged about 45 miles per day — the general belief is that the race gets boring. But Szczurkowski experiences the opposite, and here’s why. He constantly does what he calls “self-diagnostic checks” of his body and bike every 15 minutes or so.
But he does so not to avert boredom; it’s what’s needed to survive and thrive on such a ride. While he doesn’t go into details about his process, the phrase resonates with me. It’s similar to what I say to myself sometimes to get my mind right before and during a ride, especially one designed to promote recovery. To ride as mindfully and methodically as a pilot checks the plane pre-flight. As luck would have it, I read the article about Szczurkowski’s approach to the Iditarod the same day I read about the failure rate of NYD resolutions, so making the following suggestion to you makes more sense to me — a whole lot more, honestly — than Einstein’s E=mc2.
Replace NYD Resolutions with Daily Self-Diagnostic Checks
Before you give short shrift to this suggestion, allow me to explain why NYD resolutions don’t work for most people. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with their will; it’s the world. The world is all . . . all fluxed up. Really fluxed up. That’s become even more painfully evident because of the ongoing pandemic.
Personal case in point: During the summer of 2020, I went through the hassle of renewing all my government clearances in order to teach school in Pennsylvania for another five years. By early August, I was rewriting my first month’s lesson plans to keep them copacetic with how we taught virtually at the end of the last school year. On August 11, however, I realized those plans would never be used. As I sat in on a Zoom conference, I learned my school district was changing our manner of virtual instruction necessitated by the pandemic. What we would now do was even more antithetical to my idea of real education than what we did last year, and I wanted no part of it. So three days later, I retired — something that only four days ago was unimaginable.
We seek stability, my friend, but what we get is flux.
Why Mention Retirement and NYD Resolutions in a Self-Help Cycling Article?
Because I enjoy teaching as much as cycling. So much, in fact, I was still teaching a year and a half after I maxed out my pension and was actually losing money by doing so. At least that’s the way my financial advisor explained it to me. And one of the things I enjoyed the most about teaching was figuring out a slightly different way to present the material to the students who struggled to “get it” initially.
Traditionally, you’ve been taught to create NYD resolutions, but according to the previously mentioned failure rates, most people aren’t “getting it.” And before you say that’s a trivial thing, consider this nugget from the OnePoll survey: Nearly three in four respondents felt the “little failures” in life, like not sticking to a diet or not exercising enough, lead to life’s bigger disappointments and regrets.
Self-Diagnostic Checks Applied to Your Cycling
So here’s an example of what I’m suggesting. If you made a NYD resolution to drop 10 pounds so you can hang with your buddies on hilly rides, for instance, renounce it immediately.
Instead, do a few self-diagnostic checks every time you eat. Ask yourself if you’re eating slowly, savoring your food, and if you’re ending the meal not when your plate is empty, but as soon as you’ve had enough. Do the same on rides. Savor them and end them when you’ve had enough. Check your form and how you’re feeling frequently — and particularly during the lead-in and the early stages of longer and steeper climbs.
Don’t think about the climb. Feel it.
If you do so, you might recognize that you’ve been tensing up and wasting energy because you’re so worried about being dropped. Or that if you stay seated and spin when your buddies stand, your glutes and quads don’t sting as much and it’s not as taxing on your lungs.
Either way, you’re helping both your cycling and your psyche far more than resolving to do something that’s forgotten in one month.
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.
Jim Bailey says
Kevin, The insanity quote often attributed to Einstein, in fact, came from Narcotics Anonymous. It’s in good company with other wrongly-attributed sayings, such as “better to be a fool and remain silent, than to speak and remove all doubt”, which will be credited to Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, and even Jesus Christ.