My last blog post was published on July 31, a full four months ago. During that period I managed to cancel my participation at the Haute Route, a two week race in Europe that I had spent nine months preparing for, I put on eighteen pounds, worked almost non-stop and racked up more air miles than in the last five years combined.
I hit a low point in mid-September when I figured that I had ridden my bike for a grand total of four hours in eight weeks. I remember sitting in my office one morning feeling an abnormal amount of anxiety, not knowing why. The following few days I did ten hours of exercise and I immediately felt better, no more anxiety. So I was reminded of the benefits of exercising and I told myself I’d never again let myself become unfit. With several business trips planned and a complete lack of desire to haul my bike around as I had done earlier in the year, I headed out to our local running store, bought myself running shoes and started running regularly.
The truth is that getting back in shape, mainly through running, was a small achievement. It actually doesn’t require a large amount of time and motivation to achieve some basic level of fitness. The biggest issue for me remained, putting aside the fact that I am still very busy at work, the evident lack of motivation to set ambitious cycling goals for next year like I had done each year for the last seven years and a complete lack of motivation to train for any specific goal. Gone was the dedication that had led me in the past to ride outside at below freezing temperature, train inside for three or four hours and drive two hours to go do a one hour climb and drive back home another two hours. What if it was gone forever? Cycling had become such a big part of my life.
I had almost convinced myself that everything was ok. I took some comfort in the fact that I was becoming more and more involved in “the business of cycling”. Being the Chairman of a Pro Continental cycling team is a wonderful job. We have a group of very inspiring riders, all of whom have Type 1 diabetes. They are an inspiration to millions of people around the world who are affected by the disease and they are, obviously, an inspiration to me. We have an amazing sponsor and our staff is one of the most professional in the sport.
As part of my job I get to meet a lot of people from the world of cycling, I’m “in the know” and I am convinced one day I will be on the Champs Élysées with our team at the end of the Tour de France. What is there not to like about the job? For a businessman like me who is passionate about the sport it is indeed possibly the best job ever.
I wrote above that “I had almost convinced myself that everything was ok” but not everything was ok. I have not discussed this with anyone, not even my wife or coach, but over the last four months “not everything was ok”. A lot of things went through my mind about my why I had such a lack of motivation: did I just train myself into the ground, did I achieve all my cycling goals and just can’t come up with new ones, how will I explain to my friends next season that I won’t defend the two podiums I got this year, will I go out on group rides next season and be ready to show who’s boss?
When you think about it, none of this truly matters or I should say, it doesn’t matter at all to anyone but me and it shouldn’t matter that much to me. But what can I say, it was a big deal to me. And then this week-end, everything changed.
On Friday night my wife and our youngest daughter ordered sushi. A more accurate way to describe it would be a sushi feast – actually my second one of the week, the first one having been on Tuesday night in Copenhagen. After a few glasses of sake, for some very obscure reason, I decided to weigh myself: 164 pounds compared to my “normal” weight of 148 and my racing weight of 142. Panic. As I normally weigh myself undressed when I get up in the morning I figured that I would weigh myself the next morning and everything would be “normal”.
On Saturday I woke up and weighed myself: 160 pounds! Real panic. Why? Simple: because weighing 148 pounds takes work, dedication and self-discipline. Weighing 160 pounds therefore meant I was slacking off, not being dedicated and had lost my self-discipline. It’s not about the weight itself, it is about what the weight means. I might not have big cycling goals for next year but I sure don’t want to see myself as not working hard, being dedicated and lacking self-discipline. Cycling is a great sport that requires all this. I thought: “Maybe it is time to get back to the basics, focus on why I became so passionate about the sport in the first place.” In the last four months, without knowing it, I was setting myself up for the next challenge.
And because cyclists like numbers, here’s a good way to look at the challenge ahead of me. Assuming I keep the same diet, in order to lose 18 pounds I would have to increase my calorie expenditure in order to lose weight. Since it takes 3,500 kJ to burn a pound, I would have to expend 63,000 kJ to burn off the “excess” weight. Let’s say an average one hour ride represents 600 kJ it means I need to ride my bike 105 hours to get back to 142 pounds. If I can ride six hours a week, it means I have 17.5 weeks – or over four months – worth of work just to get back to where I was in July.
Not being one to waste time, I immediately went to our indoor gym to do a 90 minute class with a group of eight riders. I expended 800 kJ and felt great after the ride. I went back for the same class this morning and that’s when things got back to normal. I smelled blood and I liked it. In conversations with some of the guys who I trained with last season I realized I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I feel: everyone’s motivation seemed to have hit serious lows these past few months. I don’t want to be like my fellow riders, I want to beat them.
And then, once the class started and we got through the first hard 90 seconds intervals, most guys who started with high power levels brought down the watts as the session progressed. I was smelling blood. I went the other way: I cranked up the watts as we got closer to the end. I finished strong and made sure people knew.
How I felt reminded me of a university paper my wife wrote a couple years ago about masculinity and cycling. She wrote: “…competing is not enough; it is also important to win…..not only to prove their worthiness of the state of manhood to others but also to themselves. Achievement and success are crucial to the male psyche. And if things have to get a little bloody, literally or figuratively, so be it.”
And now I understand – I think – what went wrong. I have written a lot about the importance of setting goals: micro goals, small goals, large goals and dream goals. I think I wasn’t following my own advice anymore. I became focused solely on large goals and dream goals. I trained nine months to get ready for two weeks of racing in Europe at the Haute Route and once I got over cancelling this event because of business all I could think about was how big the sacrifices had been, how much commitment the training had required and how much suffering I had endured. I had not reset my mind to being back on the starting line.
What the last two days reminded me of is what I wrote about two years ago and that is that The Longest Journey Begins With A Single Step. So back to basics, it is time for me to set small achievable goals, start enjoying riding and competing again and not allow myself to only find satisfaction in achieving large goals. Large goals are for later. Small wins are important too. Blood is blood.