Sunday, March 6, 2011

Motivation, Part II (aka Same Day, Second Verse)

After I got out the door today, I spent a lot of my ride thinking about motivation. I also spent a lot of time thinking about getting to watch Paris-Nice on TV. Cycling on television! Can I get a Hell Yeah?? (Paris-Nice did not disappoint. After I'm done writing, I'll probably spend half an hour reading articles about the race I watched, as if the outcome will somehow be different.)

Motivation was on my mind for two reasons. First, a friend recently asked my wife the Ironman about what motivates her, and we discussed the blog she wrote about it. Second, I have noticed my will to train has flagged a bit lately, and I have been concerned.

I've always had a fairly stoic approach to motivation. I don't always enthusiastically bound out the door for a training session. While training is at times fun, for me, it has always been a means to an end--to be a fitter and fiercer competitor. Many people who know that I spend a lot of my life pounding out miles are surprised to learn that I don't enjoy every minute of it. I don't. But I love racing, and that enlivens every training session I undertake.

Strangely, this makes me look forward to the workouts that most people dread. I enjoy grinding out hill repeats or interval sessions more than I enjoy leisurely training rides or runs. The workouts I enjoy most are the ones that I sense have a direct effect on my ability to stomp my competitors when we race. When I was in high school, I would read articles in Runner's World about folks who would relish the opportunity to commune with nature during their weekly long runs. I am not one of those people. I believe that this is one big reason why I have yet to make the step up to ultra-endurance events.

Today, as I thought about what motivates me, I kept coming back to a quotation from Emil Zatopek, the Czech runner who inspired the title of this blog:

If one can stick to the training throughout the many long years, then will power is no longer a problem. It's raining? That doesn't matter. I am tired? That's besides the point.
It's simply that I must.

I'm stuck on the word "must." This "must" is the core of his motivation. For Zatopek, there was no motivated or unmotivated; there was only "must." Of course, Zatopek was a professional. Indeed, for him, training even when he didn't feel like it was a must, just as I must go to work tomorrow morning even though I'd rather . . . do . . . almost anything else. (It's a tough time of year for teachers.) But I sense something deeper in his words, and it's at that level that I feel I can relate.

Do I have to train? Do I have to race? Must I be an endurance athlete? After spending thousands of hours covering tens of thousands of miles, after enduring injuries and surgeries and painful therapies, after devoting more time and money than I have to spend on bikes and books and clothes and entry fees, I have concluded: Yes, I must. At this point in my life, being an athlete is such a deeply ingrained part of my self-concept that I really have no other choice. I have experimented with being someone else--an intellect, for example, during the two times in my life when I was burying myself in pursuit of advanced degrees--but i have always felt that my life was out of balance. It was; endurance athletics are a pillar on which I am built. I've spent two-thirds of my life in search of fast times--in search of the most pleasant exhaustion. It's who I am.

So for me, it's never going to be a matter of being motivated to train. I will have as many days when I don't want to train as days when I do. Rather, it's a matter of conscience; if I am to be true to myself, I can do no other.

I resolved to put a picture in my blog every time I write, so here's one of Emil dropping the hammer in Helsinki.

I'm having a hard time getting motivated today. There are two reasons. First, I have basically the same ride on my schedule that I did yesterday: a three-hour ride with a few surges thrown in. There's not a lot of excitement there. (And three hours is not a short period of time by any absolute standard. Cycling, unlike most sports, takes SO MUCH TIME.) This is magnified by the fact that I'm not doing what I wanted to be doing today: racing in Greenville. I realized this morning that there was a race today in sunny Albany, GA, and I could have gone to that. Doh!
Second, it's a bit cold. I've grown quickly accustomed to temperatures of over sixty degrees, even though it's only the beginning of March. Today, it's a windy 45. I realize that that is not really all that cold--I've lived in very cold climates, and I've had days on my bike where my bottles froze and I was unable to feel my fingertips for two days. 45 will give me no such issues. But at 45, I'm going to have to wear a jacket and thicker gloves. Yuck.

At times like these, I enjoy this video:

Of the 1.85 million hits this video has gotten, I probably account for a couple thousand. My favorite part is when he stands up at 4:12 into the video. Too bad I don't have any mountains to climb today.

Okay, time to suit up and head out.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


My wife keeps a blog, and she's got loads of followers. She writes in it regularly, and she includes all sorts of pictures and videos. It's great; in fact, it is one reason that she was recently added to Team Trakkers. We have already received at our house all sorts of great stuff, including compression boots, TriSwim products, Avia running shoes, First Endurance products, and a few other things. Most excitingly, there are currently two Kestrel bikes on their way to our house--one of each of us. They were by no means free, but we got them at a substantial discount as a result of her being sponsored. Sweet. Perhaps I should endeavor to make my blog more like hers.

I ran the Disney Half Marathon last month and did well. My "reach goal" was to break 1:18:00, and I wanted to finish in the top twenty. In fact, I ran 1:16:20, and I finished thirteenth. I was second in my age group in a race that had 21,000 starters. Pretty good. Here's a pic:

It was a fun race; I passed about fifty people along the way because I ran even splits. The highlight was walking into the gear tent at the end and having all of the volunteers break into applause. I also liked it when I ran past an elf about eleven miles into the race, and he said, "Hurry, human! The sun is coming up!" I made it to the finish right at first light.) Only at Disney.

Of course, also in the "Only at Disney" category: having to pay for water, massage therapy, and even a place to sit down at the finish line. To be honest, while I had fun in the race, and it came at the perfect time of year, I'm not keen to go down there again and be a party to all of their nickel-and-diming. I would like it if there was an alternative.

As it turns out, we were stuck at Disney for the next several days while snow and ice socked Atlanta. We stayed until Thursday (after having planned to leave on Monday), and racked up a bit more time in the parks. It was fun--Florida was the only state in the U.S. that week not to get snow--but it was also a bit stressful to go well beyond budget for the trip. When we got back to Atlanta, two days after the peak of the winter weather, it looked like things used to look when I lived in DC, Michigan, and New Hampshire. Crazy.

So then on to the cycling season. I did my first races last weekend in Greenville. Another pic:

(I'm the guy on second wheel on the right wearing my State Champion's jersey.)

While it was great to get the cycling season underway, the weekend didn't quite turn out as I had hoped. I had some good efforts, but I got no results. On the first day, I couldn't get away from the pack. (My efforts, though, helped to launch two other guys, and they ended up first and second in the race.) On the second day, I worked so hard to get a break formed that I couldn't stay on the wheels of my fellow escapees. And then one of them won.

Bike racing: so much boils down to how the race unfolds. I know that, but I still haven't really accepted it. In running, you prepare and you race, and unless you have a bad race, you'll do well. In cycling, you can have a really good day and still not finish where you want. Like I said, I know this, but it's nonetheless hard to take.

The upside is that last weekend's races also marked the start of the cycling season for me. I hardly go for more than a couple of weeks over the next few months without an event. This weekend--right now, in fact--I had planned to be in Greenville for a couple more races (one of which I won two years ago). Unfortunately, though, it's raining today, and it's against family rules for me to race in the rain ever since I had a serious crash during a race in the rain almost exactly two years ago. I have to look forward to my next race in two weeks, and I have to keep my fingers crossed that it won't rain that day.

So, I'm now racing in earnest. That's exciting! Rather than looking months down the road for a single event, I now have opportunities to compete and win quite regularly. This is the start of the time of year that I enjoy. 2010 was very successful; we'll have to see what 2011 holds.