On her blog, my coach posed the simple question "Why?", as in, "Why do endurance competitors do it?". Here is the link.
I'm posting the link here because we so often discuss the various forms that our cycling takes, from casual 'smell the roses' rides, to loooonnnggg endurance rides, to 'push till your eyes bleed' races. I think we try to understand each other, and that her blog entry, and the response I wrote to her below, might further that understanding.
There comes a point, in any challenging ride, when you see the space in front of your wheel increasing. You are pushing hard, but that space is getting bigger and bigger. You realize it is one of those moments, when you either dig deep down into your reserves to close the gap, or you will find yourself 'Off The Back'.
Off The Back - OTB - Dropped - Detached - Off The Pace - Behind - DFL
However you label it, watching as the pack rides away from you is a disheartening experience. As they pull away, you find yourself slowing even more, not only from the fatigue of trying to hold the too-fast pace, but from the mental letdown which occurs as you are unable to do so. Going OTB can effectively end a race, or destroy a workout session.
But it doesn't have to.
When Coach asked the question "Why?", I thought hard about whether I had honestly answered the question, and whether I had hit the training wall hard and long enough to truly face it. Plus, there are so many reasons not to do what we endurance athletes do, that our thoughts surrounding the question of "why" can become cluttered, and our motivation compromised. We can get so caught up in the process of what we are putting in to our sport, that we lose track of what we are trying to get out of it. I think that is part of what Coach was trying to do in posing the question: clear the clutter; boil it down to the basics of what we are doing and why we are doing it; clean up the thought process. Focus!
In doing so, my answer to coach's question becomes clear.
Off The Back.
In life, just as in my much shorter venture into cycling, there have been many times when I have gone "Off The Back". I haven't performed the way I wanted to at work; I've hurt a friend or lover; I've let down my family. These things happen. If you've lived a life where you haven't experienced "Off The Back" life events, then you are either very young, very sheltered, or have just never 'put yourself out there'. Our mistakes... our failures... is how we learn the most. And in life, the real key is in being able to put those failures behind you, learn from them, forgive yourself if need be, and move on. Remember them, yes, and use them to perform better, but don't dwell on them. Remember them, and you will grow; dwell on them, and you are destined to repeat them - to let them defeat you.
I choose not to be defeated by going Off The Back.
That's my answer. I choose not to be defeated by life experiences, nor by the physical and mental demands of cycling. I will be one of those individuals who are able to push through the physical strain, and who accept the mental and emotional struggles of a sport that constantly reminds us of how far we still have to go.
I'm going to be dropped, again and again. I may not finish with the pack on any given day, but I will finish. I will finish strong, and I will leave every bit of myself out on the course. I will learn from being dropped, but I will not dwell on it. I will get better and better; stronger and stronger. I will grow. And on some days, there will be riders behind me, watching my wheel get further and further away, and they will be asking themselves the question: