Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy Suffering To You This ‘Cross season.

And we’re back.
I know I’ve kept my fan waiting for too long but now that cyclocross season is ALMOST HERE. I figure it’s time to restoke this campfire. 
Suffering vs. Talent
When I was in middle school was on the school cross country team.  Actually, I suppose I should clarify that statement a little bit.  The thing about middle school cross country is that only the top 5 guys for your team count towards scoring.  Therefore, if you aren’t one of the 5 fastest guys on your team in the race, all you are really doing is going for a jog. Except instead of just being able to go for a jog from home in your comfortable clothes, you have to take a bus from your own school an hour away to an entirely different school to go for a jog wearing ill-fitting school-issue polyester short shorts and a matching singlet that is three sizes too big, both of which were made during the Carter Administration and have not been not washed since. Then after you are done going for a jog you have to take the bus back to school (for the purposes of “team unity” we are told) and have your parents pick you up from said school even though your parents are right there and could easily take you directly back home in their own comfortable car and might even stop at Burgerville for some tasty onion rings on the way home. The truth is that I really sucked at cross country and never finished a race anywhere close to the top 5 on my team so when I say that I “ran cross country” what I really mean is that I went for some jogs of a prescribed length and route with other equally uncomfortable mid-pubescent adolescents and got to wear special clothes while doing so. 
Honestly, I have no idea whether I have any natural talent as an endurance athlete. Back then I figured that the other guys were just naturally more talented so I moved on to sports that involved trying to make a round object go over/into/through a net.  While I’m sure that some of the really fast guys on my cross country team had natural ability, the truth is that they understood something back then that took me years to learn: how to suffer.
Pain is Temporary, Victory is Forever
A friend of mine, let’s call him “Austin”, has fantastic and often-recounted story from his high school cross country days. He was, and to this day still is, one of those guys who goes really fast in a straight line.  Whatever the sport, if it involves going fast in a straight line, he’s your guy.  Swimming? Yep.  Cycling? Check. Running? Yes.  Speedwalking? Probably. ow, Austin has real athletic talent when it comes to endurance sports.  He qualified and raced Ironman Kona last year and has been competing in straight-line sports since elementary school. But, Austin’s greatest asset is to push himself harder than anybody I know. There is an index I use to measure self-inflicted suffering scale (SISS).  It goes to eleven.  Austin, unlike pretty much anybody I know, is capable of going to eleven on the SISS pretty much at will. 
Austin ran cross country in middle school also.  Unlike me, he was consistently vying for points and quite often the win.  Anyway the story goes something like this. It is districts and EVERYTHING is on the line.  The problem is that a new kid has just moved to town who has been jeopardizing his chances of being district champ.  Austin goes out fast--way too fast--and ends up an incoherent stumbling mess at the finish line.  He is convinced that somebody is tilting the earth beneath his feet (in reality he was just falling over). Then he “sees the light” and, convinced he is dying, starts bequeathing all of his worldly possessions to his friends and teammates in the presence of his distraught mother.  Just as the EMTs are inserting the IV into his arm he is heard shouting “pain is temporary, victory is forever” (note that he didn’t actually win the race) then immediately passes out.
There are so many instances of Austin going to eleven on the SISS throughout his athletic career.  Pretty much this exact scene is repeated by him three years later in high school. Then, during his first marathon a few years later, he was on pace to go sub-3 hours by mile 20. At the finish line, 3:00 passes, then 3:15, then 3:30. Finally at about 3:45, a bedraggled Austin totally covered in dirt with a twig sticking out of his hair comes stumbling up to the line. It took him just over 2 hours to run the first 20 miles and almost two hours to run the last 6. Apparently, somewhere between mile 20 and 22 (nobody is quite sure where) he decided that it was time to take a nap so he crawled into some bushed and slept for some 30 minutes before waking back up and finishing the race. 
I began my relationship with suffering on my road bike after college on the hills that surround San Francisco and Oakland but I cemented my love of suffering once I began racing ‘cross. The best cyclists in the world have a rare combination of natural talent and the ability to take themselves to eleven. I think Jens Voigt is the poster child of this.
Though I’ll never possess the natural talent of a world class cyclist, for me learning to love suffering has been the key to making do with what my momma’ gave me.   Good tidings and happy suffering to you this ‘Cross season.  
Mouth turns into a square at SISS Level 9

No comments:

Post a Comment