I grew up thinking that rituals were a waste of time. That they burned minutes and even hours that could be better devoted to other purposes. From mass to the beginning of a Boy Scout meeting, those rituals seemed to merely be a delay getting in the way of more important business.
I didn’t begin to appreciate the nature of ritual until I wandered in the back door by accident.
For more than 15 years, I began most days of the week by rising while it was still dark, going to the bathroom, weighing myself, dressing in my cycling kit, fixing a bottle, grabbing a small bite to eat, donning my helmet and glasses, snugging my shoes, pumping my tires and rolling to the group ride.
Unlike my days of attending mass, I came to appreciate how that ritual was good use of my time. I was doing something that needed to be done. While I literally couldn’t leave home until I was dressed, I came to appreciate how scooping powder into my bottle was as much about preparing my mind as it was my body.
The ritual also included the quiet roll to the start, saying hi to a few friends as we counted down the departure, warming up on those first kilometers and all the while, gradually anticipating the virtual start gun that would go off in my legs with that first effort.
That sequence of repetition put me in a place to be able to undertake maximal efforts despite having been awake less than an hour.
I didn’t really appreciate how powerful that ritual was until I began doing afternoon races, thanks to a category upgrade, and realized that warming up with the sun high in the sky felt as alien as trying a new sport.
I’ve also come to appreciate how doing the same ride week after week is its own kind of ritual, that in knowing where the turns were, the lengths of the straights, it allows us to focus on the effort, the group, the skills. You learn where to position yourself on the straights, in the turns, which wheels to follow—and which to avoid. They are fences that allow us to know the space in which we work. And within that space, one that is as much mental as physical, we are not confined. It frees us to be ourselves.