Going down, there is not much room for thought. Avoid the potholes. Watch for cars. Note the flap of your jacket in the wind, the roar of the wind in your ears. The stop sign. The mostly blind corner. Glance over your shoulder before you bank left and turn back up the hill.
I couldn’t begin to explain to you why I struggle to get out the door for a fun ride with friends, but I can show up every Saturday to ride hill repeats like clockwork. I feel certain this means something about me. Likely something awful.
In going up, you have time to think, too much time, long seconds, eternal minutes, and the thoughts caper by or loop on themselves in amusing and excruciating ways. Of course, there is the intrusion of the pain in your legs and eventually the gasping that makes the whole thing both worthwhile and torturous.
I try to do a few things. I relax my arms and hands as best I can. This requires some concentration. I try to breathe in rhythm, and imagine my breath pumping through my legs. This helps me feel more efficient. Finally, I try to find my best climbing position. This is normally scooted forward on the saddle just a little, with my chest up and open. Doing these three things, relaxed hands and arms, rhythmic breathing, and correct position, takes up an awful lot of thought cycles and makes things easier.
I try to visualize myself on an upcoming race day and recall that this work goes into doing well on the day, or at least into not embarrassing myself. The avoidance of embarrassment is a powerful motivator for me.
Then there’s metal. I’m not a proponent of wearing headphones while riding bikes. I believe when you’re riding you should try to be as immersed in your environment as possible, both for the experience of moving through space and for the sake of simple safety. When I ride hill repeats I listen to music. Loud. The volume and intensity of music makes me feel a bit calmer and blots out many of the random, chaotic and often negative things that might rise up in my conscious mind otherwise. I have a playlist on my phone called Hill F*%$er that packs a lot of noise into 90 minutes.
Also, there is anger. When I get tired. When the legs hurt. When my body starts to agitate for calories I can’t choke down because of the aforementioned gasping. That’s when the rage bubbles up, and I get lost in hating every car that drives by or resenting every minor gust of headwind. I don’t particularly care for this, but it happens. When I notice, I try to laugh at myself for succumbing so easily to the chemical predations of the task at hand.
I spend a lot of time trying to keep straight in my head how many laps I’ve done. You would think counting to ten is pretty straightforward, but when you mix concentrating on your form with loud metal, physical discomfort, and bursts of irrational anger you lose track and/or second guess yourself.
Finally, there is the process of arguing with yourself over how many laps, how many times up and back you’re actually going to do. You start out with a goal. You convince yourself you’ll cheat the goal. You find a second wind, consider pushing on. I never really know what I’m doing until I’m done, assuming I’ve counted properly. It’s sort of a beautiful shit show between my ears, the best and worst of me.
Maybe that’s why I keep showing up.
This week’s Group Ride asks, what do you think of while you’re climbing? Or simply when the going gets tough? When are you most likely to push through? When are you most likely to give up?