One of the complexities of middle age is that the line between knowledge-based confidence and ignorance-inspired misconceptions is usually blurry. The liberation I feel at my lack of concern for the judgment of others is more than offset by the filter that excludes ideas that don’t match my adopted paradigms from being seriously entertained inside my head.
Objectively I do think I know a lot about a lot of things. Realistically I am sure I know a lot less than I think I do. Combining my conceded ignorance with my extraordinary powers of rationalization results in the perfect storm for unexplained phenomena.
One such phenomenon is my exceedingly pedestrian performances in Cyclocross. Whilst I don’t find my meaning in life from my finishing position, I do marvel that my dedication and hard work yield essentially nothing.
With the freakish exception of one season of Cyclocross a few years ago my results have been alarmingly mediocre. For the last two seasons you can take the number of race entrants and divide by two and that is my finishing place plus or minus ten percent.
I’ve read everything about training I can get my hands on and work amazingly hard to be this mediocre. I don’t know what was in my oatmeal in 2010, but aside from that one year of podium finishes, I’ve been remarkably unremarkable.
I’ve laid out training plans and worked hard yet my results have been unaffected by my efforts. Excel spreadsheets and graphs have elegantly documented the acute lack of correlation between planning, execution, effort and the subsequent results. I plan months in advance and tweak my plans as appropriate, yet my race results remain crap.
I spent the first twenty-some years of my life winning (running) races and my transition from victory to philosophical justification has been humbling. My ego doesn’t need to win, but I would like to see something for all of my efforts; measureable improvement would suffice.
I enter each season with high hopes and the first race is inevitably a total bitch-slap. Typically the season opener leaves me scrambling, feeling like I have gone down the wrong path AGAIN!! Nothing like finishing the first race thinking, I must need more base miles!! Too late! I have lamented time and again that nobody works harder to be as mediocre as me.
A chance conversation with a good friend has brought about a different approach for 2014. I have a coach. I was skeptical if this change would bring about different results since (in my ego infused head) I already know everything. My mindset was open and I will confess that I did feel a sense of relief over not having to deal with the day to day planning of my workouts. All I have to do is execute the work. That sounds refreshingly easy.
When I got my first week’s plan from my coach I looked at the workouts for each day. Nothing wild here, I thought. Hard days, easy days, weights…. Then I looked at Thursday evening’s workout. Stairs …..stairs, …..stairs!! I haven’t run stairs in decades.
Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
I had phased lunges out of my weight workouts because they made my gluts sore. I trimmed my interval workouts into my commuting schedule rather than adjusting my commute to include a FULL interval workout. Without noticing it I had cut corners and used my well documented powers of justification to forget the countless compromises and wonder slack-jawed why my results were unchanged.
When I was in physical therapy my torturer made me do lunges. They hurt. I healed. They worked. Then I slacked.
How many things have I phased out of my training because they were hard, or hurt, or were inconvenient? My guess is that in the coming months I shall find out. I had adapted to working hard at the things I wanted to work hard at and excluding the things I didn’t care for. Suddenly the puzzle to my lack of performance was coming together. Oh the powers of rationalization are strong with this one.
Having to be accountable is also valuable not just to make sure I did the hard stuff hard enough, but also to make sure I took it easy when I was supposed to. Many times I was on a recovery ride and feeling pretty good so why not attack the hill? Well, I just made my recovery ride not a recovery ride. Accountability seems to be a good thing. Through the miracle of GPS devices there really is no place to hide. Good as well.
There is some pain in my future. Pain that brings results is welcome. I look forward to it. At least I think I do. One of my first exchanges with my coach echoed of my conversation with my granddaughter when she fell while learning to cross country ski. I’ll paraphrase his answer which concluded our conversation “Yeah, it’s hard.”
I ran those stairs yesterday. Today my legs hurt. Just so you understand let me clarify a few things. I competed in track and cross country for fourteen years. I’ve finished ten marathons. I’ve completed countless other running races. I consistently ran hundred mile weeks in high school and college. I would guess I’ve ridden in excess of fifty thousand kilometers on my bike. My legs have never hurt this much.
There will be pain. Oh yes, there will be more pain.