Friday, August 25, 2017

Unracing


I spectated a few of the Tuesday night mountain bike races at Rotary Park this spring and for the first time in my life, I was watching a race as a spectator and didn’t feel like I wanted to be IN the race.  For the first time, I didn’t MISS racing.  After noticing this, I began to wonder why?  It would seem like the more that I work on myself, the more reading I do, the more that I ponder about my life, the more that I write and work with my psychologist, the less that I feel the need or drive to push myself and to be a bike racer.  

I am not talking about being a “cyclist”.  That part of me will only die when I physically can no longer ride.  A few weeks ago, while mountain biking single track in Rotary Park, I physically felt the cyclist in me.  I felt it embedded in each and every one of my cells.  It didn’t have anything to do with my ego, it was more a simple feeling of what it means to be alive, of flying effortlessly.  I was carving a trail, riding at my own pace, my physical self completely fluid as my body and bike became one as I streamed my way through the forest.  I wasn’t “thinking” about how I was riding, I was just riding.  It wasn't about going faster.  I was fully in the now.  I hadn’t felt that zen feeling in such a long time.  The moment was such pure bliss that it brought up many emotions.  That feeling is why I fell in love with riding in the first place.  That pure feeling IS cycling.  And I cherish it so much more now….

Since I have been on the racing sidelines, I have been beginning to notice that maybe all competitive bike racers are really but troubled souls looking for salvation?  Maybe that’s why the more that I heal the less I feel the need to race?  Strangely, after thinking this, I began to see competitive bike racers in this new light.  Something flipped and I didn’t really look up to them as much as I used to.  They didn’t seem as strong as they once did, their brokenness starting to show through the cracks.  I now felt bad for the kid killing himself during a local weekly youth race to live up to his parents expectations.  I felt bad for the middle-aged masters’ amateur racer spending thousands of dollars on faster equipment and sweating buckets all winter on his trainer in his basement getting ready for the upcoming season.  I felt bad for the Cat 3 racing starving himself in order to lose enough weight to be able to hang on to the pack till the last lap of the Provincial Road Championship race.  I felt bad for the guy who is never home in the evenings with his kids because he needs to squeeze in his interval workouts to get ready for that Ironman that he’s training for in 6 months.  I felt bad for these guys because deep down I know that I will probably always be like them to a certain extent.  I have spent my whole life cultivating these behaviors and now I need to mindfully cultivate more sustainable healthy behaviors instead.  It really is that simple. 

No one comes out of life unwounded emotionally and cycling (and all other endurance sports really) are a great way to help alleviate the pain of these wounds.  And the deeper the wounds, the stronger the pursuit to punish oneself and try to escape what we are feeling.  The underlying wounds are what created and continue to sustain the drive to keep pushing.  Most will say that cycling in this sense is a very healthy outlet to burn off some steam and get over our brokenness.  I’m not so sure?

Photo credit Gilles Gautreau

If someone is doing anything in excess (ie Type A personality types), I believe that it is ALWAYS in response to unresolved emotional issues from their past.  Everyone has unresolved issues, experiences that cause unpleasant emotions to arise that we don’t know what to do with so we just stuff them inside.  Some people will become workaholics, others will try to eat their pain away, others will turn to drugs and people with an affinity towards bikes will become bike racers.  Technically there isn’t much difference between each way of coping, except that society has told us that certain behaviors are OK, even admirable and others are not.  Overeating is seen as weak, whereas completing an Ironman is seen as being strong.  Both individuals are doing what they are doing to avoid feeling what they are feeling and I believe that neither is healthy in the sense that health should equal balance.  All too often society makes us believe that being fit equals being healthy, but I don’t think it does.  Exercising for health means moderate exercise, listening to our body and as soon as you cross over to the competitive side of the game, the health benefits quickly begin to diminish.  Have you ever noticed how heroin addicts and extreme endurance athletes have very similar body types:  ridiculously lean, emaciated and veiny?  At what point did we start believing that this is what healthy looks like?

So you may now be wondering what my point is?  My point is not to bash endurance events like Ironman and even our Cyclebetes 200 kilometer fundraising ride.  I still totally get why one would want to sign up and complete these challenges.  But if you do, I really think that you owe it to yourself to try to figure out why.  It’s not for fun at this point, the physical pain required to push through is surely not what I would call enjoyable.  What underlying emotional issue is behind your drive to do this?  There always is one and it’s up to you to dig deep and pinpoint out what it is.  The thing with those wounds is that they don’t heal themselves.  They don’t get better with time.  They just get buried deeper and deeper.  And they will eventually wreak havoc on your health and make you physically sick if they are not dealt with.  So how do you heal such wounds?  By living the stuffed emotions attached to them.  By sitting down with your shit and feeling it.  As you dig and work through it all, only then will you begin to heal.  So sign up for that Ironman, but remember that you need to figure out where the urge to do so is coming from and that eventually you need to deal with it.  You can’t keep running (or riding) away from it forever.  That is your purpose: to heal and soften.

Looking back at how I reacted to Adele’s Type 1 diagnosis nearly 15 years ago, I think that it is certainly time for me to sit down with my shit and work on trying to get rid of it and beginning to heal.  That is one of the gifts of the concussion last year, to force me to slow down.  It would have been much easier if I would have slowed down before being forced to but with me it seems like it had to be this way.  Our issues will ALWAYS eventually catch up to us.  I am just very grateful that in my case it still isn’t too late.

We’re all messed up.  The first step is to try to figure out why…

3 comments:

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tim said...

Interesting perspective, though I'm not sure I agree. The pursuit of endurance sports, whether you qualify it as healthy, unhealthy, obsessive or otherwise, will always be a subjective thing. In other words, what one person deems healthy, the next may view as obsessive. A person who trains once a week - obsessive or not? Due to emotional baggage or not? What about 5 times a week? What about 10 hours a week? What about the person who races but doesn't train? I guess my point is, one can engage in a pursuit, even to the point of obsession, without there having to be emotional baggage as the cause. Excel in sport? Baggage! Pro athletes? Baggage. I know the response might be, if you don't find it, you're not looking hard enough or deep enough but again, it's all about perspective. I don't think the individual nature of what drives and motivates human beings can be so easily explained away.

Mike LeBlanc said...

Thanks for the comment Tim. I believe that everyone has emotional baggage. When faced with unpleasant emotions, our human nature is to reject or try to push them away. Every time we do this instead of feeling it, the emotion gets stuck. It's just a part of what being human is about. These stuck emotions then become our insecurities. We then try to resolve these insecurities using external means like for example winning a bike race to try to make up for feeling insecure or unloved. Can you practice sport just for the fun of it? Yes you surely can, but as soon as you do it for the result, then you're trying to compensate or fix an underlying insecurity. I do believe this to be true, but like you said it may be an oversimplified explanation that only takes into account a single perspective?