A few things I really like about sport...
Anybody who follows my blog, even if you have only ever read the title, knows that I am more about the process than the outcome. I am all about the effort, and very little about the gear. Not sure if it was my modest upbringing on the rugged east coast of Nova Scotia, where—twenty years before the invention of good trail shoes-- I used to have to layer plastic bags in my running shoes in the winter in order to keep my feet warm while jumping snowbanks, or simply the fact that to be a lifelong athlete, you have to—at some point—get over the ‘need’ to buy the latest gear or win every race and accept that the day to day journey is actually the point of it all.
Growing up in the age before internet, I have saddled the line between having no technology at all, and seeing such a glut of devices, questionable diets and tracking apps that I have been able to choose very carefully, what works for me personally, and what would seriously suck all the joy out of sport. To that end you won’t find me on Strava comparing times on my favourite routes, and I carry but one piece of technology at all times when I am training - a stopwatch, to track intervals and when to turn around for home. (OK I do carry a smartphone for emergencies, and while I have a distinct lack of technology on my bike, I do concede that power metres are an excellent tool for training if used correctly).
Sport was always very much an emotional process for me: I am used to digging deep, going beyond the necessary effort and finding my true grit inside. Proving every time I went out the door that I had 100% to give that day...that seems to have been my mantra for many years. I once wrote in my journal “Transcendent moments in sport seem to be effortless, yet without hours of diligent effort, they can’t happen.”
I wrote that after reading a quote by Ken Ravizza in Andrew Cooper’s book “Playing in the Zone”...”Transcendent moments in sport seem mystical and difficult to duplicate at will...you can only prepare the ground for it to happen. Enlightenment is an accident, but some activities make you accident prone.”
Read that again - it’s a beautiful sentence.
I am not against apps, tracking devices or technology, but I sometimes question whether they work against the beauty of sport and being active as something that’s intrinsically fun and that leads to these clear moments of flow and consciousness.
If that is the truth, then that’s probably why I still train and race. These small accidents of enlightenment keep on happening. And it’s not always an elegant process. Many times there are curveballs.
Recently I had go into this huge Rubbermaid bin I own, to haul out all my journals in order to find some fact verification about the 2001 World Duathlon Championships, in Rimini, Italy. This was a race that took place less than a week after the events of 9/11, and in fact I was in a jet, in the air over Italy and about to land in Bologna, when the twin towers were hit. The week’s events are a blur, not only because of the ensuing blanket of emotional grief and collective shock, but because of the jet lag and being up all night with an 18 month baby coupled with the concentrated nervousness of getting ready for a World Championships, the manifestation of which was now uncertain at best.
Needless to say some of the facts of the week are a little fuzzy in my mind, even the part where I showed up in transition the morning of the race and the official noticed a crack in my helmet and told me I had to find a new one or I could not participate... this happened one hour before the race was to start. I sort of remember running back to the little hotel, bursting into the breakfast room where the age groupers that had races the day before were relaxing over coffee and toast and standing at the front of the room and asking very loudly if anybody could lend me a helmet. I found one, it fit ok. I was allowed into transition. Not elegant, but I found a way to start. Do not remember much of that race as it suddenly didn’t seem to matter in light of recent events in NYC. All that mattered was that there was an agreement to keep on racing, in a show of hope and courage. And what I really remembered was that someone stood up instantly in that breakfast room, and helped me out. That week pretty much put sport in perspective for me, a knowing that has never left.
I actually haven’t found the journal of 2001 yet so I didn’t get to check these facts out, but it did get me to thinking about things I actually love, things that make my sport easier, better, more enjoyable. Concrete material objects. Yes, my journals are one thing, and I have quite a few.
In Pursuit of Excellence, by Terry Orlick.
I love this book, partly because Terry Orlick is a Canadian and a brilliant sport psychologist, and because it is so readable. This was the first sport psychology book I ever owned, and I am not sure where the original copy is because I loaned it out so many times. I have the new edition. I loved it as a young athlete: it really helped me organize and use my mental capabilities as an athlete to a great degree.
Of course, now that I have started there are a gazillion other things--material and emotional--that I love about running and riding. I am sure you have your own list. My road bike, coffee, muffins, chocolate, finishing a hard session, laughing with a training mate, getting muddy and wet, having a shower after getting all muddy and wet, and the smell of grass.
I love to eat well, but following a ‘diet’ would kill the joy of food and good nutrition.
I love to ride but comparing every single ride to a virtual population of riders would kill the joy of riding.
I would rather ride with another person and stop for coffee, than be in constant virtual competition with people I don’t even know.
I love training, but having to post a photo of every training session would be exhausting.
Training and learning through our own fears, barriers and self defeating habits is difficult enough just as it is, without adding the layers of technology, social media comparison and so called healthy diets, so my mantra is to keep it simple. There is comfort and discomfort, pain and joy and I try to find the middle ground.
I eat well, I try to get consistent sleep, I plan to train, I am mindful (always a work in progress), and I take care of my body and my bike because they both allow me to do what I love to do. I also enjoy the journey and am grateful for it.
I wish you all the best in your journeys in 2019!
Run For Joy
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.