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It Needs to Matter

Tristania's picture

By Tristania - Posted on 15 November 2015

Every now and again, particularly when I am on a post-race high, I get some sort of reflective thought regarding my cycling (and other various physical activities I do) that I ponder on and have tried to string these into words and share on my Nobmob blog. I refer to them my "cyclelogy" blogs - rather than a report on a particular race in which I have just destroyed myself, but about the activity of riding a bike and what it means to me psychologically, mentally and emotionally, so my buzz from last weekend's Highland Fling has gotten me wound up to write a new one.

There are few things that compare to the satisfaction of completing a task, particularly a big task or project, and get the results one has strived for. This was shown to me in all the assignments that I completed in year 12, four years ago, which eventually saw me get into electrical engineering with a co-operative scholarship. Getting through 2 certain engineering subjects with a 51 (which had a 50%+ failure rate) highlighted this same feeling, knowing that after all the late nights, missed weekend rides and social activities and stress meant that I could move onto the next subjects and not have to prolong my degree. I'm sure that there are those reading this that will have been in the corporate world and know the massive feeling of satisfaction of scoring a tender, getting a major project completed under budget or ahead of time, and will have improved the company's position in the market and made it some good bucks.

Then there's the satisfaction of doing well in a mountain bike race, which I have always found equally, if not more, profound to my academic results. Now this would make perfect sense were I a Tour de France rider, a national athlete in the Olympics, or even obtaining a top 3 in the Elite category of the marathons I do, where there would be money up on offer, not to mention (at least for the former) fame, publicity, improved pay/contract packages. This is obviously a big deal. But forgive me for stating the obvious, but I am not a Tour de France contender (yet!). Nor am I even close to winning an XCM outright (yet!).

Yet, when I get a, say, top 10, top 20, or whatever my goal was that I hoped to achieve in a race, or even just execute a strategy well, I'm elated, and it gets me through the subsequent week, no matter what else sits on my plate. And that's just in a race. Like many other nobmobbers here, I have had a Strava account for the past couple of years, which has led to my having "PR rides," "Top 10 rides" and of course "KOM rides" (I'll leave it to the reader to work out what these mean). On these rides, just as in a race, on the particular segment that I am attempting to master, every trouble in my life will vanish - my studies, my job, personal relationships, etc - will leave my mind and I will concentrate completely about getting to the top of the climb as quickly as possible as though my life depends on it.

An example of this comes when JP and I did the Oaks up and back and I had my sights set on a top 10 on the, I imagine hotly contested, segment from the Glenbrook causeway to Woodford gate, at which I waved goodbye to Jonathan and embarked on a full-out assualt on the 13km, essentially non-stop climb to the helipad. Just got into a rhythm and rode all the way up, before the ups and down for the remaining 12 (with some very steep climbs thrown in) . 4km from the end, at which point I knew I doing well for time, I saw two cyclists pulled over with a bike upside down, and one of them asking me if I had a chainbreaker, which I did.
I was in a dilemma. Either (a) I could lend them my tool and have put my efforts in the past 55 minutes to waste or (b) be a dick and say I don't have one and become a Strava hero. I didn't have long to make my mind up, but in my haste, I got another brainwave. I threw them the tool and told them to pass it to JP, probably about 10 minutes away, and smashed along my way (FYI, I got a 4th).

This attitude is not restricted to cycling. Some of you will know that I do a "bit" of rogaining and short orienteering events , and I will go to equal efforts (involving runs through rivers and in bare feet, climbing over huge barriers and getting absolutely saturated, just to name a few), with the prospect of getting a few more points that may put me up a couple of places on some other small corner of the internet. I also go indoor rockclimbing on occasion and yet again I will dig deep for any strength to make it up whatever particular route has been driving me insane. And in the days that I would run regularly, I would be beyond obsessive at trimming my best time on my weekly 10km trail run.

The irony I'm getting at, of course, is the fact that were I to just do a training ride, or even race, or some other mission with the view "I'll just enjoy the experience, who cares if I do well," and take it easy to take in the atmosphere, scenery, solitude or other people, and my week, month, or year will be otherwise unchanged. It doesn't improve my employment opportunities. It doesn't make me any better a student. Nor would it impress any girl that I may be keen on at that particular time (actually, why does this matter; two years ago I concluded that a bike is better than a woman). It doesn't make my friends like me more. Nor does it make my week any better in any way shape or form. And whilst it's nice to get a few kudos on my Strava post, or compliments at the end of a competition, I know that it doesn't by any way make other cyclists respect me more. And the maddening thing is, I'm anything but alone. There are people reading this of a massive variation in abilities, ages and goals who I am sure nonetheless share this mentality.

What shall we say then? Are we all crazy in our obsession to obtain something that seems to essentially mean nothing and gets us nowhere. By no means! Because after a large amount of thought, I have come to conclude that the pure existence of this goal in itself IS the meaning of the activity. There by not be be any meaning BY achieving a Top 20, Top 10, or PR etc, but by putting such an emphasis in it creates meaning IN achieving the said goal. As mentioned, each time I know I've smashed myself silly to shave down 4 seconds in a 4km stint, get a slightly better placing in my event, I'm on top of the world; and depending on the magnitude of this "victory," it can carry through any amount of time from the rest of that day to the next couple of weeks and nothing, no matter what happens in those days can bring me back down.

I say this as I complete my final quarter of a 24-week engineering internship stint. I far from hate it, and greatly appreciate the opportunity to get some experience, but, like any office job, it's become fairly repetitive for me, as I'd imagine they are for many readers, and my weeks are often uneventful (of course with exceptions), so the opportunity to have something that matters is of huge value to all the other things that one will get up to during that uneventful week. Or (as I wrote in a previous blog), in a time of high stress, it's possible a time where every other worry is forced out a person's mind as 100% of their attention must be devoted to achieving their particular goal at the time. And if it does that, it certainly has value.

I sit here analysing my Strava rankings on local tracks, trying to work out where I have a chance to KOM so I can organize to go collect them. But whether I get them or not doesn't matter in reality. Or does it?

jp's picture

Thanks for sharing this Tristan.

The thing about fitness, through mountain biking or any other sport, is that it's a journey. For every goal you achieve, there's always a new one. It's just in our nature to want to better ourselves.

I also think Mountain biking attracts a certain personality type - yes, many of us get competitive. But ultimately mate-ship and fun are more important than winning. That's why you paused to help another rider in the middle of a PR attempt. And that's why complete strangers sacrificed their own races to help me when I crashed earlier this year.

Keep spreading the word Tristan - we need more young people to get into MTB!


hawkeye's picture

Goal setting and achievement is a uaeful drive that will help you in your life.

Thw trick is to set goals that matter, and to have a "why" that matters to driventhe goal, or it won't stick. For example, your fundraising for the refugee legal centre is a goal that has a big purpose outside yourself.

I used to race R/C cars at State and National level and got pretty good at it. You could say dominant in my last 2 years. However the preparation required to race at that level got very time consuming, and I decided that parenting my kids was more important, so the car racing had to go.

My retirement shocked everybody as there was an expectation I would go to the Worlds for the class I was racing, but I didn't want my legacy to be dysfunctional kids and broken marriage because I was too busy playing with toy cars. Guys I used to race with have since suffered that fate.

My goals for racing XC are more modest. I aim to stay healthy and fit, and the competition aspect helps motivate me to push the intensity to levels I would not otherwise achieve in training, which is critical for maintaining cardiac capacity as you age. I not only want to be around for my family, I want to be functional.

It also helps me to take the long view in staying focussed and dealing with the many niggles that arise from having a sedentary job. At the moment that is proving to be a challenge and means that I am having to be much more assertive about carving out my lunchtime to go to the gym, especially during peak periods.

Like training for marathon events, it's important to have downtime to recover between high intensity sessions and this applies to work as much as sports.

So having those routine and sometimes boring parts of work are just as important as the exciting bits.

I hope this is a useful perspective.

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