Monday, November 12, 2012

The Zen of Biking

Last weekend when I rode my bike to the Civic Center, I was asked how far it was. I responded somewhat apologetically, having ridden just one direction, "only 34 miles."

When did 34 miles become "ONLY"?

I cringed at how that probably sounded leaving my mouth, I didn't mean it in any sort of snobby way. But like a lot of things, the mind and body adapt so what once seemed daunting, becomes just normal. My typical long ride is about 50, but for many other cyclists and regular century riders (100 miles), 50 is short. It's all relative.

I think riding long is largely about finding a certain "zen" state -- the mind are body are relaxed, legs are on autopilot, thoughts become quiet, and the rider is simply in the moment. Time and miles fly by. That's how rides become "only" however many miles. (I should clarify that a different sort of zen state is needed for focused interval and race pace work on the bike.)

Today I also rode "only" 34 miles to and from McCoy Falls at the New River (pictured above). As I went along, I thought more about that response and how four years ago, my pre-triathlete and pre-cycling self could not have conceived of riding to the river and back. How do I view cycling now, versus then?

Well, I don't think about a ride in its totality, as a cumulative effort (math brain is thinking integral - area under the elevation profile, lol). I allocate the time, get on the bike and just go. Cycling has taught me to be very much in the now as the world reduces to the pavement around me, the road ahead, and the sights along the way.

With our rolling hills, it's not 34 miles of constant top-level exertion and intense focus. Most of the time I'm not even thinking about pedaling. The legs just know their job and do it.

Biking provides sufficient low-level tasks to quiet the mental chatter --  shifting, monitoring the road surface, navigating, and staying vigilant for potential hazards -- while leaving room for the more important or creative thoughts.

Staying in the now means you don't fret about what is to come because what matters is the road you can see in front of you. You learn that even if you're headed up a quad-buster, the pain is quickly forgotten on the other side.

Learning to ride for any distance is as much mental as it is physical and going longer just means holding hold that zen-like state longer. It simply requires getting out there and putting in the rides that ask the body and mind to adapt. That automatic adaptation process is one of the most fascinating aspects of sport for me. That's what lets us wake up one day and say things like "only 34 miles" and wonder when that happened!

60 miles is my longest bike ride to date, but I'm getting the itch for some longer "zen"!