By Christopher Cudworth
Not every run and ride is a soul-lifting testament to the joys of running and riding. Some days just feel like crap physically, and other days your mind just isn’t into it. It seems sometimes that no matter what psychological tricks you employ, your brain and body simply refuse to cooperate.
So you bitch about it.
Some people think the worst thing you can do for your feeling-like-crap condition is to complain. Negative talk, they say, fuels more negative feelings. Bad energy. Instant Karma. Gonna get you.
But a few of us recognize that a really good, creative rant can go a long way toward killing off negative feelings. Even John Lennon said that a good bout of depression can generate all sorts of creative energy. He should know. He called himself “insane” at some level, yet also a creative genius. And his productivity, when he wasn’t drinking manically with Harry Nilsson, was notably high. No pun intended.
Be careful with all-positive pricks
So we must first address the philosophies of all those positive thinker types who make millions of dollars blabbing at mouth-breather audiences determined to make themselves into better people.
But here’s the basic fact: When you fill a stadium full of people and give microphones to the likes of the ultimate chimera of Colin Powell or God Forbid, a Donald Trump, then everything that comes out of their mouths will seem like Gospel Truth when actually they’re all pretty much full of shit.
Sheer positivists don’t know anything more than you or I do. But they’re good at pretending they do. Because when you dig deeper it seems that half of them are proven hypocrites at some level. So you have to choose your so-called heroes very carefully, lest you be led down the garden path of deception.
Sure, actual positive thinking has value, but actual gig stadium level pep talks is more about branding and momentum than truly sage advice.
It’s better to learn the fine art of creatively bitching.
When you’re out on your own with a gang of fellow cyclists and runners, feeling pain from head to toe and grinding through a headwind, something within you wells up, and before you know it, the words come out of your mouth and throw a shock wave through the group.
You’ve begun to bitch up a storm.
“Can’t you hold your line?”
“Why are you half-wheeling me?”
“Do you have to run a half step ahead the whole way?”
“I feel like shit. Let’s slow down.”
“Wasn’t this supposed to be an easy day?”
Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. It’s the only thing that feels good to do at the moment. Everything else feels like crap. Some strange synapse in your brain decides on its own that everyone else should be unhappy too.
If you get in a habit of chronic, unending bitching, an intervention may be necessary.
Sometimes a friend finally intervenes. A teammate once told me, “You know what, Cud? You need to just shut up and run.”
And I took that advice. It was quite liberating actually. That winter I ran like a madman, setting my 2M PR by 15 seconds and indoor mile time by 8 full seconds. When spring hit my steeple and 5K times also dropped by over 10 seconds.
It also helped perhaps that I’d met a girl. That cures a lot of bitchy ills fast.
Overtraining leads to bitching
Yet in the tarsnake world of endurance training there was also some truth to my bitching. Our entire distance squad tended to train too hard, too fast every winter. When we should have been doing smart, slow basework, we were blasting around the backroads of Northeast Iowa at sub-7:00 and often sub-6:00 distance runs. As a result, later in the spring we never fully peaked. Our distance base was worn thin. Something was missing in our muscles.
The same thing often happens in cycling. All it takes is one obsessive nard who’s spent all winter on the trainer to mess up the early season training for everyone. They come out to the March and April rides rarin’ to go. They’ve done 250 miles a week in the lonely confines of their basement and they’re looking for someone to crush. Everyone in the group knows it’s too early to be going so fast every ride but the collective machismo prevents anyone from saying anything. If you do, people accuse you of bitching.
That’s the tarsnake of bitching. Everyone wants to do it, but the first one who speaks, loses road cred.
There’s a better way than killing yourself and bitching about it
One of my talented teammates in distance running decided to actually do something about our annual ritual of overtraining. As a 14:35 5K man, fierce competitor and leader of the team, he pulled me aside and said, “You and I are not going to fall into that overtraining trap this year. We’re going to run for 6 weeks, long and slow, even if we have to do it alone.”
There was no bitching between us. Just long slow runs in the purple twilight of winter, up and down hills, traveling through the Looking Glass of basebuilding. When other teammates bitched that we weren’t “training with the team” we kept our cool and kept to the plan. Long and slow. We emerged out the rabbit hole of winter in fine running shape. He won two out of three distance events at the conference meet. I won the conference steeple and advanced to nationals with a PR.
By not overtraining, we turned out to have a bitching good spring.
Bitching as fine art
We tend to bitch when the pressures of life sneak into our brains, or the circumstances feel out of control.
It’s like we’re saying: “I feel like shit and I just want you all to know that.”
But you don’t have to be so pathetically pedantic about it. You can turn bitching into a fine art if you try.
So if you’re going to bitch, do it well.
Throw in some sense of humor or start up a discussion to make fun of your state of mind.
Try a few one-liners for starters:
“I feel so shitty even the flies are staying away.”
“If I felt any more like crap you’d need a poop bag to carry me home.”
“I’m riding (or running) so slow even Stephen Hawking couldn’t find me in the universe.”
“God helps those who help themselves. But what if you don’t give a shit?
You get the picture. Bitch it up with some finesse and flair. You may find your fellow runners and riders having some sympathy and joining the fray. Because here’s one of the universal laws of the universe. When it comes to bitching, two wrongs can make a right. Bitching loves company, especially creative company.
Like yin and yang the act of bitching create a magical balance between bitching as complaint and bitching as a release from suffering.
It sometimes takes a double-down negative approach to change your mindset. If you can laugh at what you’re bitching about, you might actually relax enough to run or ride better. And if you still don’t recover and either get left behind or dropped, at least you’ve left a humorous impression on your training partners that will earn you forgiveness later and keep you shielded from a reputation as a sonofabitch who does nothing but complain.
If it all comes undone despite a good, artful bitch session, you simply have to eat crow, fall back and plan for another day. Have a good, solid sulk as your training partners recede into the distance. And say; “So, it’s another day.”
Everyone has bad days, and everyone sooner or later bitches about it. But if you want to make life a little better, remember that in the end it’s not how much you complain, but how well you do it that matters.