By Christopher Cudworth
Before heading out for a bike ride the third night in a row, I texted my companion and said, “I’m going to go for an easy ride. I’m a little tired.”
She wrote back a note of encouragement and I hopped on the Felt 4C, set up the cyclometer and Strava and headed off to who knows where.
The wind was from the East/Southeast. This time of year in the Chicago area that seems like a common occurrence. Winds off the lake are swirling around, or some other weather front often breaks typical weather patterns.
So I rode into the wind headed basically south and began to make up a route in my head. Yes, some routes are fixed and I do them often. Others are taken ad hoc to avoid boredom.
To my surprise the legs felt good. Really good in fact. From the get-go I was riding 19-20 mph with very little effort. Suspicious of the ease, I looked for flags to confirm whether my sense of wind direction was accurate or not. It is so easy to deceive yourself about fitness with a wind at your back.
Not blown away
But not this time. The wind was definitely in my face. 20mph still felt easy. So I kept rolling right through a hilly Strava segment where I’d only recent ridden as slow as 15mph. This time I held 20 from bottom to top.
On it went. Down the rolling curves of Deerpath Road headed south into the wind. Still the pace held. Mile after mile it went. Then I turned west for 2 miles let it rip. Then came a turn onto a deeply wooded path headed directly east. It buffered the wind slightly and the pace kept on between 18-20. Then I zipped up and over a bridge over a major road and passed another cyclist. He tried to jump on but to no avail. A mile into pursuit he was dropped.
Popping out on the streets of Aurora, the wind was a bit more steady and pressing. Yet shifting up one gear resolved that challenge and on a downhill stretch the speed reached 25mph.
Cutting through town is always costly in terms of maintaining pace. A few green lights and then a red light brought me to a stop. Shut off the Strava. That’s not cheating. Click it back on when moving again.
Then it was onto the bike trail for the last 10 miles north. For some reason it is hard to keep good cycling pace on most bike trails. The surface is often too bumpy for one thing. Too many root-raised lines and asphalt cracks. So you have to pedal steady and hard to keep 20 in your sights.
The last three miles were cranking into the wind and across the bumpy surface but when it ended there it was:
AVG SPD 19.4.
And I felt great.
Matters of the mind
But what does it matter? A zillion cyclists can ride that fast and faster. Just like a zillion runners can run faster than the 5:00 pace I managed to hold in my fastest 10k race. Does it matter how fast or slow we are? Does anyone really care? Does it make the world a better place to go out and hammer your best for 20+ miles, or to complete a marathon?
The answers are no, maybe and possibly yes.
No, it doesn’t really matter how fast or slow you are. You can even ask a world class distance runner or cyclist what their former speed means when they retire and except for a fortunate few, those times are pretty much a novelty in the minds of most people.
In fact there might even be some prejudice at work against really elite runners. It’s almost as if they were given something that makes it unfair to the rest of us to run or ride on the same road as them.
But that’s not true. There’s nothing unfair about using your talent through hard work. Because there are no shortcuts to success whether you are world class or a local plodder.
That’s precisely the point you see. What matters in all this running and riding is that people are committing to something that takes hard work. It builds character. Requires commitment. Teaches both pride and humility.
Those are some very good reasons why you get out there and run or ride.
Sure there’s a healthy dose of narcissism thrown in at times. We’ve all got an ego to carry around with us. Sometimes we like to show it off.
I’m not convinced that can ever be removed. Even the most selfless fund raiser in the world gets a bit of self-gratification from achieving their money goals. Without that motivation charity races would have no merit and no function.
But if you step back and look at your personal venture, going out each day to do your best on the run or on the bike, it pays to assess some of the reasons you do it. And does it really matter in the big scheme of things?
Running and Riding Abbey Road
Let’s borrow a line from a Beatles song to help us make sense of all this. The lingering lyric from the Abbey Road album is the line, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make…”
The same principle applies to our love of running and riding. Even those who hate every damn step they take and every pedal they spin demonstrate a certain love for the sport because of what it promises to do for them. It might be losing weight or keeping depression and anxiety in check. It might be stress release or getting ideas for business, art or family life. The reasons are multitudinous, and that’s what makes it all so great.
Because the reason you do what you do is that it matters to you. In the end, the run or ride you take is equal to the person you want to make. That’s the part that really does matter.