Monday, December 11, 2017

The Gift of Forks

I used to set out on my various endeavors with so many expectations — and what was, essentially, an entitlement to have those expectations fulfilled. It’s such an embarrassingly egotistical thing to admit, to be honest. But it’s in the last few months that instead of saying “this is what’s going to happen (and there will be hell to pay if it doesn’t)”, I’ve begun thinking “whatever will be, will be”. I’ve just done more work and less demanding; while it doesn’t mean I expect less from myself or that I’ve lowered my standards, I do think that saying “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” has been far healthier for me. – Amanda Batty

Surprisingly enough, I don’t have any of Syd Shulz’ wisdom to pass onto you today. This post’s inspiration came from a much more unlikely source. Amongst Internet-famous female cycling personalities, Amanda Batty isn’t one with whom I’ve strongly identified in the past. Not long before stumbling upon the snippet above, I had been telling Frank how her excessively-long Instagram captions annoyed me. It’s a lot to take in when you’re just trying to scroll through pretty pictures of bikes and cats, and I had really only read her “real” writing when something sexist happened in the bike universe. Wait, when something *really* sexist happened in the bike universe, because otherwise that would mean every day. Maybe I just didn’t want my already-complicated feelings about the Liv cycling brand dictated to me, or to have my already-overblown tendency to rant about stuff exacerbated, so I never paid a lot of attention to what she said and wrote. However, I did happen to read at least halfway through one really long Instagram caption a couple of weeks ago and mined the gem above.

This happened around the time that I wrote about my theory of talent over forks and began asking myself questions about its implications. I thought this view on expectations and entitlement was a good explanation of what is sometimes going on when the forks get too high in athletic endeavors. Each fork you give is a small payment toward an expected result, which is unsurprising, considering that most American children are raised with the belief that such a deal can be easily struck.

Maybe I’m generalizing too much about most American children, but I know that for me, a big part of maturing as a human being has been coming to terms with the fact that life isn’t the clear “You do X, and you get Y” deal that I once believed it to be. I have come into jobs, relationships, and athletic endeavors with inaccurate ideas of what is valuable in that situation and was met with disappointment when offering up the things that I thought were valuable did not yield the expected results.

When it comes to my bike happiness formula, forks come in many forms: pulling yourself off the couch to ride when you’d really prefer to stick around for one more episode of Netflix, sitting through the pain of one more interval, passing up another beer, or buying new tires instead of a new dress (or whatever you’re into). In addition to the tangible sacrifices, the forks also add up in terms of emotional investment and the time you spend thinking and learning about your sport. I’m an analyst by nature, so I inherently absorb all of the available information relevant to my current pursuit and try to distill it into the best plan of action. If I’m honest, the nerding out and planning is the part that I love the most (hence this blog), but sometimes I probably place too much value on intellectual knowledge in a physical endeavor.

I think my problem is that in the past I’ve treated bike racing as a catalog from which various levels of success can be ordered for a price. You put in this many training hours, these workouts, pay for a coach etc., and you can expect certain results. The problem was that the prices were listed in a foreign currency for which I was always trying to decipher the exchange rate. I hired coaches, bought gadgets, and performed a lot self-experimentation trying to figure out the price of success and rarely got it right. At the same time, it seemed there was a secret email list coupon codes that I’d been left off of. Those coupons were what I used to call talent. 

What I’m learning is that, like the jobs and relationships I mentioned earlier, cycling isn’t a straightforward exchange. The best you can hope for is to offer up what you believe to be of value and hope that the receiver values it the same. It’s like buying a present for your partner or friend. You spend your money and/or time with the hope that it will be valuable to them, but you’re not likely to be mad at them if they don’t like what you give them as much as you’d hoped. 

Everyone who shows up to a race comes bearing gifts of strength or smarts or skills or power or stoke, and everyone has paid a different price for the gifts they offer. The race will chose which gift is its favorite, and it won’t care who paid the highest price. 

Rather than trying to figure out what you have to pay, I think it’s more important focus on what you’re willing to give as a gift. Beyond that, it helps to find a relationship where the gifts you are willing to give are most appreciated. For example, threshold intervals are “very expensive” to me, so I should probably never try to get into a serious relationship with time trialing. On the other hand, enduro seems to like things I give more willingly, like strength and skills. It also likes confidence and fearlessness, of which I have less to give, so my gifts won’t always be the favorite, and I have to learn to be okay with that. 

So this holiday season, think about the cycling disciplines on your gift list. What do they want, and what do you have to give? If you really love them, go ahead, shower them with gifts, but don’t get mad if next summer they like someone else’s gift better. Remember the reason for the (off) season, and perhaps you’ll receive some gifts of your own.