Guyside: Reach for the middle!

Posted by on Aug 19, 2013 in exercise, Guyside, health, general, men | 0 comments

It’s easy to reach for the top. We’re almost mandated to do it, right? Nike told us: “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.” Vince Lombardi exhorted: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Steve Jobs said: “We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life.”

I think men have a particular cultural script that says “more, bigger, better, faster.” It’s powerful. And the tech revolutions of the world have led to startups where the goal seems to be to work harder, pull the allnighters, and generally devote yourself, body and soul, to pursuing your ambition.

Not to say that ambition is bad. But over the last few years, I’ve made decisions — and some decisions have been made for me — that have started to make me think that perhaps we don’t give being average enough credit. Let me tell you a story about a guy who, as a kid, was pretty much the worst sportsman you could imagine.

This guy wasn’t … OK, let’s say it “I wasn’t… much of a skater. Or a baseball player. Basketball? Oh, man. Hopeless. I was pretty tall. But my teenage limbs made me look like a stick insect, and I was about as coordinated as a used-car salesman’s suit. I was pretty much the death of any sporting event I was press-ganged into during phys-ed class. It took me until my thirties to find a sport that I could be passionate about.

I was working at a university about 5 miles from where I lived, and parking there was quite expensive. And, my new house was just a few hundred yards from a network of bike paths.  So I bought a used bike from a friend and became a cyclist.

Well, technically, I became a commuter. Becoming a cyclist came later. What I discovered was that I really enjoyed the riding part. There weren’t traffic jams to contend with. I remembered how free and fun it felt to ride a bike when I was a kid. Sometimes, the weather was not so great. And that was anywhere from unpleasant to nasty to… exhilarating. There was a certain joy in pounding your way home in a sudden rainstorm. Once you got to a certain level of wet, it didn’t matter anymore.

Cyclists approaching Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Ottawa is a great cycling city. If you’re slow enough, you can really enjoy it.

That first commuter bike died a sad death when its frame broke, a mortal injury. So I got another one. Then I heard about a local cycling club’s “Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour,” and decided to try training for a two-day, 230-mile ride.

I put on spandex for the first time. Then I went outside wearing it for the first time. I went from the upright-position hybrid bike to my first road bike. I took a group riding course from my local cycling club and started going out on the weekends to ride. I bought clipless pedals and learned how to ride while bolted to my bike. Commutes became kickoffs to longer early-morning or afternoon rides.

I got to the point that when I went home to visit my family, I found someone who would loan me a bike, got my dad to drive me to the bike, then spent the rest of the vacation taking beautiful summer morning rides.

And for the last 10 years or so, cycling’s been my thing. I can ride 30-50 miles without much forethought; the century (100 miles) is a little bit of a challenge, but not like climbing Mount Everest. But all that is not to say that I’m a good cyclist. Hell no. Let me enumerate the ways in which I’m not a good cyclist.

  1. My iffy fitness regime means that my hill-climbing ability is awful. In the Tour de France, the “King of the Mountains” wears a polka-dot jersey. They oughtta give me prison stripes.
  2. I’ve never raced. Never felt the thrill of sprinting past the pack and crossing the finish line in a criterium (closed-streets race on a relatively short track). By the time I started riding, the romance of racing was outshouted by the reality of crashing.
  3. I possess neither the finances to spend thousands of dollars on the most high-tech components possible to reduce the bike’s weight by a few ounces, or the willpower to reduce my weight by a few pounds, both of which would make me faster on the bike.
  4. My cycling wardrobe tends to jerseys with Sesame Street characters or illustrations of hamburgers on them, rather than team kit.
  5. I might go a week without a long ride. Sometimes two.
  6. In Ottawa, the snow begins in November and the roads clear in March or April. My indoor training regimen is … spasmodic at best.

That’s just a start. And you know what? I don’t care.

One of the things I’ve come to learn is that I don’t mind being a bad cyclist. There’s something to be said for riding slow, and for accepting that the young turk on the $7,000 bike (yeah, that’s not even the top of the top-range) is going to smoke me going up or down the hills of Gatineau Park.

I enjoy going 15 miles an hour as much as I would going 25. I enjoy the feelings of cycling, either alone or with friends, and I enjoy the sensations. Dedicating my life to becoming a top-notch cyclist wouldn’t make me enjoy it more. In fact, it might reduce my enjoyment.

Life is full of things we have to do: obligations. At least mine is. I don’t need to turn a thing I love into another one of those obligations. There’s a joy to being okay at something. And if you’re pushing yourself in one or more aspects of your life, maybe there ought to be room in your life for something you’re … just okay at.

I have tons of friends who are marathoners, triathletes, hockey players, basketballers, and the like. I regularly applaud and admire the ones who are “serious athletes” or “competitors.” But I’m not one of those. And you know what? I’m pretty much okay with that.

Dare to be average. You might just like it.

Photo: Creative Commons licenced by Flickr user Fil.Al, used with permission.


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