Monday, September 6, 2010

Riding scared

No photos or words designed to motivate or exhort to adventure, no blow by blow accounts of mud, sweat or blood.  I'm hoping that by finding the strength to write this today, tomorrow I'll find the strength to push those pedals.

About a year and a half ago, I had all manner of blood tests and even chest xrays, hoping to find out what was making me unable to ride a bike.  In the end, every physical ailment known to man was ruled out, including cancer, leaving depression as the likely culprit.  After all, the head bone's connected to the legs bones, so why not?  I started a course of anti-depressants (venlafaxine), and soon after the fire's began to burn again.  Wellington's MTBO series led on to all sorts of whacky rides, culminating in the inaugural Kiwi Brevet.

That incredible experience was always going to be a hard act to follow, and "recovery" involved little to no exercise, and long work hours.  Finishing an 8 month stint at RBNZ as a researcher morphed straight into rewriting a text book, and getting back into work at the uni.  In a remarkable attempt to make life as difficult as possible, a decision was made to address the anti-depressants which apparently weren't performing as expected.  Initially my dose was increased, and after a few months, this increase was reversed, before tapering off to zero over a month.

Three days after my last tab, I started a 48 hour period in bed.  If I'd been able to drive I'd had gone to A&E to be tested for meningitis, such were the severity of my symptoms.  A bit of internet sleuthing later, I self-diagnosed SSRI discontinuation syndrome, and was on the road to recovery again, at the expense of the flushing period on no meds.  That was two months ago, and I've finally been a week without taking a pill (I was down to one-sixth of my maximal daily dose - 1/4 of my "standard" dose - every second day and I was still getting nauseous on the third day after...).  I figure I'm now in the clear... of one problem, only to be faced with the original one again.  Today, on the way up Glenmore Street, I could barely push the pedals...

And that's where the fear comes in.  I've been "training" again for a couple of months now.  Progress has been slow (no doubt complicated by "other things") - the trip to Whanganui with Simon was not the magic bullet, and the second season around, multiple ascents of Mt Vic seem far too hard.  On the upside, I've been doing some trail building with Simon which has been rewarding, a great chance to chat, and grab a sneaky bit of mid-day exercise.  My last two hill sessions have been pretty tough, upstairs and downstairs.  And again, that's where the fear comes in...

Why can't I make this bike fly?  Am I too heavy?  (Probably.)  Did I have enough to eat?  (Probably not.)  Am I sufficiently rested? (No - on the sleep front, and no - you just flew half way across the world.)  Is Simon having a good day?  (Possibly - I can never tell!)  Is it just too hard?  (No!  Please... no!)  As I've reduced my meds to virtually nothing, is my depression rearing its ugly head again, and starting to take hold as it did in March last year?  (I think so...)  Why must the very thing that has the potential to bring me so much joy, be the activity that is most at risk?

So where to from here?  Even if I start a new prescription tomorrow, last time it took 3 months to kick in.  Do I pray to Tomac, Merckx, and all the other gods of cycling that my legs be strong, my heart pump fierce, and my bike steer true?  Or do I look more locally, internally even?  Mind over matter is one thing, but can I employ "mind over mind"? 

Maybe every day won't be a bad day, and maybe a good day will coincide with a riding day.  Maybe even a race day?  It would be nice to fire on Saturday at the final of the MTBO series, but I can't rely on it.  Perhaps I should ban questions for that day.  There's absolutely no doubt the riding will be hard.  That's what it's about, right?  The simple aim of a race - to race!  How?  Ride as fast as you can.  How?  Accelerate until to go too fast, then ease, but not too much, and try to sit as close to that top level as you can, dynamically adjusting that level to suit the event and your own abilities.  See the problem?  It's got to hurt, and as soon as it does, why not ask why?  Can I ban that question?  It risks an answer I don't want - and can't afford - to hear.  The answer that spirals out of control, and makes me want to stop.  The answer that sees me roll to a halt, only then realising it for what it is, and putting in a few more pedal strokes before being overwhelmed by the self-doubt again...

I'm not a competitive person by nature.  But, I am a committed and dedicated friend.  Donning the Roadworks kit becomes something like a ceremony - it allows me to ride for someone else - to honour the faith and investment in me as a rider.  Riding with Simon, especially when we race as a team, also allows me to make it about him, and us, and keeps me from looking inside, and asking questions.  I just get to bury myself because I have to, or if I'm firing, I get to play the support role that I love, and take on as much of the burden of effort as I possibly can.

Head-to-head's a different matter though.  And that's where this post comes in.  Pretend I'm on a couch, talking about myself in a way I can't do simply through introspection.  And believe it or not, the logician in me realised somewhere during that last paragraph, that I can exploit that same thing that affects the way I ride for Simon.  He'd be fucked off to win the series if I didn't give it my all.  He'd also be annoyed if Liam, who's on fire this season, wins the series because I gave up.

Maybe today's commute sucked simply because, like Samson, I lost a lot of hair last night.  Or, because my body's fighting to recover from 16 hours of flying following an unfamiliar diet, and followed by seven ascents of Mt Vic in a couple of hours.  Or, because I forgot my specs and had to spend so damn much time at a computer today.  Or, all of the above.  Maybe tomorrow will be different?  I'm going to publish this, despite getting to the point where I can see where I have to go in the next week.  I don't lose that realisation by discarding this post, but I do lose my words, which strangely enough are precious to me.  I'll get to read this post after shit rides, and you never know, it might make sense to someone else as well.  Oh, and it's an act of bravery that I'll get to emulate on the bike sometime...

If I can click "publish post" here and now, surely I can drive that next pedal down like a man possessed?

Only time will tell, and I'm employing more complex strategies than just crossing my fingers.  This is one of them


  1. John, my dear, dear friend. I'm sorry for the struggle you have been going through for so long, and I hope with all my heart that the clouds lift and the way ahead becomes clear for you very soon.

    Please though know that you honour me simply by WANTING to wear my jersey - results never even come into it for me. I am as proud of all your wins as I am of the many lesser results that other dear friends have achieved (not to mention my plentiful near-last places!)...

    Wearing the Roadworks colours should be about fun, and I hate the thought that wearing them is a part of the pressure you seem to be putting yourself under.

    I think a big part of your ennui is to do with the fact that you seem to be driven by the negative aspects of the sport we both love, and I know only too well how those aspects can add to the myriad pressures that life ladles out every day. Life is hard enough without your passion becoming another chore, and it sounds like that's a bit where you're at.

    You say things like "shit rides" that say to me that you define the enjoyment of cycling purely by how hard you can go, and in my opinion that shouldn't be what it's all about. It's about enjoying the slow meanders as well as the hammer fests. It should be about fun not fear of not measuring up to standards only you are setting. And I think Simon would agree that it should be about you and no one else...

    Of course I say all this without having any answers for you, but I hope you see where I'm coming from. As always, I send you much aroha and fervent wishes for you to find the trail you need to follow, not the one you think you should.

    Kia kaha, bro.

  2. This is a very moving blog post. I've never met you but I've been reading your blog for a while. My favourite post was your tale of the Karapoti ride with your daughter - that literally brought a tear to my eye. I really hope you pull through this slump, and I thought it might help to know that I find your riding and writing inspirational. All the best.

  3. Thanks for your comment Stuart. For the record, that's my favourite story too. I just reread it, and it had a similar effect on me as it did to you. Cheers

  4. And Oli, I always appreciate your wisdom and support, as you well know.

  5. You are not alone.
    We all have good days and bad days. Rides when the legs feel like lead and rides where gravity seems to have eased. Days when the mind is willing and days when it says 'Bugger off'.
    On Saturday, I was having a good day. The time zone suited me. The legs were fresh, but not stale. I didn't ride up Hay St in the middle ring! And I was riding with a great friend.
    I was very tired today, and caught the cablecar up the hill home.
    Next time I suspect I'll be struggling to keep up on Mt Vic, as per usual. But I love the endorphins, and relish the thought of being fit enough to ride happily all day long.
    Tomorrow will be different. You will recover, and have days where you feel absolutely on fire; days when the riding is so easy you can look around and relish the view (and help me get to the top to share it).
    Some sifty riding sounds like a damn good idea, too.
    Just remember, even when you're struggling up Glenmore St by yourself, you're not alone.

  6. Hey Sifter, as for Stuart we haven't met.

    I've read your blog, shared your stories about Karapoti and the Brevet and look forward to your planned North Island epic.

    Remember everyday you ride your bike is a good day, just some may be even better than others.

    Getting out there with your "mates" on your bike, I think must be one of the best remedies there is.

    Keep biking, hopefully we'll meet on the tracks or backroads soon..