How fast can you think? Today, we’ll get into how fast we process information, and why a lot of what we do as cyclists needs to become second-nature; reflex, not thought.
We tend to think of the mind as this incredible super-computer, able to do amazing amounts of parallel processing, and performing innumerable calculations that we’re not even aware of. And to be honest, it is. It’s a phenomenal predictive machine, that uses all kinds of data input and previous information to make educated (and sometimes uneducated) guesses about the world and what will happen next.
When is it time to say when? At what point should that towel be thrown? Sometimes, knowing when to roll away is just as important as knowing when to keep going.
We have limits. Denying limits is – frankly – stupid. The only way to push beyond your limits is to know them, to test them; to elucidate the border between the possible and impossible, allowing yourself a chance to redefine that border.
Denying that you have limits is a great way to get into trouble. If you sign up for a double-metric for next weekend and your longest ride has been 50 miles? There’s a chance you might survive, sure. But more than likely you’re setting yourself up for failure (or at minimum, a horrible time).
So why am I bringing all this up? Well, we often hear things like “just push through” and “keep pedaling” and “you can do anything you set your mind to,” yada yada yada. Velominati would quote Rule #5 – “Harden the fuck up.” All those are great. Seriously, I applaud those who continually challenge themselves: more miles, more climbing, faster speed, bigger events, tougher competition. The only way to get better is to push out of your comfort zone. But that comfort zone has a purpose, and one of the biggest purposes is to keep you safe.
Tulsa isn’t a big town. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot bigger than some microscopic towns I’ve ridden through whereby your mere presence increases the population 10%. But in comparison to most metropolitan areas, it has far more land than people.
For all that, it does have a decently sized cycling population. But again, you’re talking maybe thousands of cyclists out of almost a million people in almost 1,000 sq. miles. And out of those thousands of cyclists, maybe a few hundred racers.
Why do I bring all this up? Because I wanted to show that we’re a rare breed. Just as a cyclist, you’re already in rarefied territory. So when it’s race time, guess what? The majority of your competition is going to be made up of not only people you know, but people you probably ride with on a normal basis.
In larger metros like LA, NYC, etc., there’s hundreds of teams and thousands of racers. You could ride for weeks if not months without needing to ride with a competitor. In the Midwest, it’s more like dozens of teams and hundreds of racers, and you see your competition every other ride.
You ride again, you don’t crash, you’re happy, but… you start to wonder. Is my number almost up?
The more miles you ride or race without a crash, the more you might think, “It’s gonna be my turn soon.” The longer you ride, the more inclined you might be to think this way.
This is what’s known as the gambler’s fallacy. The idea is that given a repeated outcome, you start to mistakenly believe that this outcome is less likely to happen again. Like riding without a major incident: it’s easy to start thinking that the longer you ride without crashing, the more likely it is that a crash will happen.
You want me to tell you you’re the best, that you’re gonna win? Sorry, I got nothing.
You want the truth: here it is. There are people who are better. Faster. Stronger. Hell, they even look cooler. That ain’t mean. That’s life. But their success does not diminish you. Their speed does not make you slow. Their strength does NOT make you weak. Their win DOES NOT equate to your loss.
You. That’s it; beginning to end. You want to be better? BE better. You want to get faster? GET faster. It hurts? Push harder. You’re done? Do it again! Leave it all on the road. Tear. Yourself. Apart! For there is NO tomorrow. There is NO woulda/shoulda/coulda. There is only NOW. And now will not come again.
Sweat. Break. Bleed. And be better for it. There is only one opponent. One competitor. There is no one else. They don’t matter. It’s you. It’s only you.
You are what you are. Now go become what you want to be.
By now, most of you have ridden in a group ride, or a mass start tour ride. Your skills have improved, you’ve got thousands of miles under your belt, and your speed is starting to really climb. So, you want to jump into a race. But what is it like within that peloton? How does it differ from a group or tour ride? What should you look out for?
The more you know going into that peloton, the safer you – and everyone else – will be.
If you picked up a wheel, could you mistake it for a bike? Probably not. But you know it’s a part of the bike. What about the handle bars? The saddle? The tires? Any individual piece will tell you something of the bike, but you can’t call any of them the a bike without the rest of them. The entity of the bike is – as with many things in life – more than the sum of it’s parts.
Our brains work the exact same way. No one neuron contains a memory. You can’t just pull out a single brain cell and say, “Yep, that’s Friday, 7:15 PM, when I ate that steak.” That neuron contains only a piece of the information. A very small piece. Through it and the thousands of others surrounding it, we start getting a sense of the idea, and in turn the idea itself. Every memory, every thought, is an aggregate of many smaller pieces that on their own don’t mean much.
We’ve all been beaten at one point or another. Be it through harder circumstances than we could bare, tougher competition, or even just bad luck. It happens. Sometimes we’re beaten, and other times we beat ourselves.
But watching my fellow cyclists, I’ve noticed a lot of us – myself most definitely included – are getting caught up in glorifying defeat.
Forget the bike. Forget the gear, the road, the nutrition. Forget everything but you. Stand there and take a good, hard look. There are some truths you’re going to have to face. You are you – no one else. You are only as strong as you are. You’re only as fast, as well trained as you. This is important, because everything – everything starts there. With you.
There are two sides to this ancient Greek aphorism (an inscription from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi). In one sense, it’s a warning: to know your limits, be humble, and avoid boasting. In the case for the Temple of Apollo, it could be taken as a reminder to walk humbly in the presence of gods. On the other side, it means that the opinions of others account for nothing – that you must know who you are, no matter what others say or do.