I have mixed feelings about goals. They’re necessary, but can’t be fixated upon. Martin Buber would probably have said that a goal is like mistaking the finger pointing to God as God. Goals, while seemingly an end, are really more like a means to get to the end. Riding at 300 watts for an hour is a goal, but really, it’s pushing yourself as hard as you can and if you’ve done that, whether or not you can turn 300w is secondary.
Last year, finding goals was hard–staying alive and keeping a roof over head are always paramount goals and thankfully weren’t challenges. Figuring out goals once Groundhog Day started on March 16, and has been basically going ever since, was itself a challenge. Finding goals when time appears to stand still is a trick that I’m still learning.
Last year, with racing gone, family around 24/7, I wanted to have some riding goals, but not be too fixated on them. So I devised my own challenges, some short (hello Strava segments, what road didn’t I ride recently), some long (always a fresh route to tackle), with the main goal of remaining active and happy about riding my bike.
So, it was with some surprise that I realized about a week before the New Year that I could crease 9,500 miles for 2020. I thought my miles would be lower. I don’t know if I should be proud or embarrassed by the number. On the one hand, a friend did nearly 10,000 miles more than that in 2020. On the other, few even ride 9,000 miles.
The number doesn’t have any meaning other than it’s a big-seeming round number. On Sunday before the New Year, I didn’t get in as many miles as I had hoped, so I knew I’d be cutting it close. With it raining on December 31st, and with other plans for the afternoon, I didn’t know if I’d be able to get in the 36 miles I needed to pass this newfound magic number.
I finally got outside at 2:30pm, and with the rain seemingly not going away, I decided to just do laps in Central Park. No worries about cars or getting splashed with cold water or slippery surfaces or running out of daylight. Six laps would put me two miles over my goal.
After four laps, I wasn’t feeling the joy, so I came home, trying to avoid feeing defeated, knowing I was short of my goal. It wasn’t really working. I had a bit over 11 miles to ride. I knew the goal was arbitrary, at the same time I feared the throwing in of the proverbial towel would weigh on me.
When I told my wife, she suggested I go out for more, just to feel a sense of accomplishment.
Feeling like I was fence-sitting, a bad sign, I pondered. And I realized that if I set up my rollers without the headwind unit, I could probably tap out the final miles in about a half hour, with little stress and tunes in my years.
20mph without resistance on rollers was too easy. I upped it to 30mph. And that was still too easy. Then 35mph. Then, for one song, Born To Run, I picked it up to 38mph. I crossed 9,500 a bit under 20 minutes into the spin. Born to Run over, I dropped it into the small chain ring, and cooled down for the next ten.
Goal accomplished. Though now I see I should have gone for another four minutes and eight seconds, so I could have ridden for 670 hours for 2020.
Which is the problem with goals. Every mountain climbed reveals the others you have yet to summit. And there are more yet just out of view.
The annual odometer turned to zero nearly a week ago now and I’m still trying to get my head around riding goals for the year. I’ve kept a newspaper headline from December 20, 2020 that reads HANG IN THERE. HELP IS ON THE WAY. But way back then, I was thinking a semblance of “normal” might come June 2021. But with the botched-seeming rollout of Covid vaccines, that seems too optimistic.
I normally love to just get out and ride steady outside for as much time as I can find and as much effort without feeling like it’s work, with some runs and indoor sessions mixed in to have two alternative outlets if snow and bitter cold return to the region, which they probably will for a few days a few times; such is global warming. The reason used to be racing. Now with that somewhere beyond the horizon, the goal is possibly the most simple. I’m riding my bike to ride my bike. That was always the alpha and the omega, the means and the end, feeling good about the sensations at the moment and how deep I can go and how that affects my state of mind. Want speed, want sweat, want lactic acid burns, and lung sears. Racing, like school and work and weekdays and weekends, helped give form and purpose.
The ride is the ride. That should be enough.