Why Bike Breaks Are Good For Your Health
One of the worst experiences you can have is falling out of love with something you hold dear. This holds true for many things, animate and inanimate - a partner, a dear friend, a passion. I've "fallen out of love" with many things, but bicycles were the last thing I expected to grow resentful of...until I did.
Hockey: My First Obsession
Growing up in Massachusetts I started skating and playing ice hockey on our local town pond when I was around five years old. It was a physical salve for foot and ankle issues and what my parents correctly saw as a growing obsession with Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers. My parents saw hockey as constructive for me in many ways, and it was a farily accessible sport in rural Western Mass. Fast forward 20 odd years to me living in Washington D.C. Having played at a fairly competitive level, I was now shelling out a large amount of money and driving in heavy traffic from Virginia to a "nearby" rink in Central Maryland. There I would skate, if I was lucky, 30-odd minutes in a beer league sorely lacking talent. I was done. I fell out of love, and was comfortable with it. I don't mean to trivialized giving up hockey, but 20 years without a break took a permanent mental toll.
Falling out of love with hockey was a long time coming. Each year I logged in hundreds upon hundreds of hours on the ice, playing in multiple A leagues, and I just grew sick of it all. I realized I was an adult and could make my own choices. If I didn't want to play hockey anymore, I didn't have to. This was 2009, Lance Armstrong's comeback year in the Giro. I quickly traded skates and a stick for a road bicycle.
Bicycles: My Second Obsession
People commonly describe me as an "all in" person. I have no desire to dabble, and it shows in most things I've done be it work, education, or personal. Hockey was the best example of this and bikes were soon to become an even better example. I started racing in the Spring of 2014 after five years of aimless recreational riding, which I became bored with given the lack of structure, competition, and goals. I was riding a ton, at a pretty low weight (much lower than my current "phatboi" state), and my first New York bike friend Robert Constantino (f/k/a "Chip") suggested I join CRCA and race the Central Park C Field. I won my second Cat 5 race and was all in. The next season I joined a team, discovered cyclocross, hired a coach, and fueled the obsession even further.
I shed friends, retaining only those in the cycling scene; irrationally prioritized racing over the delicate balance of working a corporate job while completing my MBA; largely stopped going out; and slowly phased out most other interests in my life. This model lasted about three years, and signs of me cracking began to manifest themselves in July of this year.
Specifically, I can point to Intelligentsia Cup as the tipping point. Don't get me wrong, it was the most fun I've ever had racing, and arguably the most fun I've had on the bike - the whole experience was next level. I crashed on the third day, picked myself back up, cobbled together a bike, and went on to race seven more days. By the final day I was content just tail gunning, which was a first for me as I always wanted to do at least SOMETHING in a race.
A week and a half later I was gearing up for Millersburg except I felt an acute lack of ambition. Did I even want to go all the way there and pedal my bike hard, AGAIN? I wasn't sure. I mostly wanted to go there and hang out with my friends in a church and drink beer, which I could have done in New York.
I went, I did the time trial, I had a marginal amount of fun (mostly due to a friendly wager), and then I quickly dreaded having to race the crit later that afternoon. I raced the crit and pulled out a third of the way through. I was physically exhausted and mentally defeated a mere two laps into the race. I didn't even have the fight in me to get a good position at the pointy end of the race. I just didn't care. That night I was in a foul mood, and my good friend Mark Steffen called me out on it. Maybe bikes were no longer a healthy physical outlet given I had been all in for so long with no real breaks (~three years with no more than a week off the bike).
The next day I lined up for the road race - two rolling laps through the Pennsylvania countryside - and "joked" about pulling out during the first lap to have an egg sandwich and coffee. Except it wasn't a joke - I really did want to pull out on the first lap and have an egg sandwich and a coffee. I finished the race by sheer mental force of will (it wasn't hard, but I was dreadfully bored), and quickly declared road season over. I was stoked for 'cross and Cycle-Smart CX camp the following weekend...right?
Cyclocross camp was awesome. I learned a ton and was still pretty amped on the season, which for me started Labor Day weekend with Granogue. However, in the back of my head I thought "man, I've basically trained almost every day during the work week, and traveled nearly every weekend for something bike-related from June through August. A break would be nice!" I never gave myself a break. I had one weekend in town, which of course I trained through, and then it was the week of Granogue.
My mood had grown quite dark. I was stressed, tired, dreading the drive down to Delaware, and most importantly dreading the early alarm and race. I grew extremely bummed when the forecast started calling for cool temps and lots of rain and mud. Why was I annoyed about perfect 'cross conditions? I just wanted to sit in my apartment with the lights off and play my new Nintendo Switch. I hadn't thought or cared about video games in a decade as I deemed them unconstructive, but here I was wanting to be a mindless zombie and annoyed that I couldn't be.
Dear Bicycles, I Hate You
The morning of Granogue came. I lined up, I raced, and I hated every bloody second of it. I hated the people I was racing with, I hated the pain I was in, I hated the weather, I hated the course, I hated Delaware, I hated the DuPont family, I hated my bicycle...I hated everything that had to do with this wondrous two wheeled mode of transportation. I was crashing everywhere in the chocolate frosting-like corners and climbs, and slipped from the top five down to the mid-teens where I finished. I didn't care. I rode off the course to where the King Kog boys and Steve Rousseau were sitting, grimly smiled, and proclaimed that I was done with bikes, at least for a few weeks.
The next week, I half heartedly did my workouts. That weekend, I decided I was done with my season. I didn't want to train, I didn't want to race, I didn't want to ride my commuter bike to work. Bicycles became ice hockey to me. Except they didn't.
Dear Bicycles, Please Take Me Back
With hockey, I never acknowledged the importance of breaks or an off-season. Even though I became resentful of bikes, I knew it was (hopefully) only temporal as breaks are needed to reset the body and mind.
Over the course of the Fall my mood has, arguably to some, grown less dark, and I've done tons of things I hadn't done in years. I've traveled, put more focus on my job, read books, played video games, gone to concerts, explored New York City, slept in, Seamlessed bagels and coffee to my apartment, gone on more dates, and as a result have managed to enjoy greatly reduced stress levels. I was actually living a healthy, normal human lifestyle. A lifestyle that many bike racers don't necessarily enjoy or prioritize. I'm not getting paid to race my bike so why treat it like a full time job?
Recently I've started riding a bit more, have gone back to commuting, and even went up to CSI in Northampton to spectate where I cheered on my teammates. Last week I had my biggest step forward in regards to my return to bikes - I acknowledged that I missed 'cross and bike racing in general. Today, I'm growing more focused, and seriously starting to look towards next year, and all of the anticipated awesome experiences racing brings.
I know I've written a lot on this page, but my point is simple: obsession is unhealthy. Take breaks, and strive for balance with the things you love. If you don't, you might just grow to resent them.