The vast majority of athletes will never compete professionally. In fact, very few will. And of the few who do hit the big time, even fewer will be good enough and lucky enough to make a long-term solid living at it. Which begs the question: Why? Why do athletes who realize they will never make it as a pro continue to compete through high school and collegiately? For some, it is the love of the sport. Indeed, these athletes continue to compete in their sports beyond college as recreational or serious Masters athletes. But, my gut tells me the majority of athletes who continue competing in school and beyond do so borne out of a sense that they “have to” keep training and competing. That they are doing these things because the wheel ruts are well worn. That they would be lost without being a slave to the grind.
On my ride this weekend, taking in some of the steep and long gravel climbs Boulder can serve up, I was just settling in and not worrying so much about effort. On a particular pitch, I got out of the saddle for about a quarter-mile, feeling good and enjoying the rhythm of the bike rocking beneath me. It was exactly then that I realized I would never again ride a bike as fast as I have in the past, even as recently as last year. And, that whatever KOMs and Top 10s I have on Strava were dead man walking results. Which then got me to thinking, “Why am I doing this?”
Why am I still working out and challenging myself. After deciding that last year was my last for bike racing, I don’t train nearly as much. A long ride is under 3 hours rather than 4-6. I’ve also started running again, after the better part of 15 years, aside from the odd cross-training while traveling or what have you. I have found that I put a greater value on my leisurely time than on my training time. I simply do not want to do a 100-miler on a Saturday. Nor do I want to burn an entire day or weekend traveling to a race, racing, waiting for awards and then traveling back home just in time for dinner. That grind holds no appeal to me anymore.
Instead of heading out the door at 0-Dark-30, I want to enjoy a quiet morning coffee with my lovely wife, be it a weekday or weekend day. I limit myself to 45-75 minutes for a workout Monday-Friday. Saturday is in the 1.5-3-hour range. Sundays are completely off. And, cardio workouts are secondary now. Primary is strength training. I hit the gym 5 days/week, lift first and then do a short cardio session directly after. In-and-out in roughly an hour.
Which has put me in touch as to the underlying “why” into which all of us should tune. The underlying “why” is not about competition. It is not about accolades. It is about well-being. It is about ensuring that when we hit our Golden Years, our bodies are holding up, that we are strong and sturdy and moving like people two decades our junior. It is so the back-half of our lives can be filled with just as much quality of life as our front half. And, let’s be honest – we worked so damn hard for so many years that it is a complete dereliction of duty if we hit retirement and move like a brittle piece of deadwood. Because then what the hell was all that sacrifice for?
Being physical has been an intrinsic part of my life since age 5. Being the best has morphed into being the best I can now be. I still put myself in the hurt locker plenty. When I feel like it and not when I don’t feel like it. And I no longer measure my output. Riding indoors will never happen again. I ditched my power meter and my KICKR. My bike computer is smaller than the face of my watch and is bare bones. I ride the gravel bike when I feel like riding it; I run the Boulder trails when I feel like running. I don’t care how many rides or runs I do in a given week. In cutting my weekly training volume in half and with the primary focus being on strength training, I feel healthier than I have in many years. And I feel more balanced. I would not change a thing.
I’ll never again swim a 5,000 for time and hold :58-:59 per 100yds. I’ll never churn out 5:00 miles for a 10k at the end of an Olympic Distance triathlon. I’ll never have an FTP well above 300 watts. What I WILL have is a more capable body — more mobile, stronger, heavier and leaner than at any time since I left college. The parable I like to use is that I just hit the turnaround in the TT of Life. It is critical there is enough left in the tank so that I’m hitting the finish line at full throttle, not running out of gas with a quarter of the race still to go. Because this is when life becomes a battle. This is when years of use, abuse, attention and neglect start being brought to bear. It has become time to focus on the daily grind that risks decimating us should we not give it the respect it well deserves. So that when we are finally on our death beds, we have allowed ourselves to wring every bit of quality out of this one life that we possibly could. That we regret nothing.
This is what motivates me now. This is the “why”.