Friday, August 21, 2009

Finding Comfort in the Crazy

Author and superathlete, Chris McDougall, has just published his most recent book, Born to Run. I commonly promote books that I have yet to read, however, as I was driving into Princeton today in my endless search for employment, I was listening to Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane on NPR. She was profiling McDougall's new book and talking with him about his adventures off the map. It immediately gave me goosebumps to hear this professional athlete and published author discuss his love for a sport and, for that matter, a culture, that involved absolutely NO competition. Enter the 4K mentality that our team had lived and breathed throughout these past couple months. After recently talking with my friend Raffi, who is now living in California and cycling with category ONE cyclists, we both realized the intensity that is injected into the sport and the culture that has been nurtured by those who are more concerned about sprinting up a hill faster than they did yesterday than noticing the snow-capped mountain right in front of them.

As both a runner (only temporarily out of commission) and a cyclist, I have constantly struggled with the culture to win. With this culture comes a huge industry of methods and gear that promote easier ways to run and bike. For example, as McDougall points out in his interview with Moss-Coane, there is no need for these fancy-schmancy running shoes that hit the shelves every season. Believe it or not, there is a much more natural way of running: barefoot. Despite the intrepid fear of being stabbed by a nail or two lying in the road, barefoot running has been proven as the most natural form of running and is the most successful method of maintaining proper body mechanics while hitting the pavement.

For me, the same issues may be occuring in the cycling world nowadays. Granted, I own a bike with a carbon fork and a specialized woman's seat, but in the way of "road shoes vs. mountain shoes" and CO2 pumps that weigh lighter than a frame pump I could care less. Not to brag, but along with 26 other AMATEUR cyclists, I biked across the entire continent on a less-than-spectacular bicycle (frame pump and clunky mountain shoes included) and I made it to San Francisco. I dunked my damn bike into the Pacific Ocean, for Christ's sake! It still runs to this day (minus a slightly broken bike computer...but who needs that high-tech shit anyways?) and I am not all-that-far behind my Dad, who has been cycling on a $5,000+ Serotta.

My point? People need to get back to the nature and beauty of where a sport originated from. (No, I will not use Lance Armstrong's over-used phrase.) It's not about the competition or the incessant desire for more advanced, light-weight gear. It's not about perfectly-wound handlebar tape, cushiony running sneakers or computers that calculate your time, distance, mph, rpm, heart rate, outside temperature, etc. It's about the love and the ecsatsy that floods your system as soon as you begin to move. When I bike or run, it's my time to think and clear my head. It's that rare hour or three hours where my mind and my body are so in sync that they fuse together in one continuous motion.

This orgasm of sorts is polluted when it's injected with all that excess and the added desire to win. Sure, it's fun to hit 40 mph going down a steep downhill, and it's exhilerating to hit your max speed on an uphill with your more-advanced friend. You suddenly realize how much more capable you are at the thing you love. It's a two-fer. However, when that becomes a constant state of mind, it can be detrimental. You give up the gift of adventure that our modern human bodies are so hesistant to lay before us. You can bike 30 miles a day, every day for the next 5 months, lose a good amount of weight and gain some pretty sexy looking quad muscles. But will you feel like you've transcended space and time? Have you climbed a mountain in every time zone of the country? Have you come upon a hidden tribe in the middle of the Copper Canyons?

It is just my personal preference, but if I had the choice, I would rather experience the unexperienced.

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