How to Despair

07.19.2005 | 7:13 pm

I’ve done a lot of endurance rides — more than a dozen 100-mile MTB races, and probably more than a couple dozen events and just-for-"fun" rides. I’ve learned that my mood arc, from beginning to end, is perfectly predictable:
  1. Nervous excitement before starting: Do I have everything I need? Is my equipment OK? Am I fast enough to keep up / not embarass myself / reach my goal time?
  2. Giddiness at the beginning: Excited at the prospect of adventure, enjoying being around friends/like-minded cyclists, adrenaline from crossing a starting line.
  3. Helpful / friendly "Mr. Rork" (from Fantasy Island) phase: Talking with anyone who’ll engage about what lies ahead, how to gauge / meter your effort, pleasure at having so much sage advice to give.
  4. In the moment: Settling into the biking groove, no longer feeling a need to talk, thinking about whether I’m eating and drinking enough. This is the best mood of the race — Sometimes whole miles will elapse where I’m only peripherally aware of my surroundings: it’s just me, my legs, and the sense of motion. It’s a good place.
  5. Despair: I’ve slowed drastically and have begun talking to myself. I hate my bike, I hate the trail, I hate the other racers, I hate my former self: the obviously-idiotic self that thought doing another endurance ride was a good idea.
  6. Anticipation: My mind is on one thing only — crossing the line. I usually adopt a mantra for this part: "5 more miles. I can make it. 5 more miles. I can make it. 4.98 miles. I can make it.
  7. Resignation: Once again, I finished. That’s good, I guess. Once again, I didn’t meet my goal. Too bad. Oh well, I’ll get it next time.

Trash Talking to Myself

I don’t think I’ve ever done an endurance ride without going through all those stages, in that order. Of all these moods, though, I think "despair" is the most interesting. It’s absolutely the most informative, because a part of me I usually suppress comes to the foreground, and seems to feel that this is a good time to give me a frank assessment of my abilities, character, and priorities. Here are a few quotes from the conversations I have had with myeself:

  • For once — just once — can you try not being weak?
  • You have no business here. You have no strength, no speed, no endurance.
  • You have no business on a bike whatsoever, for that matter. You have no technical skill, you can’t climb, you can’t sprint, you can’t do anything.
  • What did you think you’d accomplish by doing another long ride? Did you think you’d learn something? Did you think you’d be faster than before? Did you think you’d impress your coworkers?
  • Your priorities are messed up. You waste all your time riding instead of being with your family. Or writing a book. Finish this ride, then sell the bike. Grow up.
  • Another guy just passed you. And he’s not going fast.
  • You had a whole year to train and lose weight for this. So were the Oreos worth being fat and slow? Did they taste so good that you don’t mind being out here pushing your bike up a hill, when you could be finished right now?
  • Do you think anyone would care if you quit? Nobody would. Get off your bike and tell people you were too sick to go on.

There are lots more — these are just the ones that come first to mind.

And yes, I always speak to myself in the second person during this stage. And yes, sometimes I do say these things aloud. And no, there’s never an angel sitting on my right shoulder, answering the demon sitting on my left. I never reply to the questions I ask myself. Continuing to turn the cranks seems like the only answer there is.


Today’s Weight: 168.2


Sweepstakes Change: I’ll be vacationing with my family this Friday, so won’t be posting — or checking my weight — on that day. So I’m changing this week’s Sweepstakes to Thursday, and setting my target weight for that day to 166.4.


  1. Comment by Unknown | 07.19.2005 | 8:01 pm

    you’ll be hearing from my lawyer about your sudden change in the sweepstakes competition this lawyer says you’re weak, slow, fat, and, again, fat.hmm, oreos.

  2. Comment by Unknown | 07.19.2005 | 8:10 pm

    "Continuing to turn the pedals seems like the only answer there is."Genius. That might find a spot on my handlebars for inspiration.

  3. Comment by kris | 07.19.2005 | 8:42 pm

    Great post!! I think we all go through something similar, although I use much more profanity.

  4. Comment by Robert | 07.19.2005 | 10:17 pm

    The Laramie Enduro was the only time I’ve ever gone into as dark a place as you describe. That was miserable. Oh, and Kokopelli’s. And maybe Leadville. I’m usually more upbeat: "OK, so I just got passed on a hill by a guy wearing Levi’s and a pinwheel hat. I’ll catch him right after I throw up."

  5. Comment by Unknown | 07.20.2005 | 5:21 am

    That’s pretty much spot-on for me, except overarching the "despair" and "anticipation" phases is the "holy crap I can’t wait to eat an enormous pizza when I’m done with this" phase. This is lost in the murk of the "resignation" phase when I realize I pushed way too hard to actually be hungry and am bone-tired — in fact, too tired to sleep. Thus is prolonged the "resignation" phase, until it’s subsumed into the "gee, that was fun in retrospect — I should sign up for a race like that again" phase, sometime in the next 1 to 14 days.


Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.