How to Despair

07.19.2005 | 11:37 am

A Note from Fatty: This post was originally published July 19, 2005 in my old MSN Spaces Archive, and is now part of my “Rescue Fatty’s Old Stuff” project.

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 embarrass 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 myself:

  • 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.


  1. Comment by Jeannette | 02.8.2009 | 12:12 pm

    I used to despair in every swim of a triathlon. “I Hate this” or” What do you think you are doing?” ” I’m never doing this again!” But I always showed up for the next race. Memory is short!…till next time.

  2. Comment by Aaron | 02.8.2009 | 1:19 pm

    “I’m never doing this ride again”. I have said that sentence at least a hundred times. I said it at the end of Leadville, and I hope to say it again this year.

  3. Comment by Ant | 02.8.2009 | 2:56 pm

    Fatty, you’ve really hit the nail on the head with that one – again. I usually include another stage – feeling guilty about all the money I have spent on bikes, the time away from my family riding and working on bikes – AND I WANT TO GIVE UP ON THIS STUPID RACE?

    Oh, and also thinking about the first possible point I can DNF without bringing complete and utter shame upon myself.

  4. Comment by Kathleen | 02.8.2009 | 6:21 pm

    Oh, so this is what the Livestrong century ride this summer is going to be like. Fun!

  5. Comment by JMD | 02.9.2009 | 6:58 am

    yeah, definately on the money with the psychological stages of any endurance sport. And lol @ “what is the point I can DNF without being ashamed”, that’s all everyone on the course is thinking!

  6. Comment by Darren | 02.9.2009 | 10:04 am

    Hey, I know this is an old post, and I could have missed it (and you certainly have plenty going on in your life now), but did you ever consider getting (formal) coaching? I was struck by the “Once again, I didn’t meet my goal. Too bad. Oh well, I’ll get it next time.” It’s something you won’t necessarily understand unless you try it…it’s not just for super strong folks/pro’s/whatever. You are also thinking I couldn’t go faster than I already have with all my years of riding/racing…if you haven’t been coached that’s almost certainly wrong.


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