We British don’t always do success, confidence and achievement very well – don’t come to me with your tails of fulfilment and personal growth, i’m much more interested in how flawed you are.
How disappointed are you? How unlucky are you? Just how far below your hopes and dreams has your life fallen?
Success is all well and good but get beyond the shiny veneer, dig into the stuff underneath, and there’s the story.
I had a cycling friend of a friend who, when it came to the bike, was very much all about the achieving thing. He was skinny, healthy, and mechanically quick, and as a result he was a tiny bit dull. And then, without warning, he got interesting.
He announced recently, with a shrug of resignation, that he was giving up cycling. We waited for the punchline, but it never came – he’d thought this through, you see.
Let me back up slightly…
This man is in his early forties, and has been cycling seriously for around 10 years. He lives in Cumbria where there is no flat, only climbs and descents, and he lives around 15 miles from his place of work. Almost every day he cycles to and from work – 30 miles a day, and into the realms of the super commuter – and then rides for fun (70 or 80 miles) at the weekend. That’s around 230 miles a week; over 900 miles a month; which equates to upwards of 10,000 miles a year.
When I say he cycles, as you can see, he really cycles.
And then suddenly he stopped. We all assumed this was some elaborate joke, and at some point we would be revealed as the punchline, so we kept quiet. Until eventually, after two weeks of inactivity one of us broke cover and asked the obvious question:
And his answer?
“I stopped getting quicker.”
Our friend was cycling with a firm and unshakeable belief that the more he cycled, week after week, year after year, the quicker he would get. How quick he wanted to get is unclear: Local hero? Amateur racer? Olympian? Eddy Merckx?
But he reached a plateau from which, no matter what physical punishment and denial of earthly pleasures he subjected himself to, he couldn’t move on. We’re talking about a guy who has been known to go months on end without wine, cake, late nights, and who knows what else.
That he has explored every avenue in the search for speed is not in doubt. But now, neither is the fact that he has peaked, and some spark inside him has gone out.
The fact is that this peak of his is pretty impressive; he’s quick, he’s just not Eddy Merckx. But he’s also a perfectionist, a control freak, and an obsessor over detail, and he’s discovered something he can no longer control – his ever increasing pace on the bike – so he simply bowed out.
It’s easy to picture him sitting at home in his Cumbrian cottage, his garage a shrine to cycling, with sepia pictures of Coppi and Merckx, surrounded by his bikes, kit, and tools, now unused and unwanted. He’s forlorn and lost and wondering what on earth to do with the endless hours of free time he now finds himself in possession of.
He talks about how he feels, his hopes and fears, and he talks about music, movies, culture and even…gulp (!)…starting a family.
With this soul-searching and inner struggle, our man got interesting.
Until the news, received late last night, that he’s back on the bike. He’s riding hard, testing out new training methods and fully focussed on riding faster than ever before. After spending a month eating and drinking whatever takes his fancy, staying up late, and stewing in his own juices, he’s back to being the cycling specific automaton that we all know and love.
To be honest, being interesting never really suited him anyway.