Sunday, August 3, 2008

Harvey, Sam, Joe & Chrissy

As I drove home this morning from the 'Early Birds Ride', I found my exhausted self trying to put the pieces of what I have been reflecting on this past week in the form of a lesson I can add to my experiences as an athlete an a coach.

I was exhausted thanks to Joe Zaverdas. I showed up at this long-time staple of Long Island summer cycling not knowing what to expect. I knew the ride was attended by the likes of Joe Z, Brian Wolf, in addition to the Charlie Rey's, and the Jeff Cline's (read: hammers) of local cycling. What I didn't expect was 50+ riders intent on drilling the ride right out of the parking lot on this 53 mile loop around the beautiful Hamptons, down Dune Rd. and back through surprisingly rolling terrain of the east end. Oh, and the other thing I didn't expect was the flat exactly 2 minutes from the start of the ride.

As the fast moving group flew by, a few guys asked if I wanted them to stop, but I said 'no, thanks', not wanting to be 'that guy'. I was riding in a rather inconspicuous kit, yet a few dudes recognized me as a rider who could help keep the pace high and politely offered to wait. No one really wants to stop and help and then have to chase a group of 50+ for an acquaintance, so I told them all to go on...then I saw the always intimidating form of Joe coming back to get me. I thought, 'this is going to be so bad'. After we fumbled with the flat that required a boot to make the sliced tired hold, 5 minutes has elapsed. As I tucked the bad tube and the expelled CO2 into my jersey, Joe said 'we'll catch 'em'.

The hollow in the pit of my stomach was cavernous...I was now obliged to stay with him until we caught back on to the group. You see, first, I had no spare at this point and was completely lost...more importantly, the dude had stopped and waited for beg for him to slow or to tell him to go on would mean I was a douche bag...I settled in for what was an act of sheer ferocity and a show of incredible strength on his part and for me, was an act of sheer unadulterated misery. 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 mph with zero let up for 30'...I did what I could...I had to offer to pull from time to time and would do my best, pulling for 45 seconds literally in the 'black hole' over 400W+ simply trying to match his pace and then suffering unspeakable agony trying not to get dropped off his wheel after he miraculously would seem to up the pace, refreshed from his minuscule respite.

In short, we caught the group that was scattering to the 4 winds on Dune Rd. as Joe made the final push over 30 mph into the stiff we made contact, I looked for a larger draft to compose myself in and marveled as he went right to the front of the group to treat the rest to a taste of the agony they had forced upon we crested the climb over the bridge off Dune Rd., he stood up, accelerated, sat back down and simply rode the last 7 of us off his wheel...every single one of us. When we met him at the designated regrouping spot, he quipped to us 'when you guys can stay on my wheel when I surge that that, you can win any race around here' (by the way, the average speed, on roads with stiff crosswinds, turns and a few stop signs requiring significant loss of momentum, the average speed after the 37' chase and 10' ride with the group was 24.8 mph) What Joe seems to have a difficult time understanding is that getting dropped by him isn't a choice any of us made...we simply could do no more.

When I sat down to type this, someone had sent me a link to a story about WC Chrissy Wellington winning the recent L'Alpe Duez triathlon...a 2.2K swim, a 115K bike and a 22K run...she had beaten the second place pro woman by nearly half an hour and beat all the male pros except one....she had come in second overall by a single minute. Interesting to add is that the same link contained an interview with her coach who swears she hasn't really pushed herself in a race yet...In other words, he claims she's cruising...he says her 2:59 marathon is nowhere near what she's capable of...holy shit, I said out loud. On a much grander scale, she is to triathlon what Joe Z is to the rest of us around here...simply in a different category.

Both these events made me think about simple individual physiology that Coach Sam Mussabini (from Chariots of Fire fame) was referring to when he said 'I cannot put in what God left out'.

Similarly, I remembered reading a quote by the great golf instructor Harvey Penick in answer to why he chose a career in teaching instead of tournament play. He said a single event destroyed any thought he had of ever playing the tour...he said "I heard the sound of Sam Snead striking a golf ball"...he adds "I knew at that moment, that the game was about to go to a level upon which I could never play".

I think the lessons of today have reminded me that most of us are simply playing at sport for our own personal competition with ourselves and that we need to understand what our limits are and to be pleased what we've accomplished in that context.