I get to certain parts of my training when I begin to crave his blows, especially in winter. Winter is the time of year when training is a time for reflection and spending hours on the bike. Thoughts of hill repeats and intervals don’t creep into even the dampest corners of my mind as I kit up and set out upon the road, just me and my bicycle, the rhythm, and the weather.
The rides are long, the intensity low and the lack of tactical objective is both liberating and concerning. I cherish the simplicity of this sort of riding; the weather is cold if not bad – but usually it is cold and bad. Just being on the bike means you’re training harder than most everyone else, which feels empowering. But there is a complacency that is unnerving; I’m unsettled by the question of whether I still know how to hurt myself. But this is not the time of year for me to push so hard on the climbs that I can answer that question for myself, so I begin to yearn for his hammer’s cruel blow, so I can prove that suffering is still where I thrive.
She arrives with the same abruptness that he does. La Volupté, yin to The Man with the Hammer’s yang, comes uninvited but welcome. Her visits are swift encounters, an angelic push to make the hill a bit shorter or the wind a bit less fierce. Before you realize she was there, she is gone.
But yesterday, she clung closely to me, pushing me along for the duration of my ride. The fluidity in my stroke felt other worldly, the lines I took into corners were as perfect as the gear I chose to exit them. The cadence always seemed in harmony with the terrain. I felt blissful joy at being on my bicycle.
Then the rain began to fall, lashing at me and chilling me to the bone. The sound of the rain rapping on my helmet was motivation; the sound of the spray from my tires onto my downtube was confirmation of my speed. I felt her next to me, acting as my personal conduit to The V. I pushed harder, I rode faster. But still I felt only the fluidity of the pedals spinning beneath me and the steady breath in my lungs. I was outside myself, an observer. Whatever was happening on the bicycle was going to happen with or without me.
The Man with the Hammer and La Volupté; bonded together as Pain and Grace. Pain is easy to recognize, easy to process, and easy to conquer. Grace, on the other hand, is elusive and easily mistaken. I have not felt so good on a bicycle for as long as I can recall, possibly ever. I work hard to be the best rider I can be, and the sport repays me in equal measure of what I put in. That is the beauty of it, the harmonious symmetry of dedication to a craft.
Yesterday, it was different. I was paid something forward, and I will not forget it. Vive la Vie Velominatus.