When my buddy Ben asked me to pick one of my races and write about it, I spent quite a while thinking of what to write about. In the end, I realized that what has been the most interesting and rewarding part for me, is not about one single race, but about my journey to becoming an athlete, and the total transformation of my outlook on health and success.
This is not to say that the excitement of being competitive at a higher level wasn’t, at first, the singular goal. There are so many different thrills one can get from bike racing, from the chess-like tactical side to the pure rush of adrenaline as you drop the pack in a moment of muscular clarity. From the single-minded teamwork of a winning breakaway group, to the sheer exhaustion and reward of even having finished the event at all.
One of the things I love most about Road racing is that it’s about more than pure fitness. It’s about knowing your abilities and weaknesses, and those of your many opponents. Try to imagine playing poker and chess at the same time with 20 or more guys while at the same time pushing your body harder than most people will ever experience in their lifetimes. It’s about years of making mistakes, watching other people make mistakes, and finding out what works, not just for others but also for you as an individual. It’s about creativity; how can I get an advantage when these guys know my tricks? Who is positioned where in the pack right now? Who will react if I attack, and will I proceed if they keep with me? Nothing will make you feel more exhausted, and more alive!
I read this quote by the great warrior named Sun Tzu recently: “To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.” My translation: Have your shit together and keep it together. Simply be more prepared and more aware than your opponent; do not be the one who has put in less work or has made stupid mistakes. ‘Not losing’ must ALWAYS come before winning.
It doesn’t mean a person will win all the time simply through experience, and all the benefits that it brings, but one can rest assured that a lack of it will guarantee a higher percentage of losses, and can ultimately lead to quitting in frustration. But what defines ‘the fight’…. and who is the opponent in your case? Or for your friends and loved ones? What lessons can be learned from this outside of ‘battle’?
A brief history: After college in 1990, I started racing, and took it pretty seriously for a few years, but as a budding graphic designer, it was very hard to keep up with the costs involved with the equipment and the travel. Over the years I was forced to focus more on my career, but never left bike racing entirely. I still did the odd mountain bike race and some weekly club road races… but it was frustrating and painful being too heavy and too under-trained to do well. I would (usually after being dropped) marvel at the super-fit guys winning the Tuesday night road races. It was hard to suffer like this week after week, but for some reason I kept coming back. This went on for a decade and a half, but I never stopped listening and learning. There was a spark of passion that wouldn’t extinguish.
In 2008, I realized that at some point, I had make a decision to either to just ride for relaxation, or go ‘all-in’ and see what I was capable of, even if only for a few seasons. The light bulb went on in a big way you might say, and I chose the latter and decided to try to win a Tuesday nighter. That was my goal; win a single Tuesday nighter, against guys half my age who were competing on a national level. Pretty audacious given the state I was in, believe me.
So at 41 years old, I went from Cherrio’s and cows milk to oats and almond milk; from grilled cheese to rice and veggies; from too much meat to more salad; from refined sugar to stevia drops… you get the idea. My weight went from a high of 250lbs to a low of 202lbs. This was the hard part… not the training and racing; that stuff is fun (mostly!). Diet is by far the biggest challenge most people will have in positively affecting their health, but it can be done, especially with the aid of goals-based life approach. Long story short; I am now the Tuesday night overall champ for 3 years running (and leading this year), the provincial 40km time trial champ 2 years running, and in 2011 surpassed not just my goals, but my wildest dreams, by winning the overall title in the elite category 1-2 in Saskatchewan’s biggest race, Bikes on Broadway.
OK, so big deal right? Yay, good for me. In terms of my athletic achievements, without hesitation, the term ‘small pond’ comes to mind. However in terms of a personal transformation, I am a different person because of the journey, not because of the particular level I now race at.
Athletics has not just taught me, but deeply instilled in me, an innate awareness that if I learn to not just ignore, but deeply despise my doubts, I can achieve higher goals in whatever arena I choose; it’s simply a matter of commitment to all the things your endeavor entails. If “the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself”, then I choose not to provide my opponent with my own failure. So who is my next opponent going to be?
As a freelance visual communications designer, I have done reasonably well, and have even won international awards–which is great–but as with winning cycling races, it’s far more about knowing you did your best, not just about reaching any particular point. While I have a similar passion for communications design as I do for cycling, I similarly never felt I really committed fully to it.
The long journey to my personal athletic success has given me the golden opportunity to stare a great many low points directly in the face, and repeatedly refuse to back away. Every time I bounced back, the more of a habit it became; it’s really true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but you can’t become stronger if you avoid the struggle.
In my case it was cycling. For someone else it might be woodworking or cross-stiching, makes no difference. This process has given me the tools to apply the same approach to my career. I am moving into an office this fall and plan to bring it up to the next level; and just as I was excited about racing at a new level, I am excited about running my business at new level.
My opponents in cycling were not the other riders, those people are my friends. My opponent was laziness. My opponent was me quitting. And what about now? My mortal opponent now is mediocrity in my work, and I will bring the same attitude into this arena.
So who is your opponent? Invite them into your life. Embrace them. Invite the lowest of the lows also, then explain to them firmly, yet politely, that you appreciate and recognize their value, but they WILL NOT stop you. No one can stop you.
Now… let’s go kick some ass.
Christian Jensen / August.09.12