Updated: May 22
Recognizing the value of petite adventures
I like having a spring training goal of some kind. A challenging event on the horizon gives me the motivation to build serious training into the dark months of winter. Like most events, my target for last spring (a return to the Whiteface hill climb race) was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Without my goal to chase, I backed away from more focused workouts and settled into a routine that generally included less volume and more cross-training. With the uncertainty in my job and the world in general, it made sense for training to take a back seat.
Athletes the world over likely had some version of this experience. Olympic hopefuls saw much-anticipated events delayed, training plans upended, and dreams of competing on the world stage deferred. It's been fascinating to learn how different people have spent their pandemic realities. There's plenty of variety even among those who have the time and resources to commit to fitness and recreation. Some have focused on emerging from quarantine as fitter, stronger versions of themselves. The number of cyclists choosing to try "Everesting" (climbing the equivalent of the height of Mount Everest by completing repeated efforts on the same hill without sleep) grew to astonishing levels this spring. The record-setting crowds of hikers swarming the Adirondack high peaks this summer reflected our national need to escape and explore, or perhaps to turn a difficult situation into a new hobby or a healthier physique.
My own spring and summer were decidedly un-epic. The hikes I completed may have seemed ambitious in length, but were generally over mellower terrain (e.g., the Northville Placid Trail). I didn't embark on them to push myself to a physical limit. The regions of the the Adirondack Park where I would typically spend my summer visiting were far too busy for my taste. This fact, together with a shoulder in serious need of rehabbing, kept me away from the more ambitious treks I'd favored in the past.
There were no epic bike rides either; I don't think I rode my bike more than 30 miles even once this summer. Eben Weiss (AKA the "Bike Snob") recently penned a column about shorter rides. He wrote, "...the prospect of a life full of epics is seductive, but for most of us it’s simply unsustainable, and if you make the mistake of approaching cycling as an all-or-nothing proposition, then there’s always the danger that 'nothing' will win." When I abandoned my serious training this spring, I adopted the mindset Weiss describes: if I wasn't riding long and often, what was the point?
As the sun-blasted days of summer recede into memory (and with them the need to slather on unpleasant amounts of sunscreen), I've started riding my bike outside regularly again. My new favorite route is just 17 miles in length, featuring one challenging climb and a quiet stretch of forest. With the all the stress I'm feeling at work and the general uncertainty in the world, these rides have taken on a meditative quality that my training excursions usually lack.
September is drawing to a close and I've already enjoyed several shorter hikes with family in the Lake George area. We've found quiet trails and moved at a leisurely pace. It's strange to think that I'd normally be in the midst of a competitive cyclocross season or at least starting to train for my annual 10k Troy Turkey Trot. Instead, today I went for a short jog after some stretching and shoulder-specific exercises. It had rained all night and through the morning but the skies cleared and a brilliant autumn golden hour had commenced. The setting sun painted our neighborhood's crimson maple trees with a magical blush as I laid down a few nine minute miles. The air smelled like puddles and damp grass. Not epic, but not half bad.