My Fixie - The Occidental Gentleman (The O.G.)
It worked out alright. Really well in fact. I feel better than I've felt in a long time, both physically and mentally.
Part of the improved outlook stems from improved opportunity to ride and improved legs. For the last three or four weeks I've been riding around 75 to 100 miles per week, which sounds like a lot but which works out to a medium long ride and a couple short rides per week. This week, I upped it to about 175 miles of mostly zone 2 easy aerobic riding. It was exactly what the doctor ordered.
As I was pedaling out some long miles, I thought about the effect of different types of workout on different parts of the psyche. Freud invented a mythos of the psyche, positing that the mind consists of three parts: Id, Ego, and Superego. The Superego is the grownup part of the brain. It tells us to eat spinach because it's good for us, and that's what grownups do. The Ego is the adolescent chunk of the mind. It tells everybody, "Hey! Look at me! I'm eating spinach! Isn't that awesome?" The Id, for all the bad press about being the primordial part of the mind, just is. It's the part that tastes the spinach and goes, "hmmm... tasty. I think I want some more of this."
Different workouts hit different parts of the psyche. Intervals, for instance, are a creature of the Superego. The grownup brain knows that to ride well, one needs to do plenty of hill repeats, VO2, tempo, and other kinds of painful intervals. So it makes everybody else do them. The Id can occasionally be conned into enjoying intervals ("I think I vomited a little... awesome!") and the ego occasionally brags about doing them ("I hit 380 watts for nearly 20 seconds there... ain't I grand?") but only the Superego really likes doing them.
The adolescent Ego part of the brain likes doing group rides and races, as long as they go well. "Hey everybody! Check this out! I just kicked ass!" The Id goes along for the ride there and says, "Ugh. Me kick ass! Sweeeet!" The Superego, meanwhile, says, "I suppose there's health benefits, but you probably don't want to ride with your heartrate over 180 for too long. The health benefits of that are unproven, at best..."
The Id - which some people describe as infantile, but which I think of as the Lizard Brain - lives for long, slow distance rides. The Id likes having its belly scratched, and you can do a lot of belly-scratching on a 3.5 hour zone 2 ride. You get to eat stuff ("mmm... Clif bars warmed up in leg of bib shorts to chewy goodness... numm nummm numm"), drink stuff ("ooooh, nature break. Can I have a Coke?") and see stuff ("beautiful sunrise... me likee.")
In my life, the Id is the tough part to win over. I have a fairly responsible job that makes my Superego happy; it's easy to win over because the Superego is like a Lutheran minister from the Midwest - stereotypically predictable. (There goes my Lutheran evangelist readership...) My Stepford Superego *looooves* my job. He also likes the fact that I pay my bills, keep a roof over the family's head, drive no faster than the speed most people are doing in the fast lane, go to church regularly, eat oatmeal, and stopped getting drunk all the time nearly 6 weeks ago. Superego happiness does not translate to general happiness, however, just as taking your foul-tasting medicine rarely brings a smile to your face. The Superego is a (justifiably) proud fellow, and the very proud are never very happy. He's a great guy, but a little soulless and completely artificial.
My Ego is also pretty easily won over. Y'know the socially responsible stuff my Superego takes, um, something like joy in? Well, my Ego rejoices in that stuff. When my Superego does something good, my Ego crows, "YEAH BOYYY! That's MY Superego. Mine! You hear me? How ya like me now, caucasian?" Every time I read about some mobbed up lawyer, or jackass homeowner who could have paid his mortgage but walked away because he was underwater, my Ego screams, "I'm better than you, ya big jerk!" Ego happiness is pretty shallow. It's a sucker for phony, self-delusional thrills, crowing over minor accomplishments done by Id or Superego, and making its own accomplishments out to be much greater than they really are. The Ego is a delusional fellow when you get right down to it. The Buddha said "if you meet me on the road, kill me," but what he really meant was "be a good chap and open a can of old school whup ass on my Ego, willya?" The Ego is a cheerleader type and we all need a bit of cheerleading, but after a while the Ego gets to be like that Will Ferrel / Cheri Oteri SNL sketch - a bit overplayed.
The Id on the other hand... the Id always does things more or less in perspective. Sure, it's ungoverned by conscience or a sense that others are looking, but it's bloody honest. It's the home of the primordial feelings of gratification, anger, fear, frustration, hunger, and angst. If you have an impulse, it was generated by the Id. The Id doesn't have a higher consciousness, but it is pretty smart. It knows what it likes when it sees it. The Id doesn't much like working all the time, the stress of a mortgage, or even all that stupid shit the Ego wants to pull on group rides. "Oh great, so you rode off the front for a half hour, Ego. Now that we're shot and the ride is getting tough, what do you want me to do? Make the call of shame? 'Cuz I will... I don't give a f*** what your friends think." The Id doesn't much like intervals either. It regularly tells the Superego, "You want me to do what? No effin' way... well, okay, if you hold a gun to my frontal lobe, like always, I'll do it. But it doesn't mean I'll like it."
But you go on a long slow ride, it's like taking a ScotchBrite pad to the Id, polishing it up and making it shine. All the rust, all the angst and deep seated resentment over the latest turdpile the Ego and Superego have landed us in, gets scrubbed away. The Id spends three or four hours just enjoying the sights, feeling the wind, maybe enjoying a little bit of sun on the face and a very alive feeling in the legs. LSD rides are very sensual and enjoyable, if you can just get yourself out of the mindset that it's training and into the mindset that you're riding your bike for fun.
Bob Roll, the King of Inadvertent Id Musings, said that the thing he missed most about pro racing was the six and seven hour slow training rides. Of course that's right. Long rides are nothing but self gratification. Sure, the Superego can turn them into spinach if it does the calculations just so, and the Ego can try to turn them into a bragging fest. But if we are being honest - and the Id is nothing if not honest about what it wants and doesn't want - then LSD rides are stolen pleasures.
For starters, you need to have three or four or five hours to donate to the cause. You don't just get time like that if you're married and have a mortgage and a job. You have to steal the time, either by getting up super early, or by burning off vacation time, or by shirking somewhere else. I happen to have a huge amount of leave saved up that I have to burn, so there's this big reservoir of should-be-working-time that I can squander on myself.
For another thing, you need to plan to be comfy. You won't be working real hard, so a huge sweat isn't in the cards, and you don't want to be too cold, so you bring plenty of transitional clothes to keep your temperature just right. You'll need to bring some food so you grab a few of your favorite energy bars and maybe think about hitting the Sheetz in the middle for some additional grub. One of my favorites is to have a big cornbread muffin at this gas station down near Galesville... yummy. Plus you'll drink plenty, and knowing you're 2500 calories into a ride you won't feel guilty downing a Coke or eating a candy bar in the last hour if you feel a little bonky.
Finally, and most importantly, your Superego and Ego can work some things out quietly, in the background, while the Id is running the show. I think through a lot of issues on these long rides, whether they are specific work-related topics, family or financial thoughts, contemplations about my next bike build, relationships I've screwed up or done well with, people I miss or could stand to see less of, or even general what-is-the-meaning-of-life type questions. The funny thing is, I work through that stuff mostly in the background. There's no stress and the supra-terranean portions of my psyche work it out with the cognitive specialist, but the usual din of their debate is absent. Meanwhile, my Id is playing and running the show for several hours, the volume is turned down on conscious thought, and different things just pop up in my mind to work through, at a peaceful and slow pace.
When I finish a long ride, my legs are tired but my mind and my spirit are refreshed. When I finish several long rides over the course of several days, and ignore the usual burdens that weigh heavily on me... well, I can't even describe how good I feel compared to my usual donkey self.
Things are looking up enough after this week off from life that I felt the need to do a comparison ride today, spinning along a course that I rode six weeks ago as my first ride-resembling-actual-training after my layoff. That ride kicked my ass then. Today? It was no big deal to knock it out on the fixie, and I added five or six miles to the tail end just for good measure. Half the ride was spent attempting to sprain my cheeks by smiling like an idiot, with some Dead and the Raconteurs on the I-Pod. The mind was empty, just soaking up the good vibes on the road, spinning along and thinking about upping the gear inches from the 55 inch cog to the 65 inch cog. Paying attention to my Id for a week has worked wonders for my legs. Bottom line:
This is your brain.
This is your brain on long zone 2 rides.
Get the picture?