In this blog entry I recall the conclusion of my goal, set late in 2015, to ride 10,000 miles (16,000 km); and then share some of my thoughts on how the bicycle, while riding about 3000 of those miles in northern Germany, helped me to recover from overtraining syndrome.
Before I flew to Deutschland from Denver International in September 2015, I made plans to return to Fort Collins, Colorado, fulfilling a basic travel requirement of German Customs and Immigration. At that time, the plan was to return in late December, allowing for a three month stay in Hamburg, Germany with my girlfriend. Plans changed slightly, by a few weeks, following acquisition of a six-month tourist visa. The six month extension allowed me to stay into the middle of January (and beyond of course) at which point I was being encouraged by my coach to return to Fort Collins and initiate training at elevation for the upcoming 2016 season. Despite how quickly the bonus days came and went, it was a wonderful couple of weeks including a memorable New Years Eve celebration in the Hanseatic city of Lubeck - picture a sky festooned with fireworks and enough smoke to conceal a massive forest fire! Following the bonus weeks, and a sad departure, I was on my way back to Fort Collins on January 10th; and on the ground, but still nearly a mile high, the following day.
Over my nearly four month visit to Hamburg, the process of recovering from overtraining syndrome, my reality by June 2015, had been slow. But gradually I broke the cycle of melancholy that dominated my mind when I considered racing and often, life and cycling in general. Partly, this was accomplished by a very patient girlfriend, my "second coach" by the way, as she refers to herself. Nutrition, yoga, stretching and sauna, other forms of relaxation, and time ... also contributed to my steady recovery. But most of all, it was the bike that brought me back to a sensible reality, and a strategic late season (September) goal to complete 10,000 cycling miles (16,000 km) before New Years Eve. If I was successful, then my thinking was that I'd be far better off (happier) finishing the season with a goal in the bag than the disappointment that I experienced at the conclusion of the 2015 Leadville Trail 100. The strategy worked, as I'll explain below. The same bike that had brought me into the danger zone, reversed its effects. When the 10,000 miles were behind me I was back to the reality where my friends and family had been waiting and encouraging me to return.
Elsewhere (scroll down to Cycling from Los Angeles to Cape Town) I introduced my goal of riding 10,000 cycling miles in 2015. Last I wrote on that topic I was inside of 8300 miles, still a long way to go, 8,976,000 ft (2,735,885 meters). In hindsight, I certainly underestimated the physical and mental investments that would be necessary to close the gap from 8300 to 10,000 miles. By late October, with winter imminent in northern Germany, the significance of that investment made it's introduction. In addition to the physical and mental challenges that I'd have to overcome to reach the finish, I was also going need some luck with the weather, and did I mention a very patience girlfriend? Fortunately, the weather cooperated: rain and cool relinquished and Autumn, as a consequence, came and went gradually. In between I rode on with the encouragement of my roommate and determination of a bike rider that was beginning to hope-for all of the feel good of accomplishing a difficult cycling challenge. Sometimes lonely, never with headphones, sometimes in the rain and often riding in cool, damp weather, I kept pedaling. After a mishap with my GPS, the long-awaited for day finally arrived, it was 20 November, I reached 10,000 miles for the year. Captured in the photo (above), I was smiling of course, but just under the surface is much more, a deeply satisfying feeling of success after a long, exhausting, mental and physical challenge. What next? I rode on for extra credit (strava)! And by evening I returned to Hamburg ... where I promised not to ride again until the middle of January ... a much needed break for myself and my relationship!
Pedaling through the countryside of northern Germany, as the leaves changed from green to reds, oranges, and yellows, I was alone most of the time and often thinking about what went wrong in 2015. In particular, I thought about the effects of overtraining syndrome that enveloped me part-way through the racing season. Eventually I found my way, through a form of meditation, a rhythm, through cadence, to a healthy, positive, mental state. Among many other unanticipated consequences of becoming a cyclist, the #1 benefit of cycling may be access to this meditative, patient, deeply reflective, perspective. Of course, friends, family, and even strangers played a significant role as well in my recovery. In between my rides, I asked questions, had discussions, and eventually landed back on common ground with my clear-thinking contemporaries, overtraining syndrome was no longer a source of melancholy, instead it was a lesson that I'd always remember.
Witnessing my transformations from the low point that led me to competitive cycling in 2012-13, and from a debilitating case of overtraining syndrome, both accomplished from the perspective of a bike saddle, has led me to conclude that there is much more to a passion for cycling than the obvious physical and mental health benefits. A 'much more' that is worthy of celebration, encouragement, growth, and exploration. These are some of the reasons that I intend to ride on, to be a bike rider, until my legs will no longer propel me.
In my next blog entry, I'll delve into the two most significant challenges that I faced shortly after I returned to Fort Collins from Hamburg.