The lessons of 500 kilometers
It's called "the Festive 500" but if you pay attention what you learn transcends cycling.
For many of the past 10 years I’ve undertaken cycling company Rapha’s year-end Festive 500: ride 500 kilometers (310.7 miles) in the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. In past years you had to complete it outside, regardless of the weather. But this year the rules were relaxed to include indoor rides on a stationary bike.
I realized three things during the challenge this year, and the last days of 2020 seemed to bring them into clear focus. And then with the attack on the Capitol it all seemed less important. But the lessons remain, cast in a different light now.
A tailwind can be an unrecognized privilege. On the first ride the temperature was dead on freezing with the wind chill in the low 20s. I took a familiar route east of town, and for the first 20 miles averaged close to 19 mph without really working hard at all. I was damn strong. And then I made the turn to home and realized I’d been riding with about a 10 mph tailwind. Immediately it got colder, and I got much slower. I hadn’t recognized the help I was getting and assumed my speed was solely due to my own ability. Actually, I never even considered that it wasn’t all me. Not too dissimilar from other types of privilege in life, except in those instances it’s harder to strip away the tailwind and lay bare the pure effort. I’m not going to apologize for having a tailwind, but I’ll definitely recognize it and acknowledge it.
Adversity turns something routine into an achievement. With two days left I’d ridden 219 miles, and I decided to split the remaining 92 into roughly equal rides. The first 45 felt like a chore. Just grinding out miles even though it was sunny and in the 50s. On any other day this ride would have been a pure joy, but the previous day I’d ridden 102 and I really needed a day off. It wasn’t pleasant, and I began to question whether I even wanted to finish. With that ride complete I had about 46 to go, and on that last day something changed. It unexpectedly started to drizzle about halfway through, despite clear weather radar. It was in the low 50s and I was glad I had sentimentally put on a 9-year-old Rapha wool jersey. As I got wet and a little spray from the road chilled my shins, the drizzle changed my perspective. I’d stopped grinding out the miles because it became more of a challenge, one with more dimensions. As we saw this week, just because something has always been routine doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. When accomplishing the routine becomes complex, it’s a reminder that we shouldn’t take even the most mundane things for granted.
How someone else succeeds within the rules doesn’t cheapen what you’ve accomplished. I was not a fan of opening up the challenge to indoor rides. But on the last day, when I pulled into the driveway at exactly 500 kilometers I realized it didn’t really matter to me whether someone else did them all in the relative comfort of their basement. There are no rankings. There are no prizes. It’s an individual challenge.
I thought a big part of the magic of past Festive 500s had been the unpredictability of the weather and fighting through freezing temperatures, ice, or rain to finish. But we don’t share a common set of challenges, and we don’t share the same abilities needed to overcome them.
What we should do is look at, and appreciate, what binds us together and what we hold in common, not focus on the things that separate us. That’s when we start to make progress in overcoming any challenge, together and individually.
Downpayment on the Festive 500: https://www.strava.com/activities/4516900006
Festive 500 round two: https://www.strava.com/activities/4521256908
Some days you just get 10 km: https://www.strava.com/activities/4521256908
Festive 5-hundo presented by Aleve: https://www.strava.com/activities/4536407375
Grinding out miles for the Festive 500: https://www.strava.com/activities/4540442144
Festive 500 finished in a light drizzle. Perfect.: https://www.strava.com/activities/4545604646