Monday Musings… Catch My Draft
“Don’t lose sight of that wheel!” shouted the captain of our cycling team as we headed directly into the wind. There were seven of us travelling in a pack through the county practicing for our upcoming 100 km race. I was secured neatly in the middle of the pack, or so I thought. But the wind was battering against us and I started to lose power in my short little legs. It didn’t take long for the gap to widen between me and the person directly ahead of me and the other team members to pass me. As that gap got bigger, I could feel the strength of that wind increase forcing my legs to pump harder and faster to try to catch up. There are no breaks when you go alone against the wind. It’s a much easier ride when you catch the draft of the person in front of you.
I’ve always enjoyed cycling. For me personally, riding a bike offers serenity, but it can also be an incredible test of endurance, especially when you’re climbing hills. I fondly remember my first CCM ten speed road bike. As you may recall, I spent most of my childhood outside and this baby was my ticket to freedom! I biked to school, to the park with the rolling hills, through the forest even though a mountain bike would have been better! No matter where I went the terrain was rarely flat, unlike the roads I travel now in southern Ontario. As I got older, I’d ride that same bike from my house in Quebec across the river to Ontario where I’d do a 7:00 a.m. weekend shift scrubbing pots in a hospital kitchen, and then bike back at 3:00 p.m. I never seemed to get tired back then or complain about going against the wind.
40 years later, it’s a bit of a different story. As I think about my ride tonight, it’s going to be 39 degrees with the humidex with a northeast wind blowing at 20km/hr. Funny how I check these stats now. Back then, I had no idea what the weather was going to be like. I just rode!
People will say it’s a good thing to know what you’re in for, hence checking the weather app. Apparently, it helps you prepare and brace yourself for what’s ahead. But sometimes, the more you know, the more you second guess yourself and you find yourself seeking ways to get out of the perceived predicament. The excuses then follow, driving you to eventually give up: “It’s too hot to ride.” “I’ll never be able to battle that wind.” And before you know it, you are plopped on the couch watching Netflix, and periodically checking your phone to verify the climate conditions so you can justify your decision because, you must admit, you’re feeling a tad bit guilty but not enough to ‘risk’ the weather.
Now I’m not advocating for attempting heat-stroke-inducing challenges, but I think too often we make decisions in life based on two things: what other people tell us, and what makes us feel comfortable.
Let’s take the first. Who is it that’s giving you direction and telling you what to do? How reliable or credible is the source? When you’re faced with “Do I do this or that?” it’s common to get advice. If you’re hopeful, you’ll ask someone who’ll agree with you. If you’re doubtful, you’ll choose some source that’ll tell you it’s not a good idea. Instead of being so quick to ask others, start by really asking yourself the very same question. Many people are in the habit of believing that they can’t do a lot of things. But believe me, there’s a lot more gas in your tank than you think. So, as I said last week, believe and then act, and you’ll see results.
Now, let’s look at the second factor that impacts making decisions, and that’s your comfort zone. Many people want to take the path of least resistance. They desire an easy ride through life, with minimal stress or anxiety while maintaining control over the environment they find themselves in. And this is exactly how Alasdair White, defined ‘comfort zone’ in 2009. White is a business management theorist who studied the key factors in maintaining a steady output of performance. And you might be saying, well isn’t that a good thing, to be consistent? But with further research, White found, along with John Fairhurst, that all is not what it seems on the performance track. (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228957278_From_Comfort_Zone_to_Performance_Management) They discovered that steady performance generally comes after a boost in performance, which then settles back into consistent output. This level sounds ideal if it could be maintained, but they found that a decline in performance actually was a more likely effect shortly after the ‘comfort zone’ was achieved. Why? Because of stress - the inevitable stress that humans cannot avoid or often control, like the wind. So as much as you would like to coast through life, you can’t. So, what are you going to do about it?
The answer is pretty evident when you ride a bike, especially when you’re doing hills. You’re going at a good clip, then the speed picks up as you descend. You reach the flat road at the base of the hill and you can keep a good consistent cadence for a few km until you have to climb a hill. You choose a lighter gear to keep your steady pace and lo and behold, you finally reach the top and level out onto the flat road again. But after several metres, you look down and discover your speed is actually slower. It’s proof that it’s very hard to maintain consistent performance. What it takes is conscious effort to bring your pedal strokes back into that ‘comfort zone’. So as much as you crave the zone in life it’s unlikely to be sustainable either by chance or by doing nothing. What you have to do is watch the wheel in front of you!
As much as I didn’t want to be commanded to not lose sight of the wheel, this captain was a reliable and credible source whose goal was to help me improve my performance. Despite my doubts, he was going to push me to what he knew I could handle. It was all about drafting he explained. Just like White and Fairhurst’s theory, you boost your output as a group, one rider behind the other, and if you stay one-wheel width back, you can catch the draft of the person ahead of you. That rider in essence is blocking the full force of the wind that is threatening to make you want to quit. You find very quickly that you can match their speed and your energy and speed output is maintained. And before you know it, as a collective, you can increase that performance out of the comfort zone. What is so cool about drafting, is that everyone on the team takes turns being the lead, so everyone gets an opportunity to push through the wind for the rest of the team.
This is a great way to do life. Decisions are a daily occurrence and we will be tempted to ask for advice with the goal of maintaining our comfort somehow. So, surround yourself with people who not only have your best interests at heart, but also who believe you are stronger than you think and who are willing to tell you that and push you in that direction. Secondly, remember the ‘comfort zone’ you crave is temporary. Stress is inevitable. You can’t predict what direction the wind can spring up from. Thinking about coasting can work for a bit, but it’ll take you a lot longer to get to your destination in life. Finding someone who can block the wind for you while you work to catch up will help you reach your performance goals. But remember once you catch up to speed, it’s your turn to take the lead and say: “Catch my draft!” to the person behind you who needs you.
For this week, have a listen to "Ride Like the Wind" by Christopher Cross. This song came out in 1979, the same time my wheels were flying over the hills and valleys! Every time I hear this song, it reminds me of freedom and fortitude :)