Thursday, May 21, 2009

Masochism

I somewhat frequently hear cyclists use masochism to explain why they push themselves so hard. Cyclists, runners, athletes. Ignoring, for the sake of argument, the true, fetishist definition of masochism, it's still an embarrassingly weak explanation. I mean, "I go hard because I like to feel pain." I'd be embarrassed to say that out loud, much less write it down on my cycling team's blog, like this young fellow:
It's taken me a long time to put my finger on it. I have spent countless hours trying to explain what I do to family members, friends not included and just plain strangers asking 'what are you doing?' It has been somewhat difficult. It is hard to identify the rush, the feeling, until you do it...I have determined that a large driver for me is the masochism that surrounds it.
It's embarrassing, or should be, because it makes no sense, it's not rational. And cyclists, believe you me, are extremely rational. No, I believe that we're all going so hard for another reason entirely.

Last night was Corpus Christi's traditional Wednesday night "Hammerfest," where every rider in Corpus lines up, rides out of town together and then does their damndest to leave the others behind. At times, the goal is to keep the group going as fast as possible, a sort-of massive team time trial. Other times, small groups will practice tactics and try to break away. Most often, some punk will fix wings to his heels and try to ride to the sun, and burn anyone who tries to follow. Last night was the latter--a peloton of Icarii, each seeing in the pack his own personal Cretian prison, flew forth in a flurry of attacks--every man's heart remembering the ancient herd, beating the rhythm of her wild hooves.

That wasn't masochism. Masochism is pathetic and disgusting, a perverted urge. Last night was wonderful--the discovery, through such graceful struggle, of one's own perfect creation. Each rider plumbed the depths of his ability, his training, his focus, his daring, and found himself. He found the secret of his corporeality, to explore. And what greater territory is there, what more unfathomable vastness than one's self? We pushed ourselves that hard because we wanted to know what would happen if we did. Would we die, get left behind, leave everyone else behind? And we asked that question with each muscle fiber and alveoli, and the ride gave each of us our own answer.

We rode that hard because we were the only ones around who could, and there is no greater gesture of appreciation for that gift, that ability for speed and power and grace, than to use it, to use it up. Leave the masochism on your therapist's couch.