The other day, while briskly sticking needles into my arms and legs, my acupuncturist gazed at me knowingly and said, “You should be exercising to the point where you feel energized afterward. Listen to your body, and stay away from goal-driven workouts.”
I felt like a pinned butterfly—as if he had looked into my soul and seen my dirty secret.
To get past the last bits of my recent middle-aged knee pain and general exhaustion, I started seeing Dr. Ben Feeley of Amherst, Mass., last month. He’s a great guy, deeply passionate about his field, and wise in the ways of the body. But I was both annoyed and amazed by this latest insight.
Cycling has been a personal growth path for me, but not in the way most riders find it so. Most are lucky enough to be able to keep pushing their bodies to see how much further or higher they can go. I was that way, too, for a few heady years, but, as I settled into my forties and early fifties, my finicky body let me know in no uncertain terms that my path involved changing my mind more than my physique.
Active people often hear the maxim, “You have to go slow to go fast,” a reminder that gentle workouts and careful mastery of technique eventually lead to greater speed. In my case, they’ve just led to more gentle workouts. It got to the point where, a few years ago, I even coined a catchy mantra that would help me ride more with my body than against it: Fitness Follows Fun. (It worked well, until my Type-A personality took over again.)
I don’t particularly want to be some kind of cycling Zen master; I’ve always had dreams of finishing that elusive century, or one of those prestigious, insanely hard rides in my part of the state. Every time I’ve gotten close, physical problems cropped up. In the end, I had no option: it was either get philosophical, or get off the bike, for good.
And now, as the trees flower out, the temps rise, and another season spreads before me like a sun-ripened peach… I find myself taking tiny bites, and trying to be grateful for the chance to taste the fruit at all.
Fitness follows fun, I tell myself. It’s more important to be able to be out there than to achieve something no one cares about but you.
And I believe it. Most of it. Sometimes.