Despite being a solo racer, sometimes Mike mixes fun with training, like this ride up to the top of Mount Tom with friends in Massachusetts. © Cyclocross Magazine
by Mike van den Haam
People ask me on a fairly regular basis what I do with my spare time now that I am ‘only’ a cyclist. I am not going to school at the moment, I do not have a job, it’s ’cross season, so my training load rarely exceeds 15 hours per week, and I am living in a city away from most of my friends and family. In short, it seems like I should have time to spare.
Despite this, the reality is that I do not necessarily feel like I’m doing any less than I was before. With each moment I spend focusing on my cycling, it becomes easier and easier to immerse, entrench, myself one step further into the world of bikes. In past years, in years where I have been busier with other aspects of life, I would oftentimes show up to race with bikes that were not exactly spotless, with a loaf of bread and peanut butter instead of a sandwich, and be a little hazy on exactly what time my race actually started at. However, these days I am not only able to take care of these small details, something that has been greatly beneficial to my performance at races, but I also have the time to obsessively hypothesize about exactly what results I would need in what races to place myself inside the UCI’s top-200. In the moment, things like this seem like a good use of time, but, in reality, I have found that they only highlight one of the more problematic difficulties of being a full-time cyclist: obsessiveness.
In the past, school has forced me outside of this cycling obsession—forced me to read good books, to respond to them, and to regularly interact in an intelligent fashion with the non-two wheeled world. However, with the dawning of my so-called full-time amateur career, there has become a startling ease in which I can continually hit refresh on Cyclocross Magazine, but scarcely bother to look up the world news. I can spend hours on Twitter, but not find the time to send my parents and non-riding friends a quick email.
My first instinct was, and perhaps still is, to say that this is not a problem. I mean, I am here to race bikes, right? Does it not makes sense that the more time I spend focusing on bikes, the better I’ll be at riding them? Well, while this may be the case for some people, it simply is not true for me.
I enjoy cycling, one could say that I love cycling: I love its history, the human stories behind it, the emotion, the speed, the time it allows for meditation, and the community it creates. Yet I have noticed that when cycling transcends being simply a part of my identity and becomes all I think about, the balance is tipped from loving cycling to being addicted to it. Not only does this make me intolerable to talk with and be around, but it also makes me less happy and, surprisingly, slower. When I become unhealthily addicted to cycling, things like eating well and training properly go from being a slightly excited, albeit difficult, challenge to being a mind-numbingly, irritating chore that holds little joy. Perhaps it goes without saying, but a painful chore is something I cannot do nearly as well as tackling an exciting challenge.
In short, it makes me a boring, one-dimensional and frankly, a fairly skill-less person who neither enjoys nor excels in his one-dimension. How do I avoid this? Well I have to admit, it is a skill, if I can call it that, that I am working on and a skill that I am still not particularly good at. The only advice that I can offer, the only thing that has worked for myself, is simply to force myself to take time for life. I have found that I am much more well-rounded and much happier when I force myself to set aside a few hours each day to, as much as possible, take a break from cycling. A few hours a day where I make an intentional effort to read a non-cycling book, talk to non-cycling friends, and read the news. A few hours a day where I force myself to be interested in the things that I wish I knew more about and build the relationships that I think I should have. Things that the person I want to be is both interested in and good at, but not necessarily things that the person I am, at least without forcing myself otherwise, is inclined to do.
It sounds fairly simple, but setting aside time each day, even if I do not necessarily want to, to focus on my other interests is the best way I have found to avoid taking an enjoyable pastime, and perhaps even an enjoyable job, into the level of unhealthy and one-dimensional obsession.
Follow Mike on Twitter at @bikemikevdh or on his blog at TheQuickLink.