Cycling And Philosophy Part 4: Pushing The Limits


I got a flat yesterday.  This hardly a new experience for me.  While I have many flats, the cause of each flat is never quite the same as any other one.  This time, the tire on my front wheel ripped and the inner tube burst through with an exciting explosion.

I have noticed one trend, however.  Before I flatted, I was about to set a personal best pace.  This is the third time I have flatted while going “all out.”  I get flats plenty of other times as well, so it’s not a perfect trend that would satisfy the geekiest mathematician in your life.  But still, about 10% of the time when I am flirting with some sort of personal speed record, I flat.  Compare that to a failure rate of less than 1% on all other rides.

Then there’s running.  I’ve had all sorts of injuries while running (who hasn’t?) but I’ve noticed a similar trend: I tend to get most of my injuries when I am pushing myself very hard.  This is especially true for my troublesome calves; almost all of the initial calf injuries (not the reinjuries, mind you) have occurred when I was pushing myself as hard as I could go.  Since I tweaked a calf muscle last June, I’ve dialed back my pace quite a bit and I have pleasantly improved my distances without injury.  I don’t want to seem overly optimistic, but I might just finish my marathon in two months.

So, what does all this mean?

We hear maxims about the joy of suffering and the goodness in striving until the very last ounce of energy is spent.  There must be a certain amount of truth in that, or this wisdom would not be handed down over the ages to us.  But perhaps there is another side to that coin.  Perhaps there is value in simply going 90% most of the time and leaving the 100% effort for very special occasions.

Unlike the previous three installments of this series, I am afraid I don’t have any grand conclusions to pass on to you.  I realize that this will come as a shock to regular readers, who have grown accustomed to my pronouncements based on little or no information.  What I know is this:  pushing yourself and your machine to the limits may have goodness in it, but it may also break you (or your machine).


11 thoughts on “Cycling And Philosophy Part 4: Pushing The Limits

  1. I am very unhappy to hear of yet another flat tyre for you. It makes me all the happier that I have sacrificed a little speed fro some really tough tyres. Of course the chance of my doing a personal best disappeared some twenty years ago so maybe I don’t run the same risks as you.
    I am glad that your calf twinges have abated.

    • Early on I made the switch to more durable tires. I’m currently riding Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons, their top-of-the-line model for puncture resistance. Naturally, the flat occurred on my front tire, which happens to be a run-of-the-mill Bontrager. I was using the stock tire on my front wheel because “flats don’t happen on your front wheel.”

      I bought a Conti 4S today. Lesson learned.

  2. I’m like Tootlepedal my personal bests are some years behind me. I try to take care of myself, but even then these things creep up and supprise you. After having a good month in July 350 miles I now have a bad back and am stuggling with the daily commute at best.

    • The personal bests are only a phrase. The larger point, I think, is that when you are pushing yourself to the limit (however lessened that limit may be due to Father Time) you may be doing more harm than good. Maybe. Who knows? It was just a thought. 🙂

  3. You are correct sir. I started my foray into running in early January and came down with a stress fracture in April. Why? Because I started going to hard, too fast and too long too quickly. Pain is the body’s reaction to something not being right, we should probably listen to our bodies…

  4. You’re on to something there…not sure how it equates to cycling, since I tend to go hundreds and thousands of miles between flats and breakdowns. Running, however, is an entirely different matter. I used to always be nursing some sort of pain until I found the magic pill….

    Running with my wife! She sets a pace that isn’t exactly blazing, but in the 3.5+ years we’ve been running together I’ve not had one running related injury.

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