"I'm a 5K specialist!" So declared my colleague. I could believe it. He's small and wiry, obviously built for running. The guy is about as relaxed as a gerbil on a caffeine buzz. I guess he's pretty successful at what he does. Me, on the other hand, not so much. I ran a 5K once. My experience was totally different than my colleague's. I could say I'm a "5K and a word that starts with the letter 's'", but that word would be different than his. Yes, folks, I'm a 5K survivor.
Interestingly, my experience has a direct correlation to riding a motorcycle. Not riding a motorcycle in 5K races. Although I'd have been better off if I had. I'm talking about riders who think they're prepared for riding in the real world. Sometimes it's just an illusion. Nobody really knows until they've been tested. Training sessions are a way to assess one's abilities. It's a much better way than being tested in a critical situation. One of my mantras is that training teaches us what we need to practice. Here's my story. As you read it notice if there isn't similarities to riders you know, or know of.
I'd been seriously into bodybuilding for about three years. My buddies Sonny, Scott, and I had done a couple of local competitions. One day a notice appeared on the bulletin board of the gym where we worked out. Well, it was really an athletic club complete with raquetball courts and a hot tub. We called it "The Gym". After all, what self-respecting bodybuilder worked out at an athletic club?
The three of us were deeply into the mystique. Most members used the weight machines. We segregated ourselves in an upstairs corner where the free weights were. Up there we were sweating, grunting, bodybuilders building muscle in "The Gym".
A brightly colored piece of paper announced that a 5K run would be held in our town three weeks hence. I decided to enter. How hard could it be? 3.1 miles. When we were cutting for a contest I "ran" 5 miles three times a week on country roads. Notice the quotation marks around "ran". More on that later. Once I'd even run 19 laps around the upstairs track with Clinton on my shoulders just to show off to the guys. ( for the record Clinton was a toddler then ) Also reading the notice were several real runners. I'd noticed that these people did nothing but run. No weights, no machines, just running. Looking at them, I felt superior. Heck, my upper arms were as large as some of their thighs. I was a muscular god among these mere mortals. I was Irondad, after all. So named by my oldest son in an 8th grade art project.
Their art project was to make something out of clay, glaze and fire it, then paint it. While the other kids were making ashtrays or imprints of their hands, Dustin was making a statue of me, his dad. It was modeled after the Sandow Trophy given to those who finished first in the world's premiere bodybuilding event, the Mr. Olympia contest. My son proudly inscribed at the bottom the title of his work. IRON DAD.
So starts the delusion.
I tried to talk Sonny and Scott into entering with me. They declined my urgings. There were more excuses than a guy trying to talk his way out of a speeding ticket.
Daylight came and went twenty some times and the appointed Saturday morning arrived. I showed up and signed in. I was given a square piece of heavy construction paper and told to safety pin it to the front of my tank top. Number 38 was an official starter in the race. An announcement was made. I and 155 other competitors lined up for the start. At the sound of a whistle 156 runners thundered off.
Early morning in August is a good time to run. The air is crisp and moist. Sunshine encourages and uplifts you rather than burning you off the face of the planet like later in the day. I was energized and surged toward the front of the pack. My pace was really fast. A relaxed smile was on my face. Zeus cavorting among humans. At least for somewhere around three quarters of a mile. I was due to start eating great quantities of dust and a lot of humble pie.
Those chiseled thighs and bulging calves suddenly started feeling very heavy. My mighty pectoral muscles were all that kept my pounding heart from bursting out of my chest. At the same time my lungs were struggling to lift those same muscles in order to expand and get air. That superior relaxed smile became a grimace. A hundred runners started passing me one or two at a time. What was even more humiliating was the layout of the course. I would soon see those who passed me coming back the other way.
The course was split between an inbound and outbound leg. We started out by weaving through a few city blocks on the edge of town. Then we turned onto a country road. The halfway point was on this road. Outbound a ways, then turn around and come back in the opposite direction. Which means that the outbound runners were on one side of the narrow road. The inbound runners were on the other. Before I was even near the halfway point those who had passed me were coming back towards me. Some were very encouraging.
"Way to go, number 38!" Hang in there, Number 38!" "You can do it, Number 38!"
Sure, easy for them. These people would be home, showered and changed, and wondering what to have for lunch before I even crossed the finish line. I tried intimidating them with a withering glare. That's much harder than it sounds when the one doing the glaring is gasping for air like a goldfish that just flopped out of its bowl.
Out of 156 entrants I finished 141st. My only consolation was that I actually finished and didn't throw up. I'm also pretty sure I beat everyone entered in the 80 years or older class. Except for that one old lady who smacked me on the butt and winked as she passed me.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. I've since applied what I learned to other aspects of my life. Including, and especially, to motorcycling. Here's the lesson.
My two buddies and I were our own peer group. We had "The Look" down. We wore what was popular in the bodybuilding world at the time. As much as I hate to admit it, we were poseurs. Not that we weren't strong. Shredded, I was 165 pounds of pure muscle. Scott was around 220. Sonny was about 155. I needed a spotter for ultra heavy leg presses. We would spot Scott when he did 320 pound bench presses for reps. The problem was that we started believing our own hype. We looked awesome in tight t-shirts with no sleeves and the neck line slit for our deltoids to show through. Because of the way we looked and the amount of weight we threw around, we thought we were real studly athletes all around. The thing is, we'd never really been tested outside of our little world.
Starting to see similarities to some riders?
Take the running thing. When we went outside we called it running. Truth be told, we were slow joggers. Scott was the de facto leader due to his superior size and strength. Scott was very competitive, as were Sonny and I. Scott would lead the "runs". Sonny and I soon figured out how to work the system. If either of us would pull even with Scott he would speed up. We'd speed up to stay with him. Pretty soon we'd all be gasping but wouldn't give up. Sonny and I realized that if we stayed a half step behind Scott the pace would be slower and we'd all work less. We had this five mile loop we covered three times a week.
We were our own peer group and measured ourselves based on each other.
I never trained for the 5K run. I based my estimation of performance on our muscle mass and our five mile jogs. I assumed I would do great things. Here's the key. I had never really been tested. My over inflated ego was based on my two buddies who, in reality, were no better than me at actually running.
Had I actually hung out with real runners and trained with them, it would have been a different story. The training sessions would have been a series of small tests. I'd have been able to see where I was strong and where I was weak. In other words, training with runners who actually knew what they were doing would have showed me what I needed to practice. I could have added strengths and techniques like pacing myself before the big test of the actual run. Make sense so far?
Let's bring it back to riders.
Having a certain look does not make for a high skill level. The same way that bursting the sleeves of a tight shirt does not make a person a true athlete.
Riders typically ride with their own peer group. It's not written in stone, but for the most part the skill level is fairly uniform among the group. Individual riders tend to measure their skills against those in the group. If the group as a whole is comprised of those with adequate, but not high, skills then the individual can think they're doing pretty well. That's a dangerous assumption because it's based on self-evaluation and not real testing. Interestingly, despite the numerous hazards out there for motorcyclists, a rider can go a long time before being tested. So the "myth" continues. The myth that a rider can deal with whatever happens when the time comes. But how do we really know for sure?
Testing can come in two forms. Sort of like medical tests. There are those routine lab tests to check on the condition of a person. Then there are those critical and urgent tests in times of crisis.
For motorcyclists the two types of tests are routine training sessions with professionals or the highly critical tests in the real world where life and limb are at stake. Which brings me to the moral of this story.
I would urge everyone to look at continued motorcycle training sessions in light of my story. We routinely get riders into our advanced classes who have never taken formal training. This despite riding for years. Some come willingly while others are there because of peer pressure from the group who is signed up. Egos often need to be put aside. Either way, it's great that they come. What happens in most cases is that these riders find they really didn't know what they thought they knew. Without fail, these riders go away with either new skills or a deeper understanding of an existing skill. Usually it's both.
Like I say, training teaches us what to practice. It's much wiser to fail a routine test and have the chance to study harder on what we're lacking. Sadly, too many riders assume they know what to do and can pull it off when facing a critical incident on the streets. The hazard is that there's a great chance they'll fail the Final Test.
Don't just assume. Better to know for sure ahead of time. Not only does training teach us what to practice, but that very same practice can actually decrease our chances of facing that final test in the first place. Don't know about you, but that's something I can run with!
Miles and smiles,
Postscript: This post was in the works well before our last Advanced Rider Training class. Those of you who signed up for this class are not included in those I describe here. In fact, just the opposite. You are awesome examples of riders looking to improve your craft and who realize the value of formal training!!!