My wife and I are visiting relatives near Saint Louis for the weekend. Unfortunately for me, the shopping area near our hotel contains both a bike store and a running store. What is it about two sports that are so simple that we did them without thinking as kids (okay, I did almost everything without thinking when I was a kid), but as an adult I feel continually compelled to spend money on them? Case in point… bikes.
I have a bike that I really enjoy. By competitive standards, it’s at the low end of the spectrum. i bought it when I was just starting to to ride, hoping that cycling would be a means to faster running times without more running. I wasn’t sure I would like cycling, so I didn’t want to spend a lot of money. As friendly as the folks in the bike shop were, the sense of quiet disdain at the idea of buying a bike based primarily on price was unmistakeable. I plunged through, and have really enjoyed riding a lot. Given the fact that it opened the door to duathlon, which gave me the idea for the Chasing Fifty Challenge, which lead me to overcome a fear of swimming, I can truly say that cycling changed my life.
Even though I like my bike, it’s not a TRI bike. See, all the cool kids have Tri bikes. A Tri bike is like the Porsche of the cycling world. It’s fast, light, and looks pretty cool. It looks like its moving even when it’s standing still. I don’t have a Tri bike. But I need one. No, really. See, if I had a Tri bike, I could probably shave 2 or 3 minutes off of a 40K ride in a triathlon, which means I’d finish in 142nd place instead of 145th. That might seem like a minor thing to the uninitiated, but in the grand scheme of life it means… nothing.
It’s like the GPS watch for runners. They are the craze. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my Nike Sport Band, which uses a foot pod accelerometer to measure your distance and pace. Its accuracy is sometimes questionable, and it had the frustrating habit of locking up on occasion when I first bought it. But the GPS watch uses a signal from satellites to measure how far and how fast you run. They are pretty pricey, but all the cool kids have them at the races. So I’ve done a lot of research on the, thinking I’d eventually buy one if I could find a great sale. They are expensive even on sale, but I NEED ONE. Guess what I found? The reviews are filled with complaints about problems with accuracy and locking up. At this point, the quirky Sport Band seems likea bargain!
So why the obsession with buying more/newer gear all the time just to do the same sports that little kids do without thinking? My wife would say its a guy thing, and I’m sure there is some truth to that. There seems to be some innate compulsion in most men to have the latest, neatest toy. But that can’t be all there is to it. I see an old friend at a lot of local races; he’s my age, in a little bit better shape than me, and we usually finish in roughly the same range for our category. But he isn’t wired for a space shuttle launch when he runs, and his bike has been around the block a few dozen times… Yet he obviously enjoys what he does. So, it must be more than a guy thing.
Equipment envy? Yeah, that’s part of it, too. I see this among men and women, and even more outside of sport than in it. The flashier car, the better purse (I’ll pay for that remark), the more expensive laptop… We’re all in competition, one way or another, whether we like to admit it or not. The social pressure is enormous, and we become conditioned to it throughout our lives.
While I’m sure those factors are involved, I think my answer is simpler. Somewhere inside my head, I’m still willing to spend a lot of money to buy performance instead of spending the effort to earn it. I had a class in program management a long time ago, and one of the principles they stressed was that the last 10% of any effort is always the hardest/most expensive… And there is always a last 10%. The last 20 pounds to lose, the last 15 seconds per mile to get to goal pace, the last 2 miles of the marathon… It’s always a lot harder than the first. The margin for error is smaller, the returns are harder fought, and the required discipline is much greater. And somewhere inside of me, there’s always that little voice questioning, “Is it really worth this?”
The answer is yes. It is worth it. Riding a $1500 carbon fiber bike won’t make me a better person, but learning to conquer my own inertia will. I don’t need a GPS to tell me where I am if my self worth isn’t where it needs to be. I am not defined by what I ride… I’m defined by what drives me, and that needs to be much more than being one of the cool kids with the fastest bike. It should be a desire to become more like the person I was designed to be, inch by inch, step by step, everyday. And I don’t need a new bike or a GPS to get there.