How do you gauge a workout?
Do you rank it as a 1 or a 10 by some internal barometer that determines whether it was good or bad? Or do you assess how you felt based on the performance of your training partners and teammates?
I’ve been tossing around these questions in my head for a few weeks, as I think back on the past season of racing and begin to gear up for the current one.
I would classify 2011 as a banner year for me (both in terms of racing and in terms of life, but I’ll stick to racing here). I felt confident and competent on the race course in a way I never had before. I felt strong. I kept up with my teammates. I was a contributing member of the team. I traveled to my first international race (which, admittedly, sort of sucked). I competed in my first USARA national championship. And when all that was over, I PR-ed in the marathon by 9 minutes.
Sure, there were some crummy moments, some blips during racing and training, but when I think back on the year as a whole, I’m proud of what I did and what I was able to help our team accomplish.
When Brent thinks back on 2011, though, he remembers a much more spotty season. He struggled to find a rhythm with training as he started graduate school last January, and he felt like it undercut his performance on the race course. He’ll point to good moments and positive experiences, but in general, when he describes the past season, he does so with an eye toward improvement and redemption.
All this makes me wonder – is my experience of success linked to Brent’s of frustration? Did I feel more like a contributing member of the team because another teammate (Brent or whomever) wasn’t having his best day? Was I able to keep up because someone else was moving more slowly?
How much was my personal barometer calibrated to respond to someone else’s?
This past weekend, Brent and I set out for a fifty mile ride. It was only my second (and Brent’s third) outdoor ride of the year, but I’ve been logging some quality hours inside, and after my legs warmed up, I felt reasonably good as we rode down the windy towpath. Even though Brent pulled for the lion’s share of the ride, I was keeping pace with little trouble, and when he needed me to, I was able to pull in front and take the lead for a couple miles at a time without slowing dramatically or wearing myself out.
About 10 miles from home, I pulled up alongside Brent and asked, “How would you rate this ride?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate it?”
He was skeptical at first, but once I assured him that I had no ulterior motive for asking, he said, “I guess about a six.”
“Me too,” I said, “I was thinking a six, too.”
As we spun up the final hill toward home, we chatted about where we’d go for lunch (Iron Hill Brewery) and the documentary we were planning to watch that night (Paradise Lost III), and I stopped thinking about the relativity of that scale.
But still, I wonder. Was Sunday’s ride an indication that it’s not, in fact, relative? That my barometer is, indeed, calibrated internally and that it’s just a coincidence that my best race experiences have coincided with rougher days for some of my teammates?
Or was it that we both felt fine – not spectacular, but not bad, either – and so there was no comparison to be made?