The zone

29 07 2010

Back in his heyday, the great Michael Jordan had games when he didn’t need to look for the basket because he was in the zone. It’s that mythical place of perfection where everything lines up so well that our bodies performance is dream like, almost by coincidence adding to the bigger picture surrounding it.

Surfers strive for the perfect wave. Golfers the perfect round, maybe a hole in one. World Champ Downhill Mountain biker Sam Hill says that when he is in the zone on race day he can barely remember the run he’s just finished. Number one Time Trialist Fabian Cancellara says it’s like he’s not even there, as if he floats above his body and he can’t feel the pedals. I remember at Challenge Wanaka triathlon a couple of years ago after putting in the performance of her life Merryn Johnston said it was easy – at first I felt she’d short changed herself and could have gone faster, but it’s not that simple and yet it is that beautiful.

We all practice various hobbies and occupations that we wish to improve; Maths, Music and Carpentry for some, for me cycling. I’m fortunate to remember three occasions when everything was right. Once was while racing on a short but demanding course from Queenstown to Glenorchy. Nothing that day was difficult. I existed in a bubble of calm. When the moment came to attack, I rode with such force that only two top riders could struggle with all their might to hold my slip stream yet for me it wasn’t even touching the sides – I was en forme. A week later while out on an easy ride by myself I felt the sensation again and decided to seize the moment to find its limits – in some ways I couldn’t. While of course there was a physical boundary to my speed, there was no wavering my in-the-moment focus, control and enjoyment I experienced pushing harder and faster. By the designated finish line the time I clocked I couldn’t have imagined getting close to without having rung myself inside out, yet I was barely breathing.

However ‘the zone’ doesn’t always have to be simply an athletic performance. Often it is just a unique junction of euphoria we cross without warning. A magical selection of your favourites on the radio; those dinner parties where conversation flows with ease, laughter is abundant and the food is three star perfection; or a subtle tilt of the camera that quirks the composition just so, as the sun glints momentarily through a break in the clouds… The zone pops up in mysterious ways, with timing as random as it is reliable.

You can train and practice all you like – it all helps – but unless your mind is relaxed and your soul open you’ll miss these great gifts when they come along. If you think back you’ll find some of them. Remember all of the circumstances and why it all gelled together that one time. You’ll realise that it is not impossible after all. Better still you’ll know what to look out for so that you can be ready to appreciate and take full enjoyment the next time it comes to visit.


Bigger is better

5 07 2010

American’s love their big. Big car’s (“Trucks” any where else), big houses (your nobody till you’ve got 5 stories), big food (ie, people) and big Peanut Butter.

But what about plant pot’s…

why do they insist on Baseball?

1 07 2010

I’m not from around these parts. By normal comparison right now I’d be standing on my head fighting a losing battle to keep warm blood in my fingers. My home is surrounded by rough chip seal, open windswept farmland and some of the finest Lakes and Alpine horizons you’ll find anywhere. It’s July which should mean winter and only the keenest and most disturbed would want to take up the sport of Road Cycling in my neck of the used-to-be woods. Yet Wanaka’s population in the lower south of New Zealand is an exception to so many rules. Making a mockery of physical adversity comes naturally to most.

Downtown "Historic" Boone - as in Daniel

Which brings me to my fantasy yet very real present. I’m on a six week ‘summer vacation’ in Boone up in the Appalachians of North Carolina in the good ol’ USofA. Here the roads restlessly twist and turn through thick humid forest. Tarmac consistently smooth enough you check to see if your tires are going flat; and enough climbs and descents to fool any overly enthusiastic goat into thinking he’d died and gone to heaven. Only here after church they pray to Baseball, Football (the one where you pick it up and play throw and catch – with your hands) and NASCAR. Now there’s an even stranger anomaly. If you grew up around here and you were not quick enough to realise that riding a bike in these hills would be the bomb; then surely you’d be tempted to be swinging your old man’s Pontiac around 35 ml/hr perfectly cambered left after rights, no? Well no, because this is the birth place of where they turn left – only… These are THE roads for a 4X4, I’m talking EVO’s and REX’s but instead their still talking Pick-ups.

OK there’s a lot to figure, and that my friends is travel for you. A culture shock of sorts. I’m not here to be a snob (all the time). Rednecks aside, Boone, NC certainly does have some very switched on individuals and in terms of population size I’d go so far as to call it a hot bed of cycling talent; including the current State Criterium, National Collegiate Road and Cyclo-cross  Champions. The local mid-week bunch ride (i.e. Worlds) lights up a long climb to the highest point above with cold hearted, high spirited commitment. Anyone sitting on doing it easy here better have booked their ticket to Europe. Just like anywhere else in the world when there isn’t an entry fee you put a group of hardcore racers together and there will be pride on the line; and in Amateur cycling terms, pride pays very well.

If your needing a base for your next training camp consider Boone hard to beat and don’t just take my word for it even Lance A. and Mr. Bob Roll spent some time here leading up to Armstrong’s first Tour win and declared it to be the “best road riding in the world”; and I take Bobke’s often colourful sentiments very seriously – thanks for the tip, Mr. Roll.

Leading local fast boy Noah Niwinski on the Viaduct high above Watauga County