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May 31, 2012

Growing up, I played competitive soccer in Vancouver. At 19, I had a professional trial with Oxford United; it’s become an old go-to line, but I like to claim that I’m the only academic who ever went to Oxford for the soccer. There’s something pure about soccer that I continue to appreciate, although I don’t play anymore and don’t really miss it. Something about the art of the game—how numbers and statistics can’t explain the result as well as they might in any number of other sports.

One teammate and old friend of mine comes to mind. Dave was one of the best players I’ve ever played with—and one of the few “soccer” friends I still have. He was a consummate goal-scorer; he had the necessary personality (that cold clarity in front of the goal) to finish, which is easier said than done. I’m not sure if it’s a skill (I never acquired it) or just something that’s ingrained or wired in certain people. At any rate, Dave had it. He was quite skilled, but something I noticed over years of playing with him was that he wasn’t all that fast. In the heat of the game, though, nobody was ever going to beat him to the ball. He spent the entire ninety minutes on the field in such a high state of determination that good things came to him. He had resolve.

Resolve isn’t something you can quantify. It doesn’t occur at a particular heart rate or require a special kind of musculature. It’s a mental or psychological aspect that allows an athlete to dig deeper, to push farther, to try harder. When athletes reach their physical threshold, the question becomes who can maintain that threshold longest? Cycling uphill is an especially rapid and acute method of reaching one’s physical limit. The lungs burn, the heart pounds, and the legs ache. But how long can you maintain the agony? How long can you put it aside? Bradley Wiggins once famously noted that you’re only ever one minute from bonking, so all you have to do is keep on going for one more minute.

Nice thought in theory, but that’s only a part of how resolve works. Resolve involves preparing for the hurt, too. Luck favours the prepared mind, claimed Louis Pasteur. Preparation (not “preparation”) is tantamount. On the bike. At work. At home. Resolve requires the single-mindedness to succeed. Whatever the odds or obstacles. To prepare for the struggle. To prepare to endure at (and beyond) the threshold.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. mikelpearce permalink
    May 31, 2012 6:18 pm

    Agreed. On all counts. I was a competitive skier as a kid, and the one guy out of all of us who made the national team was not the most talented (although he was talented), he just kept at it, and never gave up. I didn’t have much resolve then, although I have worked hard to develop it, for that very reason.

    • June 1, 2012 12:40 am

      For what it’s worth, I was reminded of this piece after our ride last Sunday and prompted to revisit it and finish it off. On the way back up the hill to Belfountain, you put in a final push at the end and dropped me. You couldn’t have been any less tired than me at the time, and I admired that capacity to overcome the body and will yourself into further exertion.

  2. mikelpearce permalink
    June 4, 2012 4:34 pm

    Well, you did mention something about Gilbert and the two of us being “punchy climbers”, so I thought I’d give the climb a punch in the gob … Plus, I wanted to see where my limits were, and I wanted to see if you’d come with me.

    • June 4, 2012 8:00 pm

      My limits were having the gall to compare myself to Philippe Gilbert. I thought about jumping out of the saddle to follow you, but that notion only lasted for a split second. But that’s the resolve thing: I was climbing comfortably to that point, but unwilling to go into the red at that point. The funny thing, though, is that if I’d been with you at the bottom of the hill on Heritage Road, where you raced Nick up, I would have been more than ready to push you to the top. I had good legs at that point and caught and passed Nick and Adrian, in spite of starting a good 50-100m behind them.

  3. mikelpearce permalink
    June 4, 2012 8:26 pm

    Given the group pace at that point I knew I would have time to recover from the effort, and my legs felt great all day that day. I was reminded of George Hincapie’s “no chain” stories from the Tour. That’s what my legs felt like that day. I kept testing them, and they kept responding. So I kept testing …

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