An Introvert’s Mistake

I should know better by now. It’s a lesson I keep being taught, but one I continue to struggle with. There is nothing of any major importance in my life that I’ve achieved alone. This is not just a reminder for a growing ego. It’s also a balm for that sense of being overwhelmed by life’s challenges. When I got sober, this was a big deal, understanding that friends and family would carry me along when I didn’t know the way forward myself.

Surround yourself with good people, and a good life will follow close behind. Ask for help. Let your ego shrink and your heart grow. The kind of shit they stitch on throw pillows.

I used to go to this AA meeting at a firehouse down by the highway, all men. And there was this old-timer there, a guy who sat in the same chair week-after-week and opened his little speeches with the same few phrases time-after-time. He’d say, “I got a mind I can’t trust, and a built-in forgetter.” Imagine this, for best effect, in a heavy Boston accent and delivered in a deep, gravelly voice, like a pirate captain who’s just woken up.

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As by design in AA, you hear things that you relate to. You come to know yourself through other people’s stories. I also have a mind I can’t trust and a built-in forgetter. There is not a thing of any importance in my life, that I’ve achieved on my own, without help, but I forget that.

Every time I sign up for an event, a big ride, a run, a challenge, whether I’m on BikeReg or on a group text thread, I forget that I don’t have to do it alone. Just the idea of riding a hard century, for example, is overwhelming to me. I prize my freedom, like most introverts do, the time we need to recharge our batteries, and what I know is that every event, official or otherwise, requires training. So it’s not the day-of I’m signing up for; it’s everything that comes before, and that can be daunting. When I envision it all, sitting there with my mouse hovering over the register button, or waiting to thumb out the words “I’m in!” I believe I have to do it all myself.

This turns out not to be right.

Just recently I committed to two events, a 60-mile gravel race and a trail half-marathon. They were six days apart. Quite why I thought this was a good idea is unclear. It’s spring. I’m just trying to get my legs under me, and taking on two hard things, one a ride, one a run, in quick succession seems kinda dumb. For all my misgivings, all my introverted doubts and fears, remember I’m also an addict-type. I’m attracted to excess. I love a dumb idea.

I got through the gravel race as you do, following wheels when possible, generally burying myself in the group of friends I’d shown up with, contributing where I could, coasting a lot. Oh, I did some riding beforehand, a haphazard pile of base miles, but really it was the crew that brought me from start to finish.

The morning of the half-marathon my wife asked me if I thought I was ready, and I said, “Well, all I have to do is follow Meghna around for a few hours.” Meghna is my trail running BFF. She’s fit and fast and has loads of motivation. She loves to run. If I’m not ready to wrap my mind all the way around whatever big race we’re doing, I know I can just run on her shoulder until it’s over. I might suffer. I might suffer a lot actually, but everything gets easier if I know I just have to sit there on her shoulder. That’s how we train as well. Whoever is stronger just runs on the front. No quibbles. We’ve run half marathons and ultramarathons and all sorts of nonsense in between. It works if you work it, as they say, in AA.

I don’t know whether it’s some facet of introversion that means when I think about challenges, I only ever think of them in isolated terms, that I have to do all the training alone, and I have to race the whole race alone, when in reality, I’ve never achieved anything alone, on the bike or off. There is always someone pulling me along or trading pulls. There is always someone who has solutions when I have problems, and I wish I could remember that.

Join the conversation
  1. Pat Navin says

    Thanks for this, Emlyn. I forget that maxim, too. All the time. Dealing with a cancer recurrence has made me feel alone at times. New meds have really done a number on my body. I ride alone most of the time now because I’m just so damn slow, and my Irish Catholic guilt makes me not want to slow down friends when I know they’re looking for a workout. But I forget that they’d be happy to ride with me, regardless of speed.

    I’ve been riding with my wife on weekends. It used to be frustrating at times due to her frequent stops for picture-taking or hot foot or some other reason. Now, we’re the same speed. Kind of funny how things work out.

  2. khal spencer says

    I recall that song “No man is an island, no man stands alone” presumably derived from the John Donne poem. Indeed, it is true. I went through the blackest periods of my life held up by the steady arms of friends.

  3. Jeff vdD says

    Introverts of the world, unite! Separately. In our own homes.

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