The Cult of Janus

On the final climb of yesterday’s ride, I thought, “Have I forgotten how to suffer on a bike?” It wasn’t a terribly long ride, and not particularly hilly, but the cold and wet will grind on you, not to mention your drive train, which seems to pull salt and sand in like a Hoover. It creates a miasma of friction that moves from your tires to your mind.

January is a tough month. Named for Janus, the two-faced Roman god, the first month of the year remains wholly open to interpretation. Janus is the god of beginning and endings both, the god of change. I am both grateful still to be pedaling and dismayed by the state of my legs, which may have been stolen in the night and replaced with wooden replicas. Am I ramping up to the new year’s form or still cratering from 2022?

Yes. Probably.

A print from Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures (Band 1,1) with different images of Janus.

It’s ok. It’s all ok. I don’t have anywhere to be in January except zone 1, 50-60% of HRmax. I keep reminding myself. Now is not the time to suffer. Now is the just the time roll. So I went to roll around for a couple hours.

I ducked into a couple of patches of woods, only to find the dirt too soft, and so most of the ride was on asphalt, where the surface has been badly damaged by snow plowing and the aforementioned salt and sand. I wouldn’t normally choose 40mm gravel tires for a road spin, but yesterday they were value for money. I found potholes and worse, long sections where the pavement had begun to disintegrate. It was like a challenging cyclocross with cars on the route.

As a two-faced god, Janus is a deceiver, not to be trusted. “Go out and ride,” he says, and chuckles. The Romans had numerous rites and rituals honoring Janus, and at the beginning of the year they took particular care to appease him in whatever way possible. The beginning of the year, they believed, presaged what the rest of the year might look like.

This may be what I’m doing as well. With a few events on the horizon, I’m trying to put a little suffering in the bank early, ignoring the universally accepted rule that base miles should be slow and steady, boring even. Is there an evolutionary biological explanation for my urge to hurt a little in January, a leftover from ancient ancestors who believed in gods they didn’t trust and knew in their hearts that only sacrifices, made early and often, might mitigate even greater suffering later?

We’ve learned an awful lot in the millennia since arcane rituals honored gods like Janus, but the year he opened and closed looks awfully similar. The gods have changed names and the rituals have been modified, but the patterns persist. I may have forgotten how to suffer on a bike, but it will come back to me. January is a tough month. February will probably be much better.

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