The Speed Trap

What is fast, and why do we care about it? First, let’s sort fast from speed, because they’re not the same thing. Fast is a relative value. It’s a judgment. You can only be fast in relation to something or someone else. You are faster, or you are slower. Even sometimes when you are equally fast, you can still judge another person faster, if they are working less hard to go the same speed, or they can go a longer distance at that speed. Fast is greedy. It ropes in speed, fitness, endurance, etc.

Speed is an absolute value. It’s an objective measure. Speed is fast’s quantifiable cousin, an uncompromising henchman, the sort who always collects the debt. This turns out to be important when talking about what fast is. We discussed this on The Paceline recently, but I wanted to dig deeper, so here we are.

First, I want to say what’s good about going fast. Fast is fun. Fast is thrilling. You’re at or near your capacity. You are realizing your potential. You are learning something about yourself. Neurologically speaking, going fast contributes to a chemical cocktail that culminates in a flow state. You are awash in dopamine and serotonin. It feels good. So, we care about fast, because we’re not doing this just for the sublime suffering it offers (that’s a whole other post, and as it turns out suffering and flow have overlapping chemical results…so it’s pretty interesting). Fast alters our relationship to the world around us, mostly in positive ways, assuming we’re in control of ourselves at the time.

What could be bad about fast? As I said, fast, in the guise of speed, fast is quantifiable. It lets us measure and put a number on what we’ve done, and then we can use that number to either build our egos (not helpful) or flagellate ourselves (very not helpful) to work harder to be good enough to go on feeling minimally worthy. We all have an ego that leads us to do things for the wrong reasons, and you want to pay attention to your motivations, because riding a bike should be fun on some level, not a form of self-abuse.

I’m making it sound more straightforward than it is though. For example, maybe you want to go fast because you want to keep up with your friends. That can be about fun, or it can be about ego. You may want to go fast to win a race. Again, that can be fun or ego-aimed. I think, mostly, if your sense of fast means fast-relative-to-other-people, then you might be on the wrong track, but competition can be a good motivator to get you to a level where fast is more fun.

None of us is ego-less, so succumbing to less noble motivations isn’t some mortal sin, nor can any of us reasonably expect to purify our motives in every moment. I’m just saying, it’s a thing to consider, when you consider why you want to be faster. To be fast for the sake of the experience of it? Or to be fast for what we think it means about us?

Because it doesn’t mean much, and that’s the speed trap.

If you want to find some cool stuff from some fast people, maybe check this out…

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