Mountain Bike Trailer Park is a regular column written by Uncle Dan that appears monthly on the Dirt Rag Interwebs. He dabbles in a variety of topics including racing, training, trails he loves and not taking himself too seriously, all with a big dash of humor. If you missed his previous columns, check them out here. He also writes a personal blog, which can be found here.
I have heard this rule stated variously. I’m not sure who came up with it. I’m not even sure whether I’m using it right. (Story of my life). But in any event, my version of the 80/20 rule goes something like this.
Whatever it is you’re doing, you can get to 80% if you enjoy it, have some talent, and put in the effort.
Take mountain biking, for instance. By training fairly regularly and with a little natural ability, it’s not too hard to be as good as, or better than, 80% of the population of mountain bikers.
Weight loss, too. If watch your diet and exercise, with a little discipline and effort, you can come within 80% of your target without too much stress (not to say it’s easy – it’s not).
And 80% is pretty good, right? I’m not knocking 80%. It’s hella hard to get there and it requires discipline and some sacrifice. But it doesn’t necessarily require a change of lifestyle and shouldn’t put too much strain on the rest of your time. Not exactly elite, but pretty damned good.
At work, if you’re doing better than 80% of your colleagues, your job is safe and you are on track for raises and promotions.
Here’s the rub – that last 20% is even harder. Really. Fucking. Hard. It’s likely that you will work harder to attain the next 10% of your goal than you had to work for the original 80%. And the closer you get to 100%, the harder it becomes. Is it worth it?
I have been pretty damned happy to achieve 80%. As some of you may know, since around 2005, I’ve been on a weight loss and fitness journey. I have lost 100 pounds or so and I have started competing in endurance MTB races.
In both of those endeavors, I’ve worked hard. Very hard. And I’ve had some success. I’d rank myself at 80% of weight loss/fitness and 80% of mountain bikers. (It’s my own grading system, and I make the rules, so shut up, Paul).
Again, here’s the rub – I’m not a discipline guy. I’m no different than anyone else. I like Doritos and Netflix. I’d rather wake up at 6:00 and enjoy a nice bike ride to work than wake up at 4:30 and drip sweat on the trainer in the basement. I’d rather eat chicken wings and beer than chicken breast and broccoli.
But last year, I stalled. I was stuck at 80%. I wasn’t getting fitter, I wasn’t getting faster. Ten years in, I had plateaued. Hard. The same amount of work wasn’t yielding results anymore. I suppose I could have been happy to level off at an easy 80%. But instead, I lost drive, I lost desire. The work just seemed like, well, work.
That meant I had to change the way I do things, because I wasn’t happy just treading water. Adapt or die, right? But past 80%, it’s not simple anymore. I need support and help from professionals. So I hired a coach who tracks my progress and fatigue and makes training plans.
And I joined a sports medicine program, to track my body composition, my metabolic rate, my lactic threshold and my VO2 max progress. I study nutrition and try my best to separate fact from fiction.
Ok, full stop. Deep breath. Even as I type this, I feel a little absurd, embarrassed. The reality is, I’m a middle-aged desk jockey. I know. I’m privileged. I know. Not naturally gifted. I know. An amateur. I know. A age-grouper. I know. I know I’ll never make a living on my bike. I know I’ll never stand on the podium at a national race. I know. I know. I know.
But I’m shaking that off. I’m giving myself permission to take myself seriously. To listen to my doctor, my coach. To seek help. To suffer. To be an athlete. To bust 80%.