Jens Voigt is human, and causes me to reflect on my high-school running days

By Jennifer Sage On July 24, 2012 Under motivation, Tour de France

I will rue the day that Jens Voigt announces his retirement from professional cycling. But we cycling fans know it’s just around the corner. At 40 years, he is one of the oldest in the peloton, and has had an illustrious career behind him. He is well-known as one of the most cherished riders in the pro-peloton, not only by fans but by other riders.

I’m not sure if he’s ready to announce his retirement or not, but I found this today, a translated article that seems to say his wife has granted him permission to ride one more year. (He is such a family man, another reason to love him!) If that’s so, I will not miss next year’s tour just to see him ride. Who cares about who will be going for the yellow jersey – I’ll go for Jens! Oh, and he’ll be riding in this year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge here in Colorado next month so I won’t be missing that. Hope I don’t get arrested as a stalker as I seek a photo with him! 😉

But, that’s not why I’m writing this. I read another interview with Jens today, albeit a poor translation to English, and something he said that made me reflect on something I did when I was in high school cross-country. I was not a very good runner, and didn’t have a hugely competitive nature. I ran more for the fitness than anything else. (Actually, there’s more to it than that but it would take a lot of explaining. Briefly, I had spent 9 months in a body cast after back surgery at age 15. The doctors told me I could do no contact sports, but that I should do something to stay active. So cross country was one of my few options.) But before I get into that, first let me tell you what Jens said, and then I’ll tell you my high school memory.

In this interview, Jens was describing how painful Stage 15 was. It was in the middle of the Pyrénées stages, but not the epic climbs known in the Pyrénées. Instead, it was a very rolling stage, either up or down with short, sharp grades. In fact, Jens had tweeted how painful this stage was. He told the interviewer that he was just riding for survival. The interviewer then asked Jens “were you thinking about giving up?” This was Jen’s answer (I retained the poor translation):

There are moments where you think, so a smaller, sleeker broken collarbone would be less bad than Continue. Short time into the corner, chop, in a wall, zigzag, broken collarbone.

What he is saying here is that it actually crossed his mind that (and this is my own interpretation of the above translation): “hmm, a little zigzag here, causing a little fall, and ooops! a little bit of a broken collar bone, would be less painful than continuing!” Wow, he was actually contemplating a way out! Not that he would ever do it, but to know that this would even cross his mind, and that he would admit it to the public, makes me love him even more. Jens Voigt is human. But he has found a way to make himself super-human through his ability to push beyond not only these types of thoughts (and admit them to the world) but to forget that pain and turn it around and inflict it upon others. That is what he is paid to do, and he does it well.

How does this relate to my cross country days? Well, before I tell you I hope you realize that I in no way put myself in the same category of Jens; in fact I am not worthy to be even mentioned on the same page as him. The only similarity (and it ends there) is that when I ran cross country, I used to look around as I ran for a way to fake a fall. I remember thinking almost the exact same thing as he describes: “hmm, a little ankle sprain here would be an easy way out of continuing.”

It’s embarrassing to admit that I thought that. Obviously I never went through with it, but to think that Jens thought something similar somehow makes my own thoughts less difficult to accept. Of course, a 5km cross country race at high school level is nowhere near the same category of pro-cyclists riding short steep hills over 158 km, but for me it is a comforting thought.

That year, my senior year in high school, was my first year ever running; in fact, it was my first effort at any endurance sport, so I can be forgiven for not yet having any motivation to win (or even do well). Prior to my back surgery as a sophomore, I was a gymnast, not an endurance athlete. I did manage to advance from that first year of running however, and even ran my first two years in college, and no longer looked for ways to fake a sprained ankle. After that I ran purely for fitness and the enjoyment.

I can no longer run (that back issue I mentioned has caught up with me 30 years later) but am so grateful for cycling and for indoor cycling, and for the fact that I have developed the mental ability to continue past the point of wanting to quit. I absolutely feel that a lot of that ability has been developed through my role as an indoor cycling coach.

Thanks you Jens for making my memories of competing in high school a little less painful!


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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Julie (@MomCycFan)
    July 24, 2012
    4:13 am #comment-1

    I love Jens and its almost nice hearing him admit when things are tough, He inspires so many and brings joy. I feel it in my heart, he will ride another year!

  2. Jennifer Sage
    July 24, 2012
    5:16 pm #comment-2

    Oh Julie I hope you are right. His Twitter feed (which I watch regularly because he tells great stories on it!) is non-committal. He said he had celebrated his possible last post-tour party but it didn’t confirm that either.

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