Picking the perfect pre-workout song is not an easy thing to do. You can’t pick a song that’s too somber, for fear it might slow down your rhythm, or too fast, for fear it might burn you out. The lyrics can really be about anything at all, but they need to create some sort of resonance, so that the music truly hits home. Picking a pre-race song usually takes a while to get right, but lately I’ve found something that works for me.
I’ve been listening to a lot of the Black Keys recently. I’ve been finding that their blues-rock sound with its incredibly percussive drumbeats, and soulful yet hard hitting guitar lines that are punctuated with machine-gun solos, belie a coiled aggression inside the two artists and in turn, me. It’s a sound of raw power, barely held in check, and lately, it’s been just the sound to get me on the edge, ready to pounce when I hit the roads.
One of their songs in particular, has been a regular in my iPod’s lineup, “When the Lights Go Out.” It is in many ways, a perfect example of the band’s sound, but for me, what drives this particular song home, are the lyrics.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the hook of the song,
“You know what the sun’s all about, when the lights go out.”
Why does that seemingly melancholy line hit home for me? It’s because not everything in skiing, or life for that matter, always goes so smoothly.
The last ski season was one of major ups and downs for me. The summer of 2015 was the best summer of training I’d ever had. Every day seemed to bring with it new personal records, and a sense of possibility for the upcoming season. But then the racing season came.
In West Yellowstone I came down with a respiratory tract infection, and -zoop- there went the first two weekends, gone in a flash. My hopes of qualifying for the Canadian World Cups were gone along with a fair amount of my confidence from the summer. But I finally got healthy in mid December and I was ready to start getting back on track, then in Craftsbury at the Eastern Cup opener, another setback. While running into the venue, I slipped on the icy roads, and suffered a high grade tear of the anterior talofibular ligament and a fracture of the talus in my left ankle. Another two weeks, and my preparation of US Nationals, gone as well. Predictably I raced far slower than I had hoped to at Nationals, and I limped out of the icebox known as Houghton Michigan unsure of where my season, my confidence, and my speed had disappeared to. All I knew was that I wanted desperately to find them again.
Over the rest of the winter, and the spring, I was forced to reexamine how I had gotten to my current state. Why couldn’t I find the fire that had been there so many time before?
I found that answer, and the fire, from the Black Keys.
I was lying in bed, plugged into the Keys, burning through album after album till “When the Lights Go Out” came on, and the hook burned itself into my brain. The song is simple enough (probably about a girl) and that line is simple enough “You know what the sun’s all about, when the lights go out” but like all people do with all song lyrics, I transposed it onto my life, and I had a thought.
After all the setbacks, and the lost opportunities, I had been focusing so intently on what was wrong what I had missed out on, that I wasn’t skiing freely. But after the season wrapped up, when all those opportunities were gone for sure, when the lights had well and truly gone out, I couldn’t do anything except keep putting one foot forward in front of the other, and something funny happened.
Free of the burden that comes with from expectation, I could only ski for myself. Doing that, it turns out, causes you to reevaluate things. Why was I skiing now? Well, because skiing was fun, because skiing is absolutely the best thing I do, because it makes me feel good about myself, because its just plain fun to go fast. In the parlance of the Black Keys, I had finally remembered what the sun was all about.
After that moment, everything in life started to come more easily again. All of the physical and mental suffering that skiing brings was no longer a chore, because I wasn’t trying to go a certain pace, or win a certain race. I had remembered what skiing, what “the sun” was all about, and I could just bask in it instead of worrying about shadows.
So, out of all the weird and infinite things in the universe, it was a garage-rock duo born out of an Akron Ohio basement, and their song about a girl that helped show me a new sunrise, remind me I love skiing and put me back on track. I don’t know why I found that song, but I’m grateful I did.