Lance Armstrong Is Back! How He Knew He Was Ready to Race Again

The cyclist's return is inspired by his aim to help cancer patients—and his pure love of the sport.

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Since Lance Armstrong announced his plans to come out of retirement and ride in the 2009 Tour de France, I've been wondering how on earth he would get the motivation to train as insanely hard as he once did. The average American finds it hard to get in the 30 minutes a day of brisk aerobic exercise recommended by the government; when Armstrong was preparing for his seven Tour de France victories, he did many, many multiples of that.

At the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative on Wednesday, Armstrong elaborated on a major reason for his return: raising global awareness about cancer. Prospects for people with the disease vary widely, depending in part on where they live. In many countries outside Europe and North America, even good pain medicine—let alone treatment for cancer itself—is nearly nonexistent. And, heartbreakingly, there's stigma attached to being a cancer patient in many developing nations. Armstrong, a survivor of testicular cancer and founder of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, concluded that coming out of retirement in a very public way is the best route to drawing attention to the problem and to convincing people to do something about it.

But, he said, that need was coupled with what happened when he did a 100-mile mountain bike race, the Leadville Trail 100, in August. He placed second. That race, he said Wednesday, "reminded me that I love to ride a bike for hours at a time." (He announced his return to professional cycling weeks after the race.)

That, I think, is so key both to Armstrong's training and to the fitness regimes of us mortals: Find something you really enjoy doing, and it's not at all hard to get out the door. Forces other than pure love of the game—in Armstrong's case, cancer advocacy efforts; for the rest of us, maybe the desire to lose weight or go faster than we did last week—can only take us so far. At the heart of it, you're going to do best when you love what you do. So if you hate running, don't do it. Try cycling, swimming, dancing, rowing, or whatever floats your boat. That's not to say even Lance Armstrong doesn't have days he'd rather hit the sofa than the road, but those days are much rarer when your activity of choice is exactly that—your choice.