My heart is racing, legs are burning, I’m sweating and suffering. I’ve eaten my last gel, ran out of water and the rider I was chasing has long since vanished into the distance.
At this point it crosses my mind to quit, head to the cafe’ and kick back with an Americano. I think I’ve gone as hard as I could… but the truth is 99% of the time you can always go harder and push further. It comes down to mindset.
Patience and perseverance are difficult to muster when you’re climbing up what feels like endless switchbacks. In reality it’s just your perception of the pain you’re experiencing that’s impacting your ability to tolerate it. It’s your mind you have to convince. Your mindset plays a huge part in your ability to tolerate pain. I’m not saying you can grab your bike, head to Italy and hammer up the Dolomites if you have the right mindset... Some things are still outside of our control. Mental skills don’t make up for a lack of physical ability. You need to prepare.
Cycling has helped me strengthen my mental toughness through the push and pulls of life. Some days are as they say in italian: non me sento la catena which means I don’t feel the chain of my bike. Other days are grueling, with obstacles, head winds and challenging hills.
I remember the first big ride on my new road bike, It was mid-January and I’d had my bike for about two weeks. I decided I really wanted to ride from West Vancouver to Squamish. Like seriously, how hard could it really be I thought! Can you picture me: eyes wide and sparkling, hair wound up in a “blonde” braid, wearing my really trendy new Rapha cycling kit. *silly girl.
Needless to say, it was not easy. I started out on the highway and hardly got to horseshoe bay before my mind started questioning this venture. As semi-trucks blasted past me and dark clouds began to form I was thinking, where are all the other riders, maybe this isn’t such a good idea…Meh, I will push on, I said. Rounding the corner to the Sea to Sky highway my inner chatter got louder… who’s idea was it to put these f-ing hills here. I tried to breathe through my burning lungs and think of something else, but my efforts were futile.
I rode through misery and a short downpour that left my feet soaking wet, but I kept telling myself to not give up and I focused on just making it to the next corner, and then the next. Somehow I eventually saw a glimpse of the chief and thought holy sh*t I’m almost there, and at that moment my legs switched on and I had renewed speed. I made it to Squamish!
I made it because I was determined and knew somewhere inside I could dig deep and find the ability. By focusing on bite-sized chunks instead of the whole thing I was able to focus. It’s mental determination and the ability to endure that’s difference between success and failure. Our bodies are engineered to maintain stability, so when something threatens that stability, such as cycling at your threshold your body automatically wants to hit the brakes.
Since that day I have accomplished many more personal achievements in my riding, none without their share of suffering and grit required to push through. Suffering is part of the beauty and mystery of cycling. It gives the ride meaning. This can also be applied to life in that suffering, pain, loss, humility and rejection are teaching your perseverance. Just because you’re struggling, doesn’t mean you’ve failed. In fact, the willingness to face a challenge head-on and tolerate the pain will increase your ability to persevere.
It has been proven that athletes are able to tolerate pain better than the general population — not because they are inherently tougher, but because they have trained themselves to. They have trained hard and unearthed the mental strength to persevere through hardships and struggle.
A path without obstacles probably doesn’t lead anywhere. – Frank A. Clark