May 04, 2014
“Pain is temporary.
Glory is forever.”
The narrow road ahead rose sharply. Holy moly, my legs were already burning a lousy 50m into the 1.6km climb. ‘12% grade and heart rate 168 beats per minute,’ flashed my Garmin bike computer as I pedaled upward.
This. Was. Not. A. Good. Idea.
We were staying at the top of Wolf Mountain Ski Resort for our cycling training camp in North Carolina. One night, after indulging in a few beverages some un-named person declared we should ride ‘the ski-hill road climb.’
I cringed inside. Nervous laughter ebbed into the conversation.
We’d only do it once. At 12-28% grades and 1.6km long, the goal was simple: get to the top without having a heart-attack.
On our last day a few brave souls made our way to the bottom of the climb.
Four body types.
Three experience levels.
Two different gearing set-ups.
One shared delusional attitude.
Our plan formed during the warm-up. “It’s crazy steep and narrow with gravel in spots. Best to have a staggered start – fastest should go first to avoid bunching,” suggested Nuno, wisely.
Franny, with the highest power-to-(body) weight ratio, led us out. I followed 30 seconds later with Christian and Nuno behind.
At the first switchback I was already sucking wind. Franny, as usual, was climbing nicely. “Bloody H@*l, I wish I weighed 125lbs like her,” I cursed quietly to myself.
I rounded the corner and met a 17% grade.
‘172bpm’ flashed on the monitor.
No more gears left. Out of the saddle I popped. I started tacking side-to-side up the hill taking the edge off the grade. Ahead, with her smaller compact gearing, Franny continued straight up.
“I could catch her if I had better gearing…puff, puff.”
‘178bpm,’ my Garmin grinned.
And then it happened:
From behind, Christain blew by both of us like we were standing still; straight up the steepest part of the road.
Bigger gearing like mine.
Heavier than me.
Older than me and indeed, almost 50 years of age.
And with legs like tree-trunks.
“Wow, he’s amazing. So that’s what 30 years of riding and racing can look like! Gasp, gasp.”
I’ll admit, another thought was on its’ heals: “I’ll never be able to ride like that.”
The tarmac rose again - 24%.
Christian disappeared up the climb and I quickly slipped back into my rhythm and own world of effort.
Up we all climbed. Each at our own pace. Each in our own way and with our own strengths and weaknesses.
Each giving it absolutely everything they had.
Each determined to make it to the top.
And each did.
No heart attacks.
Just glory for all.
The comparison game is ultimately an empty one.
There’s always someone with a better body, someone faster, younger, older, happier, more experienced, funnier, better looking, and definitely way smarter than you.
Cycling, like life, isn’t about looking outward and measuring and comparing with those around you; tentatively setting out when the grade is comfortable or victory is assured.
Perhaps what matters most are the challenges that force you to look inward; challenges that push you to explore the edges of your own talent, confront the unknown, dig deep and discover the depths of how far you can, and are prepared to, go.
And in the process leave you, if even for a few moments, being even better than yourself.
Comfort and looking good or no regrets?