A Spark

Cycling Open Road

L'etaupe du California 2013It’s just a spark but its enough to keep me going.

Last Sunday I rode in L’Etape du California, a stage of the professional cycling tour of California that is opened up for non-professionals to ride. This year the course was from Livermore to Mount Diablo. 91-miles with almost 11,000 feet of climbing. A big day for even the best riders.

This year my regular ride buddies decided not to enter. Riding with friends helps spur me along when I want to give up, which happens for me in every big ride. I was worried about that urge to give up, but I was determined to do the ride solo.

Looking around at the starting line I got nervous. Last year there were upwards of eight hundred riders; this year less than 200 of which maybe twenty women. All the other riders all looked road hardened and serious. Gulp.

I determined my goal needed to be staying in the middle of the group. I know from reading about cycling that riding in the main field, or peloton, can save as much as 40% of one’s energy when compared to riding alone. So I wanted to not be dropped by the group. To do this, I would need to ride much faster and smarter than in previous races.

Shortly after the race began, the riders formed pacelines with their teams and clubs. Pacelines are when one rider follows an inch or two behind the other, hopping right on one another’s back tire. This way riders can cooperate and draft each other to ride at high speeds. The rider in front does a greater share of the work in maintaining the pace, then drops to the back when tired and a new rider leads. That strategy worked pretty well for me until the first real climb: a 10-15% grade for several miles.

By about 50 miles into the ride I was alone in the desert, in full sun, with the temperature approaching 90-degrees. A defining moment. I knew I could quit. The next water stop was only 10 miles away. I could say ‘Well, I tried. Better luck next year.’ But I didn’t quit. There was a little spark inside me that told me to carry on. It was just a spark, but it was enough. My spark kept me riding for another 4 hours to complete my ride in a total of 8 hours and 39 minutes.

During the ride, I kept reminding myself how lucky I was to be able to try, to be healthy enough to push my body and mind, to be able to “dig into my suitcase of courage,” as they say in cycling.

The fun is really in expanding how I know myself. Doing something when I don’t know whether or not I can. Attitude is the foundation that drives behavior, and behavior creates meaning. Meaning is necessary for high performance in all aspects of life.

Every day is an opportunity to change, to grow, to create meaning and purpose. Where can your spark take you? What can your spark help you achieve?

Ride on. Right on!

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