Saturday morning I rode in a cycling club 100K fun ride. It was the furthest I’d even thought about riding since 2014, but I wanted to make the leap to a different distance plateau to see how my knee surgery was healing. Incremental increases up the distance ladder make the most sense physically, and for injury avoidance, but do little to energize thinking. I wanted to open my mind. I made a rookie mistake of starting out too fast and trying to hang with the lead group longer than I should have. But I really did that on purpose since most of my rides are alone; I never get a sense of how much more energy I should invest. My friend Fred Walsh used to say about marathon training: Run alone, run slow. It’s the same with cycling: ride alone, ride slow.
The good news from the ride was that my knees felt great. They weren’t the limiting factor for the day. What slowed me down were my lungs. I couldn’t ride the pace with the rest of the group and still breathe.
In truth, with full disclosure, I didn’t make the entire 100K. I was tired and defeated at the two-hour mark, which was also when the ride director suggested everyone turn around and head back home, so I uncharacteristically followed instructions and turned around.
Riding back toward Midland was much harder. I fought against the strong southeast wind blowing against my right shoulder for miles, getting slower and slower, until Jeff Brammer rode up beside me. He maneuvered to the right-hand side of the road, between me and the wind, and motioned for me to tuck into his draft. Jeff is about eight feet tall and creates a formidable wind break. He drug me for the next ten miles and would not let me fall off the pace … he kept slowing down to catch me and bring me back to speed
By the time I finished the day I had 58 miles, just four miles shy of a 100K. I wasn’t disappointed, though; this was a significant jump in distance for me and I was happy to finish on my own two wheels. I accomplished all my objectives of the day: my knees felt great, my legs were shot, yet I could still stand up and walk around.
While my regular 15-20 mile rides meet the need for cardiovascular exercise and weight management, they do little to light up my brain. I learned in my old life it was the long training runs (2 hours or more) that reshaped my thinking and opened my mind. I had to run far enough to find the meditation point. Now that I’m cycling I have to ride far enough.
As I loaded my bike into the pickup bed I heard the other guys talk about their Sunday morning plan. The very next morning they were riding to Kermit and back, about 140 miles round-trip. It was a bit overwhelming to hear this knowing I was done for the weekend, but it gave me a better picture of what’s possible. I can’t do what they planned to do, now, but someday.
There is a hardness that comes only from extended time in the saddle. I don’t mean butt or quad hardness, but mental hardness. And it doesn’t come any other way except from riding long distances on a regular basis and letting other riders pull you up to speed.
It’s also true for running, backpacking, and even for yoga. My wife Cyndi can do back-to-back day-long workshops, at a master level, when I can barely last through a one-hour class. She’s put the extended time on her mat. She’s toughened up. And she’s let other people pull her up to speed.
Perseverance, endurance, is highly underrated. Most of the victories in our lives come because we simply keep going. Every time we stick it out, don’t quit, we get stronger for the next time.
The Bible says, “When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” (James 1:2-3, NLT) We cannot grow without trouble, and we will not grow without perseverance.
The good news is, we don’t have to endure on our own. We don’t have to fight the head winds always by ourselves. We can draft behind those who are stronger and let them pull us. We can borrow faith from each other when life gets hard. Just pull up close and let your brother or sister block the wind and pull you up to speed.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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