On Saturday, I had a 4 hour ride.
I thought about riding outside. But as we drove back from the pool, and noticed the temperature was 29 degrees, I thought otherwise.
“Do you think I could ride outside?” I asked Chris. Usually, he is enthusiastic about riding outdoors no matter what the weather. But today was different.”Look at those flags, Liz,” he said, pointing to a flag whipping viciously from the west.
He was probably right. But just to be sure, I asked my coach. Usually, she is even more enthusiastic about riding outdoors in any type of weather.
“No way, not today,” was what she said.
But I wasn’t convinced. Something had just gotten into me. An inkling to ride outdoors. And when you get an inkling like this it cannot go ignored. I had to try – I had to at least give it a try outdoors. Chris promised to send me warm thoughts from the basement.
I suited up – fleece tights, wool socks, toe warmers, base layer, jersey, fleece vest, fleece jacket, fleece-lined balaclava, helmet, fleece gloves, fleece mittens. Ten pounds later, I boarded my cyclocross bike barely able to move my fingers enough to feel the bars.
I decided to do a nearby 15 minute loop. The most open part would be tailwind followed by some sheltered loops and turns through a neighborhood and back down through a hilly neighborhood behind our house.
The first part was comfortable – the tailwind pushed me along and I cruised along. Turning into the neighborhood, a crosswind made me work a little harder. The rest of the loop was a little headwind, some crosswind. It was short enough to keep me out of the headwind for too long and long enough to keep me entertained.
It certainly wasn’t warm but it wasn’t unbearably cold – or at least it would be for a few minutes but then I would turn and go back to comfortably warm. The wind tried to tell me at least a dozen times to turnaround and go home but I wouldn’t listen. I thought to myself that this is what I needed to do. Workouts like this in weather like this was what I had to do. It wasn’t a choice – it was what a champion would do.
I lasted for 90 minutes before my feet got cold and my thumbs were numb. My stomach started to feel sick. I lasted it out for another 10 minutes before returning indoors to finish the remaining time. And as I sat there in a fixed position, dripping sweat after 20 minutes, I felt much better knowing that I had given the cold a try and lasted for longer than even I expected.
My ride that day was nothing short of an exercise in adversity. I may have only lasted 90 minutes but what I gained was worth much more. You see, there’s not much that sets us all apart. We all train hard, we all train a lot, we all have the best bikes and fast wheels. We know what to eat, we know how much to sleep. But what sets us apart in the end, what makes the difference are the little things in between. It’s the little things that add up to give you an advantage – and you have to seek out the opportunities for advantages and take advantage of them when you can.
What matters most is seeking out adversity for these advantages. There are uncontrolled adversities – rain, wind, heat, hills, cold – and there are controlled adversities – overdressing, overeating, overdoing it early on – in any case you have the control to put yourself into these situations and learn something from them. Do it when you can, do it when you least to want to. That's when it will count the most.
The other day someone asked me to recall a "perfect" race – honestly, I couldn’t think of one. In any given race, you face so much adversity along the way – 107 degree heat index in Arkansas, Cornernbrook when it poured cold rain, crashing at Muncie, Pineman when the swim start was 38 degrees, losing a water bottle in Alabama – but what matters is that when I was faced with these adversities, I knew what to do because I had done it so many times in training, because my body and mind had memory for what to do.
When I step up to the start line in the races that really count, I know that everyone else will show up with 99 percent of the same things as me – training, preparation, nutrition, hopes, dreams. But what they won’t have are the things that made me tougher – riding when it’s 29 degrees, swimming hard after a hilly run, climbing those mountains, monster swims. Every time I face adversity, I file it away in my mind to pull out when it matters most; when I think there’s nothing left to give in a race, when someone attacks, when I see someone just up ahead.
The advantage that you have is adversity. Did you train with it, did you embrace it, did you make it your best friend? You know in any given race adversity will be your enemy. And you know what they say - keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer so seek out adversity, make friends with it, keep it close. This is what will count in the end.