The rain fell at 8am on the 15th August 2020 and I set off with 7 friends on a 100-mile charity cycle around Hertfordshire. Before the idea of riding this event had arisen, I had not really owned or used a bike since my late teens. Whilst I knew this would be a journey of discovery around rural Hertfordshire, I had not expected to gain such a deep insight into myself too.
The lessons that this 100-mile challenge taught me, also apply to my application at work. These 7 learnings delve into motivation, determination, performance and engagement and are likely to apply to other readers too.
Shoot Towards Goal
On the day of the ride I was full of adrenaline and anticipation. I didn’t feel ready but I was eager to get the ride underway. If I’m honest, not many of my training rides could have described as ‘eagerly awaited’, especially the solo ones. On training days, making the choice of heading out alone on the bike in the wind and rain, over, staying at home and having a comfortable afternoon in was not always easy. It was the reminder of the overall goal that got me out there each time. The reminder that on a specified date in the future, I was going to start riding and not stop until I had achieved 100-miles.
Learning: Ensure your goal is clearly in focus.
Question: Are your goals as clear as they could be?
Problem Too Big...
Our target ride time was 7.5 hours, within the first mile we were soaking wet, before the 10-mile mark my right calf was tightening as if it was going to cramp, by 30-miles my muscles felt empty and my legs heavy, 60-miles in the backs of my legs were sore from the contact with the saddle and by 75-miles my hands were sore from resting on the hoods. In each of those moments, you are presented with a choice. View the pain and discomfort as a problem, or break the challenge up in to smaller, more manageable segments. I chose the latter, continually refocusing on the next mile, the next straight, the next climb or the next refuel point… and it got me through.
Learning: Mountain too big? Break it down.
Question: What would you benefit from breaking down?
Sometimes You Fall
When discussing cycling with those more experienced, the suggestions of tight lycra and ‘clipless’ pedals are often highlighted for their increased efficiency. However, both also have their drawbacks. Whilst the lycra visually leaves little to the imagination (!!!), the pedals mean that your feet are attached quite firmly to the bike. The warning accompanying these is that someday, ‘You will forget you are clipped in and you will fall off’. On the day of the ride, I still hadn’t… I hadn’t fallen off. Whilst making a right-hand turn at a T-junction 70-miles in, I misjudged the speed of an approaching car and had to quickly applied my brakes, bringing me to a stop. As I went to put my foot down, I had the sinking feeling others had warned me about… My feet were clipped in and it was too late to correct my error… I hit the tarmac, landing heavily on my arm and shoulder. As I lay across the road on my side trying to unclip from my pedals whilst reassuring those around me that I was okay, I knew the only way to deal with the situation was to focus on completing the ride with an even greater levels of commitment, determination and focus.
Learning: If you fall down (literally or metaphorically), be resilient, get back up and get back on track.
Question: Where have you demonstrated resilience in the past?
Preparation Is Everything
100-miles is not the sort of distance you can just jump on a bike and ride. My ride time was just under 8 hours and the total event time (including breaks) was a shade under 10 hours. Some of our group completed the ride 1.5 hours faster than I did with average speeds nearly 3 mph quicker. Why?... Perhaps they were physically stronger, or perhaps they have past cycling pedigree. However, the reality is that they had committed to more extensive training programmes. I believe that a large portion of the performance difference was owing to the better preparation of those around me.
Learning: Your training contributes significantly to your performance.
Question: What do you need to focus your development efforts on?
Know Your Greater Purpose
Despite the discomfort and mental challenges that we overcame as a group during the ride, we all knew that we were riding not only for our own sense of achievement, but also for a greater purpose. We all rode for Sands, the Still Birth and Neonatal Death Charity. Riding for such a great cause provided a greater sense of purpose, which undoubtably helped me in reaching the end. Additionally, studies have shown that giving to others gives you a sense of purpose, creates the feeling of belonging and also aids psychological and physical wellbeing.
Learning: Giving is also getting.
Question: To what degree do you give back?
Visit www.sands.org.uk/get-involved for opportunities to support.
You Control Your Own Mindset
After the 25-mile checkpoint I fell back from the group, which resulted in me riding alone for between 15 and 20 miles. Already struggling for energy at this point, I experienced a wide range of emotions. Firstly, I was hit by a determined streak where I tried to apply myself so that I could catch the group. My legs however had other ideas… Next, I experienced the realisation that I had been left and my emotion turned to frustration and disappointment that I couldn’t keep up and that I had been left to cycle so much of the challenge on my own. It was at this point that I decided to make a choice. I had to accept the situation. Yes I was tired, yes I was riding alone, and yes I still had over 70-miles to go, yet I decided to think positively about what lay ahead. I experienced a transformation in my thinking. From despair and annoyance to determination and perseverance, as I started to believe that I would be able to reach the end of the ride, even if I was to do it alone. As it happened, I had been unintentionally left behind and upon realising this, a few of the group slowed down to meet with me before the 50-mile mark. I was however, deeply satisfied that I had overcome a perceived adversity and controlled my own mind and my emotions before I was reunited with the group.
Learning: Your mind, your choice!
Question: What emotions do you need to get control over in your life?
Strength In Numbers
Ahead of ride day, I completed a number of training rides. Many were completed solo, which were tough and lonely, but I also completed training rides with others, even people who were not involved in the final ride. These were the enjoyable rides, the rides where I was able to go faster, further and for longer. When I was managing to keep up with the team, they were fantastic, a couple setting the pace, some ensured that nobody was riding alone (for too long), others offering interesting conversation or much needed humour, whilst others offered impactful technical pointers and assistance in changing tyres. I like to think my role in the team was to demonstrate to the others how much better prepared they were for the ride! You can never underestimate the importance of having a diverse range of quality people in your team. The right people and the right mix of people will encourage you, push you, direct you and support you at the times when you need it most. The right team will be there for you when you need them!
Learning: Ensure you have a diverse team around you.
Question: To what degree do you seek out diversity?
Do you want to develop some of the characteristics outlined above? We have a range of coaching opportunities to accelerate your journey. Take a look or book a free consultation to find out more.
Sam Bruce, Business Psychologist & High Performance Coach