What to Do When the Race Gets Tough

Blog Silver PicMy family, friends, and acquaintances know that, over the last couple of years, I’ve gotten into participating in endurance events. Note that I describe myself as “participating” rather than as “competing.” I am not now, nor have I ever been, an elite athlete. I am a mediocre athlete at best. Any of my athletic achievements stem from a determined and dogged refusal to accept my stunning lack of talent as a limiting factor. This inherent trait has served me well in the different endurance events I’ve tackled.

As part of my training for the Leadville 100 mountain bike race in August, I entered the Leadville Silver Rush 50. To summarize the experience: it was eight hot, lung-exploding, leg-burning hours of hell. It was painful! I know that sounds like a given for an ultra-distance race. But the Silver Rush is different. Locals refer to this race as the Leadville 100 with all the fun parts removed. Unlike the 100, the course for the Silver Rush never dips below 10,000 feet—and there are no flat sections, only climbs and descents along with miles of rocky terrain too steep to even ride. On the Silver Rush course, the hike-a-bike sections seem endless.

I’ve been training for the Leadville 100 since last October and am now just four weeks out from the big race. Though my ride this past weekend at the Silver Rush was not all that fun, I believe the experience will help me complete (in less than 12 hours!) one of the most difficult ultra long-distance mountain bike races in the country.

I learned two main things as I pounded out the course: never quit and never lose focus. I think these strategies can be applied to any endeavor in my life—and in yours too.

1) Never, never, never give up!

When you find yourself in a difficult situation and it seems that everything is stacked against you—that moment when you feel you just cannot hang on any longer—never give up, for that may be just the place and time the tide will turn.

I was about four hours into my race last weekend and had almost reached the halfway point. I spotted my awesome crew: my wife and kids. They restocked my water and nutrition, and I jumped back on my bike and then started cycling up a 100-yard hill. About halfway up this incline, I experienced some of the worst pain I’ve ever felt—my legs were severely cramping, the muscles in my calves and quads contracted tightly into knots.

I was barely able to get off my bike and could not get any relief, no matter what I tried. I knew there was no way I could continue—I still had another 25 miles to go! I could hardly stand up, let alone ride.

I made a decision: I would pull myself out of the race.

Mind made up, I turned around to go back and saw my family in the distance looking very concerned. At that moment, I realized that I absolutely could not quit in front of my kids. What type of message would I be sending them? What kind of example would I be?

Painfully, I turned back around and hobbled my bike up the remainder of the hill to the aid station. One of the medics saw that I was in trouble and correctly diagnosed my problem: I wasn’t getting enough salt. He proceeded to dump salt into my hand and directed me to ingest it with electrolytes. In about five minutes, the pain became manageable.

I got back on my bike with an even greater determination to finish the race and a tremendous amount of relief that I had not pulled myself out. I know I would have regretted that decision.

During the various journeys that comprise our lives, we all get to a point where we feel like giving up. Sometimes we give up before we even start, and, other times, we give up on the cusp of a big breakthrough.

It’s not so much what happens to us that makes a difference; rather, it is what we do with what happens to us that determines where we will end up, what we will have, and how we will change. I learned from last week’s race to always believe that victory is just around the corner.

Never give up! And, I mean never!!

2) Never lose focus.

What does focus mean to you? The Silver Rush 50 made me think a whole lot about focus and what it means.

Throughout the race last weekend, I found myself thinking about what the others around me were doing. How many were behind me? How many would pass me? How far back was I? How far did I still have to go?

What is the common theme in all these thoughts? They all revolve around external focus points, centering on things I cannot control. When I was consumed with these questions, I stopped thinking about the things I could control. I was no longer racing my best race.

Here is an example of how losing focus can derail us:

My personal goal was to finish the Silver Rush 50 in under eight hours. After completing my last climb, I had only eight miles left to the finish line—most of it downhill. I realized that I was on target to come in under eight hours, and I was ecstatic.

I started thinking about my next goal—the Leadville 100—and wondering how I would perform during that grueling race. Big mistake! I got distracted, end up taking a wrong turn, got off the trail, and descended three miles off course! It cost me 40 minutes and my goal of finishing under eight hours. I made the mistake of losing focus.

We can all do many different things in life, but that doesn’t mean we should do them all at the same time. We must truly embrace the moment, focusing on the task in front of us, in order to put forth our best effort. Whether achievement of your goal requires steady forward movement or a huge quantum leap, a laser-like focus on what is right in front of you is absolutely needed. Any distractions, unclear intentions, or breaks in concentration can cause your momentum to come crashing down around you, just like it did for me last weekend. As Bruce Lee said, “The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”

I’m happy I finished this challenging race. And, although I didn’t achieve my goal of finishing in under eight hours, I did learn some valuable racing and life lessons. Come August 9, when I take on the big 100-mile race across the sky, I believe these lessons learned will help me finish in less than 12 hours.

Never give up. Never lose focus.

What could we accomplish if we applied these two principles to all of our goals?

SILVER 50 Pics

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