During each of the last four years the final weekend in July has found me at an endurance mountain bike race in Southeast Wyoming known as the Laramie Epic.
The first year I signed up for this race it had a single option for entry — 70 miles of backcountry trails. I was fairly new to mountain biking and decided this would be a great way to force me to train and get better. I slowly built up my mileage during the summer to prepare, but I had never ridden more than 50 miles before race day.
During the race itself, I was so concerned about making it all the way to the end I conserved too much energy. I finished the 70-miles in good spirits, but couldn’t help feeling like I hadn’t given it my all. My legs weren’t even sore the next day.
The following year, they altered the course to be more technical single-track riding and I decided to race again. This time, I started to push myself into a more uncomfortable zone during my training rides to improve my fitness and technical ability.
During one such ride my friend David Chadderdon gave me the advice, “Take what the road gives you.” When I asked what that meant, he explained it’s a mindset of seeing everything that comes in front of you as an advantage. Steep climb? You trained for climbs; time to power up. Smooth downhill? Don’t let your bike do all the work; actively pedal and take advantage of the extra momentum.
As I stood over my bike at the start line for my second Laramie Epic, I decided I would push myself each step of the way. This time the course was two 30-mile laps on technical single-track trails. I set off at a fast pace and held it through the entire first lap. Before the second lap, I took a short break to refill my water and grab a snack, feeling proud of my effort so far.
As I got back on my bike, I felt the small twinge of a muscle cramp in my left calf. It wasn’t long before the twinge started to spread. By the next aid station the muscle cramps were locking up both calves and my quads in a rotating order. Doubt started to cross my mind as to whether I would be able to finish the race.
Shortly after mile 45, it started raining. Flashes of lightning were followed milliseconds later by booming thunder amid a constant downpour. Riders started pulling off and seeking shelter.
I didn’t have a warmer jacket and I wasn’t riding on a really exposed ridge, so I decided to press on. I rode past a volunteer bundled in jackets, blankets and a poncho and asked, “Am I crazy for continuing?” He said enthusiastically, “No, you’re a hero!” Simultaneously smiling and shaking my head at the insanity of it all I thought, “Take what the road gives you.”
The last 10 miles of the race were brutal. The trail was a mess, my bike was covered in mud and gravel and I could barely shift between gears. Worst of all, my legs locked up in jarring muscle cramps if my cadence slowed below a certain rate or I stepped off my bike to walk a section of muddy trail. “Take what the road gives you” became a mantra as I tried to distract myself from the chaos.
As I rode across the finish line with my fist in the air and a big smile, I couldn’t help but notice my body and mentality had done a complete flop from the year before. There was no doubt I had used every ounce of energy, and yet I could not have been happier. It’s difficult to explain the pride that comes with the knowledge of a 100% effort. I can assure you it outweighs the physical exhaustion (which included continued muscle cramps for the next 12 hours and sore legs for the next 12 days).
In the midst of a global pandemic and economic recession it is easy to feel the victim of circumstances. Our legs cramp, the rain won’t stop and the gears on the bike are increasingly difficult to shift.
As you look around at the challenges you are facing, shift your perspective to “take what the road gives you.” If you’re facing a long uphill climb, power up it. If you’re going through a really technical section, slow down and pick your way through intentionally. Or perhaps you’re in a role to be that volunteer cheering on other riders with, “You’re a hero!”
Eventually there will be a finish line to the challenges we are facing. And I look forward to crossing that finish line with all of you…leg cramps, fist pumps and all.