Learning to Appreciate Myself for Who I Am, One Mile at a Time
A Big Hairy Audacious Goal: 3 weeks, 1,000 miles on a bike – across France from St. Malo (north) to Nice (south). It is the trip of a lifetime and scary as heck! Even for a fit cyclist, it’s an unforgettably big deal. Looking back – I’m incredibly glad I signed up, plunked down a fair chunk of savings and saddled up.
I approached this epic adventure like I approach the various and slightly insane events in my life – just do it and don’t worry about it. In 2017, I signed up for and completed a 100-mile gravel bike ‘race’ (one-day event) in Idaho. I wasn’t first and I wasn’t last – I just got on with it. I tried really hard not to think too much about it beforehand.
If I genuinely thought about all of the things that could go wrong, I’d never show up. So I didn’t and I did … show up, that is (with some training in between signing up and showing up).
This epic adventure was a little different. It wasn’t an all-out slog-fest. I had never been to France before. My husband and I were doing this trip for our 5th wedding anniversary. This is our idea of a vacation and a milestone event to celebrate our time together. Regardless, I was a little nervous and not sure I could keep up with the expectation to ride between 50-70 miles almost every day for 3 weeks!
A Competitor at Heart
In my heart, I’m fiercely competitive (mostly with myself) and I have high aspirations of my performance. In other words: I’m an overachiever. I had a serious let down in early 2018. My performance on the bike went from pretty good (winning races) to abysmal (forget about it) – for no apparent reason.
I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma (yay, something else to deal with!) in February of 2018 and the medication seemed to help somewhat. However, overall my ability to produce power as a competitive cyclist was not what it once was. Needless to say, I was heartbroken.
Riding a bike, to me, is like flying. You are free to feel the wind in your face. You can experience the world like nothing else! You see so much that would be missed in an automobile or take forever to find by foot. I’m an avid outdoors nut and riding a bike is my ‘play’ time. Yes, I compete (or used to) but it was always fun.
I have cycled and competed even though I have so many food allergies the list of what I CAN eat is shorter. I also have CSS (Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome) and I’m chronically hypoglycemic (sort of like Type 1 diabetes). Basically: I need to eat all the time to stay alive and I can’t eat anything. Go figure.
Regardless if you are competitive or not: it’s a huge blow to your self-confidence to have your abilities suddenly drained (and worrying!). It was particularly disappointing considering how hard I have fought against the challenges I am faced with. It’s like having the rug ripped out from underneath you without so much as an explanation.
I was still smarting a little from this let-down when we started the trip. I didn’t really know if I could complete the journey. After all, if I did 3 hard bike rides in a row – I would have rest for 2 days! This adventure is 18 days on a bike and only ONE rest day. What have I signed up for?!
Keep Calm and Just Get On With It
When you dive into the deep end you either learn how to swim or you drown (or scream your head off for a rescue). Enough with the whining and sniveling. Yes, I have more issues than National Geographic – just get on with it. So, get on with it, I did.
It was a humbling experience, to say the least. First of all, I don’t care how fit you are, riding almost every day for 3 weeks isn’t a small feat. It became quickly apparent that our trip companions (a group of 17) were also there for the experience of a lifetime. They, like us, had signed up for an adventure. Some were just as nervous as I was about completing the trip.
Ironically, they thought I was the fit one! Ha! My husband is quite fit, but I knew what I was up against even though I cycle and train consistently. I tried really hard not to worry and take it one day at a time.
Set Your Mind Free and Your Legs Will Follow
A good friend told me: “set your mind free and your legs will follow” when I was struggling with my performance let down in early 2018. I was so frustrated! But, I realized my friend was right. I needed to set my mind free. I must let go of my drive to over-achieve and to live up to the unrealistic expectations I have for myself. I was fighting against things I could not change or control.
All I ever wanted as a young girl was to be pretty darn good. I didn’t need to be the absolute smartest or the best at things. But, I wanted to be ‘up there’. As an adult: I crave the ability to be free to go out to eat, exercise, and keep up with everyone else. But, I can’t. I have struggled for so darn long against medical challenges that I cannot change. I have been fighting myself and it’s time to let go. It’s time to accept who I am and be ok with it.
It’s incredibly hard to just ‘let go’. When you want to achieve so badly and ‘quit’ really isn’t in your vocabulary (blame that on my overachieving genetics). Letting go is something that can take a very long time. I don’t know that I will ever fully ‘let go’ of my personal expectations. I am hard-wired to strive for the best. I need to learn that the ‘best’ equals ‘the best I can do’.
The Painful Process of Letting Go
I didn’t know it when I started this epic trip, but I was about to be rewired. A perspective shift was going to hit me right between the eyes. For one thing, I was witnessing a massive equalization of athletic performance. Those who, at first, couldn’t make it up the hills that fast – got faster. Those that were fast at the beginning of the trip, started to slow down.
It’s a humbling and fantastic experience. In the initial days of the trip, I was still in the habit of rushing and riding fast. I hadn’t quite realized that I could only appreciate this once-in-a-lifetime experience if I slowed down. I was missing out on some fantastic scenery and history. At the dinner table, I would hear what the others had seen and think to myself: “why am I rushing?”
I slowed down. Even more importantly, I was ok with that. What was I trying to prove? Instead of pushing myself to my limits, I took care of myself along the way. I was starting to accept my limitations, work with what I have and be happy with the outcome. My perspective slowly started to shift. Instead of tuning into the nagging ‘you suck’ radio from my inner critic – I felt good about being me.
Appreciation and Acceptance
It’s emotional to see the Mediterranean Sea in front of you – suddenly appearing after 1,000 miles and 18 days on the bike. It is a bitter-sweet emotion. You form bonds and friendships on a trip like this that you don’t want to see dwindle. You’ve shared challenges, amazing experiences and supported one another. You appreciate those around you for who they are. You might even learn more about yourself – I know I did.
Looking back in reflection I’d have to say that, for the first time in my life, I’m coming to accept my limitations instead of fighting them. I’m coming to terms with who I am as a person and as an athlete. It’s hard to let go, but nature seeks a balance. I am fortunate to have had wonderful experiences as a competitive cyclist. Maybe I will compete again one day. For now: I’m ok with who I am and what I can do.
There’s a lot to be said about the power of a positive perspective.
There’s a sense of satisfaction when you complete something like the big, hairy audacious goal of 3 weeks and 1,000 miles across a country. If you do decide to take up the challenge: France isn’t a bad choice – the food is fantastic! Most importantly, I learned a lot about myself. I think I matured a little (I hope). I am finally accepting myself without constantly fighting things I cannot change or control.
We have enough challenges in life, don’t make your life harder than it needs to be. My advice: keep your goals and aspirations reasonable with self-care in mind. Let go of what you cannot change or control. Appreciate and accept who you are for what you are in your journey. You’ll be a lot happier along the way if you do.