This is story about self doubt, how it screws with you and how to beat it.
It was an interesting summer. And, reflecting back on it, it wasn’t what it seemed at the time. Few moments in time as they stand alone are what they seem on the surface, If you are paying attention.
What it seemed to be on the surface was a normal summer of family activities and lots and lots of training and more races in a three month time period than I had done cumulatively in the past three years.
I am a slightly above average middle age cyclist who found love for gravel racing. Gravel sits somewhere between road racing and mountain biking. Most of the races are endurance; 100 miles or more and often with total elevation gains of around 10,000 feet in a day. For me, these races are as much about community and perseverance as performance.
The last big race of the season was the Belgian Waffle Ride Asheville. The BWR is billed as the hardest one day multi-surface race in the U.S. Whether it is the hardest or one of the hardest isn’t worth arguing, it’s hard.
On the drive from Indiana to North Carolina I was amused to see a constant stream of Texas license plates. I counted 23. For weeks, driving around my home town I would see Texas license plates everywhere. It got to a point that every time I would see one, I would use it as a reminder to be grateful for my life.
I had a string of 36 days of gratitude thoughts in a row up until the day I left, all thanks to cars from the Lone Star state.
Caution. Explicit content.
As I drove, I powered through podcast after podcast and audible books. I dove back into an interview Mel Robbins. She drops a lot of f-bombs. I like her. She talked about being awake and open to looking for hearts. When you become open to this possibility, you will see hearts everywhere. Her point is when this happens, you will believe in the possibility that there is more to the universe that what you think you see…or saw yesterday. So wake up. Go beyond your yesterday. Don’t let your yesterday become your tomorrow. Believe in yourself. Tell your doubt to go screw itself.
Texas license plates. Everywhere. I came to the realization as I passed across the Tennessee/North Carolina border there was a purpose in those plates. That experience began to fit seamlessly into what she was saying.
The day of the race came early. I rode from my Air BnB the five miles to the start, leaving just after 4am with all the nutrition I could carry for the day in the pockets sewn into the back of my race jersey.
The day before I had ridden the first 15 miles, encountering what I thought was the first big climb. “Easy,” I thought, recalling that the previous week I had spent four days racing and training in the Green Mountains of Vermont. That along with the summer’s previous races had me ready.
Forget waffles, have a giant helping of terror
The race began in a misty valley as the sun was rising. A moment of fear gripped me that had never manifested at any of the other events. My brain suddenly went into overdrive, “you shouldn’t be here. You can’t do this. You are hopelessly outclassed.” My stomach roiled. I couldn’t catch my breath. Then we rolled out. The terror followed.
The mind is a funny thing. We gravitate towards the negative. We are wired evolutionarily this way. The mind experiences terror and the brain thinks ‘fear’. Fight or flight mechanisms kick in. Cortisol and adrenaline are dumped into the system. Fear originates in the amygdala. The ancient part of the brain. It can’t discern between a bike race or a saber toothed tiger. It’s just fear.
This is no longer fun
Focusing, I rode through it and we got to the first hill, which gave me a boost of confidence and keeping the lurking doubt at bay. The problem is that hill wasn’t the first climb. It wasn’t even its baby brother. At the summit, we turned right and began the two mile grind up across a gravel road strewn with rocks the size of softballs. The grade rose to 13%. In case you were wondering, here’s what that looks like. Hell of a way to start a race. Terror had subsided into anxiety and mild self doubt. “You can’t do this” started to ring in my ears.
Nearing the top of the climb, I experienced a mechanical issue, as I crested the climb, I tried to shift into a lower gear to speed up. Ok, my brain wasn’t working very well at that moment but I had the vague knowledge that something was wrong. I kept pushing the shifter levers, hearing the click which usually accompanied a gear change but nothing. Nada. WTF.
I limped along in my climbing gear getting passed by pretty much everyone that didn’t walk the climb. At mile 16, I got to the first rest and mechanical support stop. I gave my bike to the pro mechanic knowing everything would soon be fixed and I’d be back in the hunt.
No such luck. I had the one part failure they didn’t have a part for. A $1.50 spring in my rear derailleur had broken, which meant no shifting. Ninety miles left to go, nearly 8,000 feet of climbing on gravel roads and on occasion up creek beds. I was toast.
I’ll choose door number three
As the mechanic took my bike off the stand he said, “dude, you have three choices. You can DNF (Did Not Finish), sit here with us and drink beer till we are done or you can DNF, get a ride back with a supply volunteer and drink beer at the finish.”
“What’s my third choice? You said there were three”, I asked.
He turned to look at me, sizing me up. Which is probably why he didn’t offer the third option. Sighing he said, “you can pick a gear and that’s what you got. You can ride the rest of this thing on one gear. I wouldn’t recommend it.”
That is all it took. I looked down, and forced the chain onto the 46 tooth sprocket, hopped on and peddled off. At this point, there was no placing or PR. There was only finishing.
Wanna know a secret? You suck.
This is where the story ceases becoming a biking tale. For the following nine hours, my brain begged to quit. It ordered me to quit. It rationalized. It played games. Quit. Quit. Quit. Quit. Quit. Quit. Quit. It’ll be ok. You tried. You can’t do it.
Each time I heard this, I reached into the Mel Robbins toolbox and counted back from 5. The conscious mind short circuits the sub-conscious when you do this. It takes aware its power. Doubt is just a lower form of fear which originates in the sub-conscious ancient brain.
I began to replace doubt with grit and determination. Each time doubt spoke, I saw an overweight male spectator holding a beer standing on the side of the road yelling ‘Quit’. He began to piss me off, so I lowered my head and ignored him. I sensed his growing frustration. His heckling wasn’t working. Then he disappeared. For the first time in my life, I had not given in to this spectator. He’d been there before in my life. Many times and sooner or later he always had bested me. 5-4-3-2-1. Smile. Not today asshole.
Ignore the spectators
Having perseverance is one thing in life but having belief is another. When you believe with all your heart, mind and soul and you act with that belief, possibilities unfold. The universe conspires to work with you.
With one climb to go, with 10 hours in the rain started. It was torrential. Instead of the usual groan and thought of what else could go wrong, I embraced it. It was. Perfect. Five miles to the finish, I encountered another race who had crashed in the rain. Bleeding and battered, he was struggling. I could see in his eyes he wanted to quit. I asked him how much he believed in himself. Could he divorce himself from the pain for another 30 minutes? What was not quitting worth? Everything it turned out.
Slogging through the rain and the mud, with the sun setting, we crossed the finish line together.
That day I had beaten a previously undefeated foe. My personal nemesis…self-doubt.
Doubt wants to limit you. It wants to hold you back. It wants status-quo. It doesn’t want growth. Doubt doesn’t want you to succeed. That takes away its power.
Doubt is easy to beat. It’s just a spectator to your life heckling you. Ignore him or her and just ride on by.
The Chosen Path is all about finding meaning and lessons in stories and conversations. We will be interviewing epic people, telling epic tales full of powerful and practical lessons to inspire us all.