Justifying the Hard Workouts

My face is stiff in the cold, as my breath freezes on my jacket. Its dark, but the horizon is slowly turning blue. Sunrise will warm me up, I tell myself, pedaling on into the blackness. 90 more minutes and I’ll be back home, in a hot shower, getting ready for work. Just a little longer.

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The dull pain of lactic acid penetrates my legs as mile after mile slowly click by. I distract myself, flicking my lights off the road to nearby fields, little glowing eyes look back. You almost don’t need lights this morning, the snow on the ground reflects the moonlight so clearly. A slight smile forms on my lips between heavy breaths. It’s more of a grimace really, formed by the stark contrast between the beauty of a winter morning and the sharp pain of a pre breakfast workout. I could be home, warm and in bed. But I’m out here instead, doing intervals in the dark, in sub-freezing temps, all before work. WHAT AM I DOING?!

It’s a reasonable question.

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Seven months later, I’m dehydrated and exhausted. I come around a bend in the trail and see it, another mountain. I’m 7 hours into the Shenandoah 100 mountain bike race, and mentally cracked. Every muscle in my legs and back groans with each pedal stroke and I’m staring at a massive climb that separates me from the finish line; from rest. My already poor morale takes a dive even further. How am I possibly going to finish?

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Then it floods back in. The memories of the countless mornings last winter, the painful rides in the bitter cold come to mind. Surely that was more miserable than today, it must have been worse. Today it’s sunny, dry, I’m racing with dozens of friends in the beautiful mountains in Virginia. And I’m on my bike, voluntarily; how bad can this really be? The reflection suddenly injects energy into my legs. It could be worse. I has been worse.

The mountain looks smaller now. I hear the birds again and my eyes turn uphill. That same determined grimace creeps onto my lips, as I grit my teeth and push harder. I’m ready for this, I’m trained for this, I prepared for this moment months ago. Failure isn’t an option, stopping is unnecessary. How could I lay that foundation on those mornings and not deliver today? How could I let my mind win now?

So I don’t stop, I push harder.

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It’s November now and the offseason. But I’m still wondering. Beyond racing, what am I doing today to prepare my mind for the unexpected, tomorrow? What am I doing today, so that I respond well to adversity and the challenges I will face tomorrow?

What are you doing?