Pedaling Through It

cycling-655565_640Are you familiar with the Big Red Gravel Run? No? That’s OK, I hadn’t heard of it either until this week. The Run is a 100 kilometer (62.1371 miles) bicycle race held each August in Harrington, Quebec. This race only came to my attention because of the man who won it this year. It was Kyle Messier, a bicycle mechanic from Waterloo.

Here’s what’s so amazing about Messier’s win. He was completely new to bicycle racing. And he won the race after riding his bike from Waterloo to Harrington; a distance of more than 650 kilometers. That journey took him three and a half days. Shortly after finishing the race, he turned around and started the ride back home. Oh, and he did all of this while suffering from an abscessed tooth.

I am constantly amazed by stories of people who overcome incredible odds to achieve great things. They inspire me to move beyond the small obstacles I find in my path; obstacles that could easily cause me to quit, give less than sincere effort, or just decide not to participate in the first place. I’m always particularly interested in learning how people overcome their obstacles. What techniques do they use to succeed that I can apply to my own circumstances?

Messier shared a few thoughts on his accomplishment and his approach reveled three tactics I believe we can use to win, especially when the race is long, difficult, and not particularly pleasant.

  1. He got in the zone. Messier practiced what is known as “active meditation.”  This is when the mind essentially shuts out external distractions and focuses solely on the mechanics of the task at hand. It’s particularly suited for repetitive activities like cycling or running. When you get in the zone, your mind can’t focus on how difficult the task is, or what you’d rather be doing. You live in the moment, giving everything you have to completing the next step.
  2. He set small goals. Just to arrive at the starting line, Messier had to travel over 400 miles on his bike; almost 100 miles per day. But instead of focusing on end of the journey, he created shorter, intermittent milestones. By training himself to work toward smaller goals, he was able to build up momentum. Each little success propelled him into the next and, instead of thinking about how little ground he had covered, he celebrated the wins as they accumulated.
  3. He kept the end-game in mind. Messier trained himself to pursue the positive aspects of achieving his goal, rather than dwelling on the pain he was feeling or the distance he had to cover. He visualized crossing the finish line, receiving his medal, and enjoying a pizza after the race was over. Reminding himself of the positive, kept the negative at bay and allowed him to enjoy the experience.

I don’t see myself competing in anything like the Big Red Gravel Run anytime soon. However, I do have days when my own journey feels long and painful. I have projects where the ends seems too far away to see. And I have days where it feels like circumstances are working against me and success is unlikely. Thankfully though, I also have stories, like that of Kyle Messier, that keep me pedaling on.