I've been doing quite a few things differently this race season. One of the biggest changes came with the addition of the hardest race I've ever done to the front-end of my calendar. That's right! This spring I had the privilege of competing in Transportugal, a 1000km, 8-day mountain bike race from the northern border of Portugal and Spain to the southern most point of Europe in a small beach town called Sagres. The 625 mile course contains over 60,000ft of vertical elevation gain (two trips up Mt. Everest and then some). After nearly 40 hours of racing through heat, cold, rain, wind, dust, mud, and endless rocks, I headed home with more than a few lessons learned and a new outlook on bike racing and challenges in general. Here are the top 3 things this great journey taught me:
Ignorance is Bliss
I've learned over the years that the best way to grow as an athlete is to put yourself in situations that force you outside of your comfort zone. In endurance sports, these situations often come with a lot of pain and misery. Even more, in the case of Transportugal, this suffering would last for over a week. While on paper the race looked hard and I knew if I completed it successfully I'd carry a huge boost in fitness with me throughout the rest of the year, I never fully wrapped my head around just how hard it'd be. I blocked out what back-to-back 7-hour days of racing would feel like. I didn't think about what a 3,000ft climb on wet/slippery cobble stones in 35 degree, rainy weather would feel like. I didn't think about the fact that I had never raced my bike for 8 days straight before, or how I had no idea how my body would respond to a 40 hour week of racing.
I feel like this cluelessness allowed me to go into each stage ignorantly excited for the adventure to come. It allowed this massive challenge to be viewed as just that, a challenge, rather than simply 8 days of misery.
Mental Barriers Are Not Physical Limits
I'd like to think everyone competing in this incredible race had a few moments where they contemplated dropping out. Given that only 40% of starters even finish, I feel this is a very safe assumption. Around stages 3 and 4, thoughts of dropping out crept into my mind. There was a point during the 4th day of racing during a long, cold, muddy descent in the rain that I was positive my race was over. I felt there was no way I could take another kilometer of this torture, let alone another 500km. However, being in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of Portugal, quitting quite literally wasn't an option. The only way to get to warmth and comfort again was to keep going. While my mind said I couldn't go on, I learned that my body was more than capable of continuing.
Moments like this were plentiful over the last 3 stages. However, it only took one time for me to now realize that mental barriers were different than physical ones. As long as my legs kept moving, I could pedal my way through the mental exhaustion and eventually to the finish line.
Memory is Selective
When all was said and done, the memory of my burning lungs and sore muscles surprisingly wasn't very strong. Instead, the most vivid memories I left with have to do with the feelings I had after each stage was finished. The absolute best of these feelings came from the hardest days; the days that broke me down to the point of wanting to drop out. As the race went on and days began to blend together, the memories of the feelings from crossing the finish line of each stage were and still remain crystal clear. This realization began to help in the latter stages as I knew the struggle of the race I was feeling in the moment would only fuel the memory of accomplishment and joy when I made it to the finish.
You can read a full acount of my Transportugal experience HERE. Next stop for me is the famous 200 mile Gravel Grinder in Emporia, KS known as the Dirty Kanza 200. Hope to see you there!