Did any of you do the Prudential ‘Ride London’? I did. Not the hundred mile thing, obviously. I’m not mad. Or that fit. No, the eight miler (which became twelve by the time I had ridden two miles there and two miles back). Once you had walked, half-ridden and wiggled your way down the jam-packed Mall, it was a total delight. It felt like the Olympics all over again – strangers smiling at each other, hordes of helpful volunteers, sun and spontaneous applause and laughter. London on Prozac.
Afterwards, a few of us had passes for the Mall to watch the road race finish from the luxury of the stands. For an hour before the professionals came in, the last of the amateurs crawled up the Mall, some hand-in-hand in glorious, exhausted delight at beating the cut-off time; some arms aloft with weary victory; and some barely a breath short of cardiac arrest.
Joy was the name of the game. Joy at completing a challenge, especially for those who never really did the training they had thought they might do. Somewhere around Box Hill some of those will have expected their legs to fail before their lungs did. Or possibly the other way round. They’ll have wished they had hauled themselves out on their bikes during those wet evenings over the endless winter and gloomy spring when they chose the TV or the pub – or work – over the chilly, lonely trek through dark streets and menacing traffic.
But, even if they walked for a bit up that hill; or slowed to a crawl; or their legs screamed to stop and their lungs ached to take in just a little more oxygen, their minds refused to give up. Whatever their bodies were shouting at them, their minds were louder. Maybe just a fearful whisper to start with – ‘Just to the next lamp-post, the next bend, the top of this rise’, then a growing murmur of determination, then a roar of bloody-minded fury to not be beaten – and pulled out - so close to the end.
And in the end, their legs and lungs didn’t carry them across the line. Their minds did. Their minds heard the screams from their hearts and lungs, felt the pain of exhausted muscles cramping with lactic acid, and, having heard and felt, chose to ignore them.
The purpose with which they had set out – to finish – was so embedded that even in the greatest fatigue, they did the seemingly impossible. They controlled their bodies with their minds.
And as they closed in on the end, the final stretch, the fatigue floated away on a wave of applause and shouting and support from a band of unknown spectators. Their encouragement and delight, their energy - and, dare I say it, their love – recharged the weary cyclists and gently pushed them up the Mall to an accomplishment they had barely dreamed of achieving.
I know this all happened two weeks ago now but in the face of the challenges and fears that sometimes beset us all – some of which I have seen recently - it’s worth remembering:
- Any goal we set ourselves takes work to achieve. (You knew that)
- It’s probably going to be harder and take longer than we might have thought, or hoped. (You know this too, you just try to pretend that you will be the exception to the rule. You’re not.)
- A little setback is just that: a setback. It requires a bit of compassion for your own human frailties and regrouping. It’s not the end, it’s the process in action. (Get over it. If you can find something to laugh at, all the better.)
- The support of others is priceless. (Ask for it, thank people when they give it to you. Set an example by being supportive to others yourself)