At the conclusion of another grand tour on the international cycling calendar, the Tour de France provides an endless source of inspiration and life lessons from three weeks of endurance and intense competition by elite cyclists. As I approached the Tour de France this year, I didn't want to just be a spectator from afar but a participator in my own cycling context. So, I set myself a challenge...21 Rides in 21 Stages!
My challenge was to go on a bike ride during every stage of the Tour de France in my local area, aiming to cycle routes that offered similar terrain to each stage of the Tour. For example: Stage 1 was a 13.8 km individual time trial, so I rode 13.8 km around our local criterium track; Stage 4 included stretches of cobblestones, so I included some gravel roads in my ride; Stage 8 was up in the Pyrenees Ranges, so I went for an epic ride through the Dandenong Ranges; Stage 20 was over the famous Alpe d'Huez, so I rode up a popular local climb known as "The Wall"; etc... The distance for each ride didn't matter. The point of the challenge was just to ride, regardless of the conditions, each day of the 21 stages of the Tour de France!
How did I go? I achieved 22 rides, 759 km in 21 stages. Challenge accomplished!
While I am far, far, far from being an elite cyclist and cycled in far less exotic surrounds than the picturesque countryside and breathtaking moutains of France, my own little 'TDF 21 Rides in 21 Stages Challenge' offers some life lessons that may be a source of inspiration for anybody else setting goals or pursuing their own challenge.
Life Lesson #1 - Avoiding DISRUPTIONS
Embarking on such a challenge immediately collides with existing family and leadership responsibilities. There is something always competing with my time and for my attention. To avoid allowing the everyday disruptions, the expectations of others and the unexpected from derailing my goals, planning ahead was crucial. This involved scheduling rides into my diary in advance of each day and treating them as important as anything else on my calendar; not at the expense of things needing to be done, but alongside them. Planning ahead made time for this challenge rather than hoping to find time to fit it in.
This challenge fell in the middle of one of the coldest and wettest winters in Melbourne for a long time, presenting some pretty nasty riding conditions. You need to know that I am a sook in the cold which made these conditions very difficult for me!! Unfavourable conditions often present themselves in many forms in life and can quickly demotivate you from achieving your goals. I chose to embrace these difficult conditions as a part of the adventure, adding another dimension to each stage of the challenge. What could be viewed as a nemesis can become an ally; for example, I once heard another cyclist refer to 'head wind' as his training partner!
During stage 12 of the challenge I came off my bike in the middle of heavy traffic, landing hard enough on the road to break my helmet. The reality for any cyclist is it is dangerous on the road! Rarely do I come back from a ride without a near miss or incident involving another road user. Risk is a part of life and leadership! We can mitigate some risks, manage others, but we should never abandon our goals out of fear or avoidance of risk. Courage to face inherent dangers builds confidence to navigate through any challenge and to pick yourself up and keep going when you fall down.
About half way through stage 4 I stopped along a gravel road to take a photograph of my surroundings. Unfortunately, my phone battery went flat and I was unable to continue recording my ride on the Strava App on my iPhone, losing the last 15 km of my ride! Now, this may not sound like a big deal to most, but to lose data in the middle of a challenge was a major disappointment for me. No matter how trivial or big the disappointment, it is too easy to allow it to distract you from the original purpose of your challenge. Disappointment needs to be right-sized and not permitted to overshadow your goals.
Twenty-one days is a long time to commit to a challenge, given the variables of a busy lifestyle. There were several points along the way when it was tempting to skip a day or give up on the challenge altogether. There is a well ridden hill in Adelaide called 'Mengler's Hill' that has the words "Pain is Temporary, Victory is Forever" painted on the road about half way up the climb. These words echoed in my mind while climbing 'The Wall' during the final stage of my challenge. The battle was as much mental as physical to push through the pain barriers and go the distance to reach the summit.
Bailing on any challenge, at any stage of the journey, robs you from the immense satisfaction of not only achieving your goals but developing the resilience required to pursue even greater challenges in the future. However, avoiding DISRUPTIONS, overcoming DIFFICULTIES, facing DANGERS, dealing with DISAPPOINTMENT, and going the DISTANCE positions you for future success!