Just the other day I was cycling along a lonely country road with another cyclist. As often happens when two cyclists ride side by side, alone on the road facing forward, conversations vary from general chit chat to deeply insightful and back within a few turns of the pedals.
This guy is a much better cyclist than I could ever even dream of becoming but when you ride alongside he always makes you feel his equal.
In between talk of bikes and gear the subject of childhood and family came up.
My cycling companion told me a childhood story that gave an amazing insight into what goes through the mind of an elite sportsman during the most intense phases of competition.
He recounted working days that began at 7 am and finished at 8 pm, no matter what the weather was like. On one not so unusual day a particularly feisty bullock had to be moved. Two ropes were attached and two brothers were warned by their father that no matter what they were not to let go of the ropes. The Bullock was released from a shed and immediately reared up on its hind legs and bucked and jumped all the way across the farmyard. One brother released the rope. The other brother did not and was dragged ruthlessly across the yard, but never let go of the rope. Eventually his Father managed to calm the animal and when the son regained the energy to stand up the jacket and jumper were torn from his shoulder, as was much of his skin. He continued on working.
A few years later the same young man was riding the cobbled classics of Belgium and Northern France.
When the races would get hard, so so hard for twenty minutes at a time and many of the best in the World were falling by the wayside, the farmers son from just outside a small town in Ireland would think of the day he was dragged across the yard by the bullock and from deep down within he would find the tenacity and courage to endure pain well beyond the limits of ordinary men and he would survive.
Whilst those around him suffered he managed to hide his own pain. Why should he show it ? There would be no sympathy for a bit of pain endured whilst riding around the countryside on a bicycle when he should be hard at work at home on the farm.
The finish line would come into sight and the victor would be the one from a group of the hardest of the hard men who would want it the most.
With the option of returning to the bullock on the farm being pretty much the only other choice he had, the young Irishman usually came out on top.
Books, magazines and Internet articles on sporting success often refer to the fact that the mind usually gives up before the body during prolonged periods of intensity within competition.
The hardships of life are very often the cornerstones of success later on.
Interval training strengthens the body but perhaps it’s the really crappy day at work or the time spent forcing yourself to do the things that you are afraid of that give the mental toughness needed to really succeed, no matter what level you are at.