Becoming the Tortoise: A Lesson in Endurance

tortoise_sketch_by_cloud61587-d3ctjdkMonths ago we put together the plan to ride Tim Woodcock’s (Wheelwright’s) Coast to Coast route (well, something based on it). Six days of challenging terrain starting with 45 miles and 7000 feet of climbing on day one. Throughout the summer we’ve built up to it with weekly rides, along with a couple of 24 hour races, XC competitions, and the odd killer hill or distance ride. But the ‘Glossop Triangle’, for me, was the toughest.

A 50 mile equilateral, it goes like this: side one, Langsett Reservoir to Derwent Reservoir; side two, Derwent to Hayfield; side three, Hayfield to Langsett (with a blip to take in the old quarry above Winscar Reservoir, in case we had not seen enough water by then). Over 5000 feet of climbing and including the sinisterly named Doctor’s Gate and Cut Gate.  Here is the link in STRAVA if anyone wants to put themselves through it.

I know the peaks; the terrain is tough. Fifty miles of it loomed with the gathering clouds and in Langsett Res’ car park, I was speechless at the thought. I am a hare not a tortoise. Patience and persistence do not come naturally. My hare-like laziness and indulgence aren’t helpful to me, I know that, but it’s tough shedding them at 36 years old. As the fable goes, the tortoise has none of the characteristics typically associated with speed or grace.  Instead, he has squat legs, a stout, flat body and he’s carrying his freakin’ house. Yet, he succeeds anyway; he beats the hare.  And deep down I know I need to be more tortoise to develop the endurance that will take me from coast to coast.

I know the basics.  The first thing is knowing what your body needs. Food and water. Distracted by the rough brilliance of an indigo blanket spread across the moorland, or the towering masquerade of pines that say ‘alpine’, not ‘South Yorkshire’, you can easily forget to eat or drink. You forget on rocky descents or picking your way across the confusion of rocks that have obliterated the path. Or when the rain comes, sliding sun cream onto your eyeballs. Eat little and often. Have snacks secreted in pockets and pouches close to hand. I have not eaten as much fudge in all my life as I have on bike rides.  Cheeses, party sausages, flap-jack, nuts, dried fruit, it’s an opportunity to indulge in every snack item you can think of (my indulgent hare loves this).20150823_102231

Be present and take each step at a time (if, unfortunately, you are walking, otherwise, keep pedalling). The modern day tortoise would meditate, I’m sure. The fabled tortoise was naturally strong of mind. He knew what he had to do and did not stop. When my thoughts wander – how far have we travelled? how, much further have we to go? – then I have begun to try to make the journey in my mind.  It can never happen there.  No, the journey is about the next revolution or the next rock, nothing else.

And it might be slow at times. It might even be demoralising.  I worry about my pace – keeping up with the pack is tribal in mountain biking – and I find doubts very difficult to banish. Breathing hard up a climb made of rocks, peat and heather, toppling sideways again and again, while watching the guys ahead getting smaller and smaller, it’s easy to think, ‘I can’t do this.’  But I guess if the tortoise had worried about his pace he would not have made the start line never mind the finish.  He only won because I he thought he could do it.

If doing it means inching over great rocks in hard-soled shoes while moaning and whimpering, that’s ‘doing it’ (this is how I ‘styled out’ Doctor’s Gate). But, eventually, the rocks will be behind you and there will always be new challenges, that you might meet with more grace.

With the Coast to Coast ride only seven days away, the silence I felt in Langsett Res is already building.  Now, all I can do is remember to bring my shell, snacks, stubby legs and the beginnings of my belief.

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