Discretion and Valor

Push beyond your limits, but don't let others shame you into stupidity.
Push beyond your limits, but don’t let all the negative “quitting” tropes shame you into stupidity.

When is it time to say when? At what point should that towel be thrown? Sometimes, knowing when to roll away is just as important as knowing when to keep going.

We have limits. Denying limits is – frankly – stupid. The only way to push beyond your limits is to know them, to test them; to elucidate the border between the possible and impossible, allowing yourself a chance to redefine that border.

Denying that you have limits is a great way to get into trouble. If you sign up for a double-metric for next weekend and your longest ride has been 50 miles? There’s a chance you might survive, sure. But more than likely you’re setting yourself up for failure (or at minimum, a horrible time).

So why am I bringing all this up? Well, we often hear things like “just push through” and “keep pedaling” and “you can do anything you set your mind to,” yada yada yada. Velominati would quote Rule #5 – “Harden the fuck up.” All those are great. Seriously, I applaud those who continually challenge themselves: more miles, more climbing, faster speed, bigger events, tougher competition. The only way to get better is to push out of your comfort zone. But that comfort zone has a purpose, and one of the biggest purposes is to keep you safe.

Look, for some, riding is just a thing they do on occasion. They bought a bike, and maybe they roll their local trail every other week for 5-10 miles. But for those of us who have found a passion in cycling, we have to remember that it’s not about any one specific event; any one ride. It’s a part of our life. A cyclist can be a cyclist for well over half a century. The bike – one of the most incredibly efficient machines ever devised by our species – can enable a lifetime of change, of memories, of accomplishments.

When you look at cycling in that way, you have to do a slightly different calculus: is this one event worth possibly all the other events to come? There’s going to be the rare time when that answer is an emphatic “Hells Yes!” You’re lined up for the biggest race of your life. You’ve trained for years for this event. You’ve spent so much money that if your spouse ever found out they’d gut you like a fish. At that point, it’s worth it. Take no prisoners, including your own body and mind. If you fall, get up. If you die, walk it off.

But most events just aren’t like that. And you know what? Life goes on. Sign up for the next tour ride, the next race, the next event. Train harder, longer, better, smarter. And the next time maybe you don’t have to nearly kill yourself to achieve your goal.

That's me, on the left, right after the race. I could barely stand. Couldn't even ride my bike the few hundred feet back to the truck. What a mess.
That’s me, on the left, right after that race. I could barely stand. Couldn’t even ride my bike the few hundred feet back to the truck. What a mess.

I’m not saying it won’t be disappointing. I remember one race that I had targeted that was going to be a real bear. Two weeks before, I had severely sprained my Achilles tendon. Flat roads were okay, but hill climbing left me in agony, and this race was basically vertical. 44 miles in with 14 to go, the heat and elevation picking up, my body quit. I was babying my one ankle so much that my other leg locked up solid. Then after unlocking that one, the back leg locked up. I was a wreck. In fact, if not for a teammate rolling up with me in near as bad of shape (or at least pretending to be, to make me feel better), I would’ve probably abandoned.

When I got back to my truck, I was furious with myself. How could I just let the pack roll away after 2/3rds of the race? Why didn’t I fight harder? There I was barely able to stand, and still beating myself up for not pushing through it. So yeah, I’m not saying it easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things you’ll do. But had I not backed off, I’m pretty sure I would’ve ruptured the tendon, which would have puts me off cycling for months, if not a year.

Know how many goals I would’ve accomplished then? Zero.

Give it your best. Give it as much as you can give and then some. But before you give it your all, consider what that’s worth.