Everybody has a point of doubt. For a marathoner it might be mile 20. For a cyclist on a century, it might be the 80 mile mark. For a power lifter, it might be difference in squatting 225 pounds and 230 pounds. However you love physical endurance, you can bet that everyone has a point of self doubt. If you don’t know what that is please allow me to explain, and you’ll probably say . . . oooooh, that point of doubt.
I’ve been cycling for a while now. I love it and hopefully will spend the rest of my life making a bicycle propel forward. I participate in weekly training, including (but not limited to) hill repeats, sprint intervals, long rides, short rides, rides for pleasure, and rides that are not very pleasant. And on the not-so-pleasureable point, the wall comes into play. For me, I love the challenge of a century ride (a bike ride of over 100 miles): me vs. clock, shooting for the golden numbers. Every century is different of course. Some of them have serious riders, and you know they’re going to show up; then there are others that are more suited to the less experienced riders. It doesn’t matter to me because I’m challenging myself for a specific time. It’s great just being among fellow believers, so to speak. And everything always rocks along so perfectly with hydration and fuel until . . .
I don’t think it has anything to do with physical endurance. The wall is about the mental toughness of an athlete. My wall usually comes around mile 85ish. In my head I know that I still have another 15 or better miles to go. It is at this point that I’ve been cranking on my pedals for 85 miles somewhere in the 22 mph average with a cadence of upper 80s for quite some time. The chatty talk with other riders is over. I don’t care that the leaves are in season or that a ray of sunlight is peaking through the clouds on a mountain top. No, I really don’t give a crap about drinking or eating or what time I last did either one. And it’s at this point where I usually start a monologue in my mind: Why on earth do you do this stupid crap? Isn’t one or two centuries enough for you? Oh no, you’ve got to get one more in. YOU’VE got to shoot for the 4-hour mark just one more time! Idiot!
The machismo of most endurance sports scream, “Hit the wall so hard that you knock it down!” Yep, that is awesome . . . at the start line. But when the wall comes, it comes quickly. The body is at the point of total rebellion. Professional cyclist have been known to admit the same monologue in their own heads. Jens Voigt started a whole craze of shut up legs, based on that wall. It is here where the athlete tells his body what it’s going to do, not the other way around. Burying the pain and pushing through are things that are learned as much as shifting and pedal stroke. I have had younger cyclists tell me that I never seem to be in difficulty, but that is because it’s not on my face. I hurt and have bad days, but I demand that my body do I as command.
If you are a new cyclist in the sport, you cannot train the pain away. Greg LeMond said that it doesn’t get any easier you only get faster. That is SO true. Yes, you can train to make your body do more, but you will experience discomfort at a point . . . IF you are training or riding hard enough. Yes, there should be easy days in your training regiment (for another post), because it will actually hurt your training by turning yourself inside out on every session. But rest assure, the wall will come. Just be ready for it. Have a plan as soon as you recognize it. Set a reward system for making it to the wall, a candy bar, a soft drink, even a note from your daughter you keep in a Ziplock bag that reads: Keep going, Daddy! In the end, it feels so good to know that YOU conquered that barrier.