Monday, April 26, 2010

A Bicycling Metaphor for Your Next Challenge

The cyclist next to me faltered. “I can’t go any farther,” she gasped.A 30-mph headwind and 94-degree temperatures had turned our 76-mile hilly ride into the ride from hell.

It was the fourth day of RAGBRAI, the annual 500-mile bicycle ride across Iowa, which attracts nearly 10,000 bicyclists from around the world in July. It still surprised me to be there. But the break-up of my 20-year-marriage had surprised me too.

Divorce is so common these days that it’s easy to forget how devastating it feels to go through one. To cheer me up, a friend had encouraged me to join a cycling group that met every Saturday.

I found two-dozen cyclists hunched over skinny-tired road bikes, wearing black spandex bike shorts and helmets with miniature mirrors attached. Their shoes clipped onto their pedals. Whoa, I thought, these are serious cyclists. Sure enough, the leader said they planned to ride 40 miles that day.

I had to quit after ten.

But I liked bicycling. So I bought a used road bike and showed up the next Saturday. My bicycle buddies became a supportive community, and bicycling, with its physical demands, helped me cope with the pain of divorce.  But could I manage a 7-day, 500-mile ride across Iowa?

At first—no problem. The air was rich with the fragrance of sweat, manure, hogs, flowers and barbecue. There was a visceral sense of being in the moment. Then came that awful day of headwinds, heat, and hills.

When I finally staggered off my bike, after 12 hours, another cyclist, who had ridden ten times across Iowa, said, “Man, today was the toughest day I’ve ever had.”

The toughest day? My shoulders straightened.

My divorce had just become final. And suddenly it hit me: If could cycle Iowa on the toughest day, why, I could re-cycle my life after divorce.

That’s what is special about athletic endeavors. Indeed, about any activity that takes us out of our familiar comfort zone. They help us realize --”Wow, if I can do this (you fill in the blank), why, I can do that. (your next challenge).”

Remind yourself now: What tough thing have you accomplished? Whatever it was, it means you can successfully face your next challenge. Count on it.

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