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A Bad Place
Popping back up off of the drops and slowing the pace from a frantic 5 minute flat pace-line thrash we all saw the lone mountain biker turning into Crows Lane for an ascent of ‘Radar Hill’. As he laboured over every pedal stroke, the pain was evident on his face. But, along with the pain – determination; you knew with absolute certainty that, come Hell or high water, this bloke was going to haul himself and that machine up that hill….or die trying! Mooga summed it up in 5 words, “he’s in a bad place”. He then qualified that statement further with, “And, that’s where we’re all going”.
He was right; after 50 miles on the coldest day of the year – into that omnipresent headwind that is a feature of every winter SMCC ride and having climbed about 2400 feet at this point (after Wilson played his usual route guidance tricks), we were all feeling the pain. Each of us dug in shifted down and got on with the climb.
I Feel Your Pain…
Passing the mountain biker felt almost wrong. Kudos to the guy though – he was clearly struggling but fighting it. We exchanged single word pleasantries (all any of us could manage) as we passed and then simply got on with the job in hand. And, there we were; all four of us on that hill, spread out, but in the same place; the Bad Place!
As cyclists, we all know the Bad Place. It is somewhere that each of us goes alone – no matter how many other riders there are around us. It is that moment of doubt, interspersed with fear; the moment the voices in your head say, “You can’t do this” and the conviction in your soul says, “But, you must”.
Don’t Turn Around…
A visit to the Bad Place could last seconds or it could last minutes. As I hauled myself and a Mountain Bike around the 50 mile Kentish Killer last February, my visit to the Bad Place lasted hours. But it came and it went; I went there and came back. The Bad Place did not take me that time and it never will.
Cycling and suffering are so inseparably linked that a personal visit to the Bad Place is almost a rite of passage in every ride. And, when we are there, lost in our thoughts; simply grinding away at the pedals or desperately scanning the road ahead for traffic or some other feature that will slow the pace and bring this suffering to an end, we probably don’t appreciate the good that it is doping us.
The Necessary Evil…
In the same way that pushing harder against burning muscles increases your lactate threshold – making you faster or stronger – going willingly to The Bad Place makes you mentally tougher. Strong muscles are still weak unless they are driven by a strong will.
As the Grand Tours unfold throughout the year ahead, watch the riders suffering on the Cols and Passes. Surrounded by team mates and competitors whilst, at the same time alone; in the bad place. They will push on; they will survive and some will triumph. Even as they have to be lifted from the bike, each one will be a winner; a rider, who went to the Bad Place, did what was needed and didn’t quit.
The Promised Land…
The Bad Place is temporary – it is here and then it is gone. And, just like the ‘delightful’ experience of the 4 hour queue at Passport Control after a 7 hour flight that was delayed by 2 hours; there is a better place just beyond it.
When you see the Bad Place coming, don’t turn around; go there. Deal with it at your own pace and in your own way and you will be stronger for it.
The Bad Place – it happens to every rider and sometimes in every ride. But the Promised Land lays just beyond – push through the pain and take yourself there.