Pushing harder

Today I read this.

As I read I kept thinking – being a startup founder is like riding up a climb.

Your legs are busting, you’re pretty much on the limit, others are falling off the back, you are looking around, wondering, are the other cyclists hurting like you?

It’s not the negative kind of pain, it’s the kind of suffering that you can play with, the kind that inspires, the kind that wants to move to the front of the pack, the kind that knows you can take this all day.

And then you just turn the screws, put the hammer down one watt at a time, until all the demons you’ve be racing away are barking in the background as you just push deeper and deeper and ride stronger and harder.

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Mandela, the mountain & a movement of pioneers

I clearly remember the 10th of May 1994. It was the day when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa after the demise of apartheid. The results of the first free and fair elections held on 27 April 1994 were out. The day before I had had the honour of raising the new South African flag at my primary school; Sweet Valley. I didn’t fully appreciate the magnitude of what the event symbolised, but I knew it was a big deal. I also remember the new R5 coins, the Nelson Mandela inaugural coins. People were saying that they would be worth a lot in the future. And, perhaps insignificantly, I remember the weather. It was overcast and rainy in Cape Town. The perfect type of weather to go mountain biking!

Fast forward 19 years from the day when Mandela cast his ballot, and today the car park, make that the car parks, at Tokai are full of cars with bike racks on the back. One cannot easily find a place to park and today there are certainly far more mountain bikers enjoying the mountains than hikers and horses. The sport of mountain biking has exploded over the last 19 years. The mountain is accessible to all and there is something for everyone – from jeep track for beginners to road gaps over those jeep tracks for those whose bikes come equipped with take off and landing gear.

Over the years trails of all types at Tokai have come and gone. Even whole sections of forest have been cleared, regrown and cleared again!

I often think back to the 10th of May 1994. That day I was the only one out there. My bike was a Hansom hardtail, with steel Reynolds tubing. It had Shimano biopace chainrings, a 200GS groupset, rigid front forks and awesome brahma bull bars with with pink grips!

I enjoyed the solitude, the mountain, the pine trees, being close to nature, the great feeling of grinding up the mountain, breathing heavily as my breath condensed immediately upon being exhaled. I loved hammering downhill, staying on around sections when I should have crashed (you can’t beat the feeling), losing control over rooted sections that my bike couldn’t really handle, and crashing hard, knowing that no-one would hear any cry for help. I remember the moments after crashing, checking the bike before the body, knowing that my body would heal, but my bike would cost money to fix. I loved doing something that I knew hardly anyone else was doing. I wondered why no-one else was riding when it was so awesome. I couldn’t figure it out. After all, the mountain was there, and mountain bikes were available.

Obviously I wasn’t the only mountain biker on the planet, but at Tokai that day, a public holiday, I never saw anyone else. I guess that is life, and it’s something I draw inspiration from. I think most worthwhile things are started by a movement of pioneers. I’ll try to explain…

Before there was the N2 through the garden route, there was a rough road, and before that, there was no road and before that, there were some pioneering types who went on a journey, over mountains and through forests.

The journey was hard at times, but they persevered through the slow progress of felling trees. They cut a path through the forest; a path that others could follow later and a road that we can travel in a small fraction of the time by car today.

That is the role of those that do it first, they pave the way and make it easier for others down the line. I’m not saying I pioneered mountain biking, or riding at Tokai, it was a people movement and a whole industry. But when I’m doing something that I believe in and where it feels like I’m the only one, I do draw inspiration from the difference between the car park at Tokai today and 19 years ago. The fact that the day I remember was Mandela’s inauguration makes it incredibly special, the long walk to freedom is always worth it. Pioneers, keep pioneering.

You don’t get strong when you train, you get strong when you rest

Seasons are wonderful. The first rains in autumn are so refreshing. It feels good as the days shorten and the air gets a bit chilly in the evenings. The same is true in spring; we cannot wait for the hot weather and the long days that go on and on. We need the change. We need the seasons.

In life, as in nature, we go through seasons. I believe in seasons of trial and seasons of rest. As with a lot of my thinking, this thought is rooted in a cycling analogy. It goes something like this. You do not get strong when you train, you get strong when you rest, assuming of course, that you have trained. Simply put, athletes who train all the time will burn out. They will not get stronger if they train all the time. Recovery drinks, Mondays off after hard riding on the weekends and chugging some L-glutamine before at least 8 hours’ sleep is where strength comes from! Rest days, rest weeks, rest seasons; you cannot hammer hard all the time. Contrary to making gains in strength, you will actually regress.

It’s important to know what season you are in. Training or racing when you should be resting will lead to reduced performance and a lack of joy. Resting when you should be training, or racing, will make you sluggish and fat. Most of us, in life, I think, do not recognise when we should be resting. We need to understand when life has been hard, when we have gone through some sort of trial, that just “carrying on” is not what we need.

After a season of trial there will always be a season of rest in the same way that summer follows winter. “There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning” – Psalm 30 v 5. Just “carrying on” when you should be resting is like going to the beach in summer dressed with a scarf. It sounds crazy, but we are a lot better at discerning the natural seasons than the other seasons in life. You need to recognise the change in the season, change the way you think, and change the way you act. You will need the strength you gain in season of rest for the next season of labour and trial so that you can overcome it, and be victorious through it.

Trees have growth rings, they show the seasons of rapid growth and the seasons of slower growth. We must live in the seasons of life, the seasons of trial and the seasons of rest, the seasons of slow growth and the seasons of faster growth. This is necessary so that when each season draws to a close, we will enjoy the change in season, having gained what that season had to offer us. After resting well we will relish a trial, and after a season of fighting hard we can put the weapons down and rest. We will expect and love the change as much as we long for the refreshing rains after a long dry summer, or the warm summer nights after a freezing winter.

Suffering got me thinking good thoughts

A week or two ago I participated in the ninety niner cycle race. I started in E group, which started out far too slowly for a race, so I decided to hammer hard from the start and see how far an all out effort would take me. It was raining and quite windy in sections. The out of season rain had dissolved what I thought to be fertiliser and other chemical which had been spilt on the road by farm trucks and the water that sprayed up from other riders’ wheels left a funny taste in my mouth. I was enjoying the race though.

Towards the end of the ride, after bridging the gap from group to group, and riding among C and D group my legs had given just about all that they could. As I was approaching Vissershok, which has a decent 1.1km stretch at 9% gradient, I had a flashback to one of the last times I can remember riding out in the Northern Suburbs. It was the 1992 Falke Funride, my second ever funride. I was 11 years old and I was inexperienced. You cannot buy experience. I was suffering out somewhere in the farmlands, when I decided it was time for some nutrition. I hauled out the energy supplement of that era, corn syrup! I can remember riding along on my “outeniqua” mountain bike fussing with the sachet and really battling to open it. I decided that I needed two hands and promptly slammed on brakes! No sooner had I done this, a big fat dude slammed into the back of me and we both crashed. I landed on his lap. I remember him being very upset and I also remember that he was riding a very nice bike – and that the seat tore in the incident.

I rode off, a bit shaken, and wondering why such a big guy was drafting an 11 year old!

As I ground up Vissershok in the ninety niner I thought about that crash, and I thought about how long I have been cycling for and how so much has changed in the interim, from sports nutrition, to the bikes we ride these-days and to how much harder it is for me to climb these days because I am so much heavier. I thought about how in those days I would hit the wall hard, often with more than 50km to go in a ride and how I could ride a serious distance in a hypoglycemic state. I thought about how in that state of suffering, quick strong riders doing the “long route”, with massive calf muscles and with A, B, C, D and E numbers on their backs would fly past me as I limped to the finish line. I thought about how I would lie on the couch broken for the rest of the day. They were all good, pleasant thoughts that I look back on with massive fondness now. And I figured that often the key to enduring suffering is the awesome memories that emerge and the experiences that you cherish. Because of the memories of my early cycling days, I have got to say that I enjoyed the ninety niner a whole lot more than I would have otherwise, and Vissershok became a special reminder of awesome memories, and not just an incredibly difficult climb ending an otherwise pretty miserable race.