Photo by ProVeloPassion, Mary Topping

Photo by ProVeloPassion, Mary Topping

Written by ALP Cycles Coach, Jennifer Sharp

The last lap took everything she had. She crossed the finish line euphoric and then slumped over her bike, weaving to a stop and bent over, exhausted from the effort. 

We all have a pain cave. The question is - how deep do you dig when you approach it? How willing are you to push beyond your perceived physical and mental limitations? And what is it you fear most that you tend to avoid because it shines a light on an area you need to address?

For me, it's hills. Hills challenge my bigger frame and fast twitch physiology. And in many ways, when the going gets tough, I crack quickly under pressure. Maybe you can relate or maybe you'd replace hills with sprinting or riding close to someone else. 

We all have fears, excuses, easy to come up with reasons why we don't practice our weaknesses. But as both a coach and athlete, I urge you to practice those weaknesses. Strengthen the skills that challenge you the most. 

A couple of weekends ago was our local highlight race of the year: Superior Morgul. It had it all: a parking lot crit, street sprints, time trial and the queen stage road race, finishing at the top of the esteemed "Wall". It's a Colorado classic. Last year at the finish, I crossed the line in tears telling my husband, "don't ever make me do this again. No matter what." The wall made me question the joy and fun I have in cycling, rocking me to my core.

So a couple of Sunday mornings ago, much to my surprise, I was leading the Omnium. And the question over breakfast became, well - why wouldn't I do the road race? The risk: Benjamin thought after last year our marriage may hang in the balance if things didn't go "well." But the gains? Well the gains far outweighed the risks: my teammate Jenna was in a close second and I could help her win; it would be great training and prep for my season goal of Master World Track Championships; and I would conquer some hill inner demons. 

Armed with 10+ hours of sleep, a fresh perspective and a willingness to go for it, I pinned on a race number. Even if the strongest climbers who only showed up for the road race danced up the wall and left me in their dust, my competition were the other omnium riders and I had a fighting chance of winning. 

So on the third lap, the climbers climbed and I found myself pushing HARD through the climb, losing contact from my rivals. Luckily I wasn't alone and finished the race with six other women. On the final climb, a rider attacked and was chased to the line while I fought an ugly uphill battle, coming close to overcoming the attacker but didn't have quite enough. Had I beat her, I would have won the overall. Me. This girl. Going from self-defeat a year before to what if's. The point total was close: Tracy at 101, Emily at 100 and myself at 100. Beating just that one person would have leap frogged me into first. Woulda coulda shoulda!

However, the biggest lesson of the weekend came the day after and seeing a photo of the race winner, Emma Grant. Just after crossing the finish line, she was hunched over her bike, gasping for air and showing signs of the enormous effort it took for her to cross the finish line first. She went all in. She pushed so hard because she wanted it so bad and she prevailed. 

When I think back to those final moments as I battled toward the finish line, I know I sat up just enough, settling. What I'm inspired by and can't wait for is to push so hard that I collapse from the effort. That even those that can climb (or sprint, etc.) push as hard as they can despite the risk. Because if you're not pushing 100%, then are you still chasing the dream?

Even after coaching and racing for many years, I am always thankful for the lessons that teach you about strength and vulnerability. Thank you Emma, for showing your courage. And thank you to my competitors for allowing competition and areas where I can test my ability. And most of all, thank you Universe for gravity and hills.

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