Last weekend, my husband convinced me to pull our 5 year old daughter on a Trail-a-Bike while he pushed our 1 year old in the running stroller. Considering he had already been on a two hour run earlier that morning, I figured the ride would be leisurely, giving us ample time to talk (about all the foods we were going to consume when we got home.)
I should know by now that any amount of physical exertion alongside an endurance athlete will never, ever be leisurely. I should also know to inquire as to the duration and terrain of said exertion, because despite all bright-eyed aspiration, it will never be a couple of loops around the neighborhood. I must have forgotten about those “fun” 32 mile bike rides in cut-off jean shorts on my single gear beach cruiser up and down the Hawaiian Kamehameha highway while my husband tried to make conversation (he was running) and got nothing but ape-like grunts from me in return. My butt still hurts just thinking about it, which is probably why I had the memory locked away in some post-traumatic self-preservation area of my brain.
Luckily, I always seem to learn something about myself throughout the hours of physical and mental duress. Enduring pain can really teach you things. I’m starting to think you endurance athletes are on to something.
I started last weekend’s bike ride with hopeful anxiety, examining my padded bum in the mirror and wishing my (bedonkadonk) was really that round and voluptuous without the aid of squishy gel (or whatever substance is used for protecting your netherlands from the unforgiving bike seats. I mean, come on. We can grow human ears on rats but can’t figure out a more comfortable receptacle for our undercarriage? It’s like those things are forged by Orks in the fires of Mordor just to make cyclists feel hardcore.)
My husband lowered the death saddle of his mountain bike to its shortest setting, and I mounted it with the same trepidation with which one climbs onto a towering Arabian Stallion. After a few husband-mandated practice runs up and down the street (he had to be sure I was stable enough to tow our child around OR CRASH HIS BIKE), we were off.
The ride started out nice and easy, and I got a whim of confidence as I cruised past my husband on a downhill. “This is going to be a cake ride AS HARPER WOULD SAY ‘EASY PEASY”,” I thought as we sailed down the smooth road.
And then my husband motioned for us to turn off the paved street and on to a trail we often hike. I was all too aware of its perilous terrain, strewn with rocks and mud and branches.
I glanced back to give my husband the “Oh-you-saucy-minx, I-should-have-known” look (used often in our household), and concentrated on maintaining the possibility of producing a third child despite the Mordor seat as we jumped and bumped along the rocky path.
After 15 minutes of precarious peddling and what looked like an effortless jog for my husband, we emerged in one piece onto another paved road.
“Salvation!” I thought.
I knew I was in for it when my husband told me to put the bike into its lowest gear because it could mean only one thing: a hill. Oh, and it wasn’t just any hill. It was like that one time last year I biked up the highest, steepest mountain in Arizona 5 weeks after giving birth per my husband’s recommendation. “You could totally do it,” he said. “You’ll be glad you did,” he said.
Will I ever learn?
I gave myself a moment of oxygenated solace, staring up the seemingly unending hill with a look of fear and determination, before starting to pedal slowly. Really, really slowly. Like, slower than the electronic Wal-Mart carts slow. I think I spent more time trying not to go backwards than actually going forwards.
About a third of the way up the hill, I didn’t think I could make it anymore. My lungs were heaving and I got that hypoxic metallic taste in my mouth. I entertained the notion that I might actually die. And all the while, my five year old daughter was happily asking trivia questions behind me, like “do you know how many eggs a salamander lays at one time?” or “how many bones does a snake have?”
“I DON’T FREAKING KNOW THE FREAKING LIFESPAN OF A FREAKING CICADA!” I wanted to shout with uncharacteristic impatience, but all I could muster was a wheezy “I think I need to stop.”
(And that’s when my husband told me something that will stick with me for the rest of my life.)
He said “Don’t be afraid of the pain. It’s not gonna kill you, even though your body is telling you that it might. jUST BE CALM. LOOK AT IT AND FEEL IT.(Welcome the pain and make it your ally. Just tell you body you can do this.) ITS FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN, NOT THE PAIN YOU ARE FEELING RIGHT NOW THAT IS HOLDING YOU BACK. It’s fear, not your body, that is holding you back.”
My legs burned. My lungs burned. I was grunting like the Geico caveman. But I told my body to embrace the pain, the lack of oxygen and overall agony. I dispelled the notion of fear. I put my head down and peddled my little heart out, all the way to the top.
When things finally leveled out, I was overcome with such a sense of achievement that I couldn’t contain a smile. I could have easily given up, turned around and gone home to stuff my face with Nutella crepes. Instead, I told my body to keep going. And it did, just like that.
There are so many times that we get frustrated with our bodies, our minds or our lives. We grow impatient and snappy with ourselves, or others, because we perceive situations to be too difficult to overcome. We encounter mammoth hills that we feel we can’t summit.
All too often, we allow fear to obscure our determination. We give up, or give-in because we are afraid of failure, or even success. The fear of pain- physical or emotional- overwhelms our senses and tells us to quit. And so often, we do.
I have given up on a lot of things because I thought I just couldn’t do them, or I because I was intimidated by fear. I’ve thrown in the towel when things got tough, afraid of the pain ahead.
I learned so much about myself submitting that relatively small hill- a feat most of you could have done unphased. I came to understand that most of what holds me back from accomplishing my goals can be overcome by the dismissal of fear, and the mental acceptance of pain. I recognized just how resilient our bodies can be backed by a stout heart and strong mind.
If we can learn to accept pain and dismiss fear, the scope of what we deem accomplishable expands beyond our self-imposed limitations. We can not only reach our goals but push ourselves beyond what we imagine to be possible. We become empowered knowing that we are in charge, no longer ruled by fear.
But let’s still look into changing those Mordor bike seats, K?