Part 2: “OK Dad, but why?”

So I’ve entered the UK National 24-hour Time Trial Champs in July 2022 – riding as far as I can on open roads in a 24 hour period – oh dear…
As a 44 year old dad working full-time as an ICU doctor, I’m not going to win – but I still want to ride a performance to be proud of. More than that, I want the whole process to feel enriching, with learning and adventures along the way.  
Over the next six months, I’ll be finding out more about everything needed to perform in an ultra-distance bike race. By sharing what I learn, I hope to discover more about the sport, myself, and the ingredients of success…or failure.

Find your reason why

Last week I wrote about finding the right sort of motivation for a big challenge like a 24 hour TT. I’ve enjoyed lots of interesting feedback but when Cat, my 14-year old daughter, read it, she just asked, “Why?”  A simple question, but with no easy answer.

Thinking more, I’ve appreciated how important it is to have a rock-solid answer to this question.  As the professional ultra-endurance performance manager, Laura Penhaul, says, “the “why” is so important behind any big endeavour. The person doing it has to know their “why”, their purpose. Otherwise, when it gets difficult, they’ve not got something to draw on.”

Laura Penhaul, Performance Manager for Round-the-World cycling record holder, Mark Beaumont, speaking in the GCN Documentary, “Lone Rider” 2021

Back when my obsession was mountaineering, we had a simple, if clichéd answer: “Because it’s there.”  But I doubt George Mallory’s famous quote will work so well at 3AM on a nondescript A-road in Shropshire. “Because the A41 from Whitchurch to Prees Heath is there” doesn’t quite conjure the same emotions.

George Mallory, speaking to the New York Times in 1923 about climbing Everest – before dying on his third attempt on the mountain the following year.

So, taking Penhaul’s advice, I have tried to find my own “why”. This is really a philosophical question: Why should any animal do something that doesn’t help its species survive and reproduce?

I believe we need to give our own lives more meaning than this, by living as fully as we can. For me, this means trying to make the most of all my roles in life – as a husband, father, doctor… and as an athlete.  

Whatever the reason, taking on challenges and having adventures has always been part of my identity – something that makes me feel excited and alive. I get a kick out of trying to do something that feels extraordinary.  I suppose this is how I’ve found myself climbing north faces in the Alps, competing in an Ironman and riding 50, 100-mile, and 12-hour TTs.  

On our first trip to Chamonix in 1997, dreaming of climbing the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorasses, before finally climbing it 9 years later

So this must be my personal “why”.  When things are going well, I won’t need to think about it – but when the training’s a grind or when the racing hurts, I can tell myself: 

“Because this is who I am – someone who takes on challenges and sees them through”

Speaking of which, it’s time to stop navel-gazing, get outside and train now!  After working the weekend on ICU, this morning I have a nice, steady 4-hour loop along the South Downs to enjoy.  It should feel good to give the mind a rest and just let the legs settle in to a steady rhythm, building up those base miles…

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