Don´t limit your challenges. Challenge your limits.
Yesterday I undertook one of my longest bike tours ever, cycling 82 miles (132 kilometers) in a few hours. For active sports people this does not necessarily sound like much at all, but for others it may sound nuts – depending upon your sports and recreational background, and general activity level. Even for me, who has always exercised pretty much and loves being physically active, 82 miles of cycling is something that I don´t do every day, not even once a week or once a month. But once in a while, I love challenging myself and pushing my limits.
As Finland is a pretty flat country, the terrain was not too heavy except for a few small slopes. From a weather perspective, the temperature was perfect – sunshine, but not too warm, nor too cold. Only little if any wind. Not too much traffic, only an empty road surrounded by forests on both sides. What could be more relaxing than exercising outdoors in perfect weather, hearing the wind whooshing at the top of the trees, and birds singing?
I ride a bike almost daily, even during winter and in snow terrain. During the past years I have regularly cycled longer distances, so 82 miles on a bike was not anything exceptional for me. At some point, however, it crossed my mind (only once!) whether cycling this particular distance makes any sense at all? Particularly taking into consideration that I was completely on my own, without any cycling buddies or competitors around (in front of, or behind) me. Well, I thought for myself, of course it makes sense. How else, if not challenging myself every now and then, could I ever develop – improve my endurance and persistence?
I have always admired all kinds of athletes and sporty individuals, regardless of external attributes or the type of sport these people are active in. Even those who exercise their whole lives without aiming to become number one in their field of activity. Although I have to admit that long distances and endurance training is something that personally impresses me more than anything, perhaps because I have noticed that endurance and persistence is something that can be developed throughout life, and endurance athletes are often older than sprinters who grow too old for sprinting at a very young age, and either have to retire early, change discipline, or who end up becoming coaches themselves after a rather short period of time in being top performers in their own discipline. This is especially true e.g. for swimmers who most often are at the top of the game at the age of 15-18, after which they have reached their peak and either have to reorient or quit their swimming careers. Not a very appealing career for someone who invests countless of hours on hard and persistent training?
Endurance, and distance sports, on the other hand, gives individuals the possibility to be top performers even at older ages. Just look at marathoners and triathletes. And if no longer at the top of the game, these disciplines requiring endurance offer a possibility to exercise throughout life, and to participate in competitions even at more mature ages.
An old friend of mine has cycled around the world twice, and I always love to memorize how he told me about his trips across continents, and countries. I remember dreaming about doing something similar myself, although cycling around the world may be more risky for a woman than it is for a man. My friend´s experiences have been a source of inspiration for me personally, noticing his enthusiasm when talking about his long journeys. The thing is, seeing the world through biking is very different from e.g. booking a one-week vacation to a specific destination and spending most of the time at the hotel pool and/or participating in readily organized activities by tour operators. Nothing wrong with that either, we all have the possibility to choose how and with whom we spend our (leisure) time.
Five further lessons that short and long distance cycling tours have taught me:
- I have a passion for cycling (and sports in general), as it gives me a sense of freedom. I prefer cycling e.g. to having to take the bus, because I am not tied to the bus schedules. Using the bike instead of commuting or driving a car also keeps me in better shape, both mentally and physically.
- Riding a bike can be meditative too. Either it gives me the opportunity to think things through during the ride, or completely shut off all excessive thoughts and only focus on the ride itself, enjoying beautiful landscapes and nature.
- Cycling is by far the most popular sports activity in Finland, and a lifestyle in many other countries as well. We have, in Finland, many great roads for cyclists (see: outdoorsfinland.com/), although I hope to see municipalities and cities further on improve the traffic conditions for cyclists and the general infrastructure. Today, cyclists in Finland still have fewer possibilities to travel safely than pedestrians and those driving a motor vehicle.
- Cycling is a great way of building up, and developing, one´s physical condition, suited even for those with excess weight. Cycling offers something for everyone, regardless of whether one wants to ride a bike for pleasure only, or participate in competitions.
- Personally, I want to keep on developing my cycling skills/technique, including distance/endurance and speed. Developing endurance is quite easy, but learning how to maximize speed takes more time, and practice. The type and quality of bike also influences one´s speed.
Thank you for reading, commenting, learning, and for sharing my passion towards cycling.
You may also want to watch UCTV´s YouTube video “It´s All about the Mind: The Psychology of Cycling”:
And finally, a few great quotes about cycling:
It does not get any easier, you just get faster (Greg LeMond)
You´ve got to take life and ride it till the wheels fall off (Brad Simms)
When in doubt, pedal it out (unknown)
Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride (John F. Kennedy)
I have too many bikes, said no cyclist, ever (unknown)
Cycling goals are attained not by strength but by perseverance (Felicity Luckey)
Pump up that heart (unknown)
Your legs are not giving out. Your head is giving up. Keep going. (unknown)
Winners train. Losers complain. (unknown)