‘SCRATCHED’! The dreaded word you never want to see next to your name, but sadly a word I am seeing all too often!
Having just returned home from the “TransatlanticWay” Bike Race in Ireland, where I unfortunately had to scratch on the morning of day five with a torn Achilles, I am currently in that awful stage where I am ’dealing with my failure’. This is now number three out of four multi-day ultra distance unsupported bike races that have resulted in a scratch. You would think that I would instantly question myself as to whether I’m really cut out for this, but I never do, I know I have it in me! That doesn’t mean I handle failure well, and it most definitely doesn’t mean that the ‘fear of failure’ isn’t something I constantly battle with when making plans for the future, but its not because I don’t think i’m capable (we are all capable).
I personally think the fear of failure is a very natural emotion for most of us. As I said, for me it’s not so much the fear of failure itself, but the fear of what others are saying about my failure.I find it very difficult to not get bogged down worrying that people are saying “I knew she wouldn’t be able to manage it” ”I can’t believe she thought she was good enough” and the like. It’s the same when I have received lots of comments from press coverage of an adventure in the past. I may have hundreds of positive comments and just one negative, but that negative comment eats away at me.
In fact just a couple of days after scratching from this race, from an injury that prevented me from turning a single peddle on the bike, a friend of mine told me that when she was chatting to another friend and telling them that I had scratched due to injury, she was met with the response “Well that’s no surprise, as Katie never manages to complete a race”! I am sure it is self preservation, as none of us want to look the fool, but it’s really important I don’t let this fear of what others are saying immobilise me, causing me to do nothing and preventing me moving forward.
With that in mind, here is a short summary of my experience on the Transatlantic Way (TAW2017) and the positives I can take away from the race.
If I take the first four days of my two Transcontinental (TCR) attempts and compare it with this TAW attempt, I can conclude that in my opinion, the Ireland race is tougher! Predominantly because of the weather… we are not talking a freak week of weather, oh no, it’s just the general West Coast of Ireland summer weather! We were only a few hours into day one when the torrential rain started, raining so hard it was causing flash flooding. The rain bounced so hard off the road it made seeing anything in front of you incredibly tough, so we all just peddled on with our heads down into the unknown, waiting for a break in the intensity of the rain. Soaked to the skin, wearing everything I had, I couldn’t keep my hands and feet warm, so it was into a shop to buy a pair of Marigold washing up gloves for my hands and some bin bags for the feet. The Marigolds stayed on pretty much for the entire four days, the best £1.50 ever spent! After day one, matters where made even more challenging by the addition of the steep hills and gale force winds!
On a heavily laden bike, the steepness of some of the climbs were just too much, and I was forced to walk pushing my bike (Manmore Gap toped out at 23% incline). Shorter climbs that were super steep, but where I could see the top, I would try and peddle on, working hard to prevent the back wheel from spinning.
Then the wind… seriously how can you have a head wind in all directions! By day three the headwind was so strong my daily average speed was down to just 16km/hr! With only so many hours in the day, and already peddling for nineteen or twenty of them, it was so tough to make anywhere near the daily distances I had anticipated and planned. There were moments when I looked at my speed going downhill peddling with all my might and still was only going at 14km/hr! It was incredibly frustrating and quite hard not to let moral get dampened by this. The only thing that made moral stoop even lower was when you’re not only cycling 14km/hr downhill into the headwind from hell, but it’s been torrential rain for hours on end and you are bordering on hypothermic, in the middle of nowhere.
A few hours into day three, trying to fight back the heartbreak at looking down at my average speed and despairing at the maths of how many days it is going to take me to finish at this rate, and that I will need to move my ferry and sort many other logistics.
I rode up to fellow rider Rudy. I was surprised but delighted to here from Rudy that he and many others where also only managing to churn out 16km/hr. He also said that I was doing great and lying in about 30th place out of the 97 starters. I had made a pact with myself not to look at the tracker so that I didn’t get distracted with where other people were and just to concentrate on eating, drinking and riding my bike. However, with such low average speed and walking up the steep climbs I had assumed I was at the back! The knowledge that I wasn’t the only one struggling with pace and hills, lifted my spirits and off I headed towards the next big climb with renewed gusto.
Sadly 200km into day three my left Achilles started to give me unbearable pain. I had never had an Achilles injury before, but I was one of many riders who suffered in this race. If it wasn’t the achilles then it was the knees that were causing people to scratch from the race at a rapid rate. I think predominantly because there were no easy spin miles. For nineteen hours a day I pushed with everything I had into the head wind and up and down the hills, there was little free wheeling and no real respite. This obviously starts to take a toll on susceptible parts of the body particularly when you are wet and cold. I gritted my teeth for a further 30km to get to a large town which had a 24hr A&E doctor.
By now I had an ankle that had swollen up like a balloon, so it was no surprise at the doctors diagnosis was to ride no more. The only problem with these races is your going to suffer and be in pain, thats the norm, so rightly or wrongly, I didn’t want to quit. I iced my ankle, got some anti-inflammatory tablets and gel, took some codeine and headed out on the morning of day four.
I endured a further twenty hours of peddling, but by the fifth morning, I could no longer turn one rotation of the peddles without screeching out loud in pain, I had to be realistic and realise the damage I was doing and that my race was over.
Before my injury, the race had actually been going very well for many reasons; I was drinking more water than I had ever drunk on these kind of events, I was eating my body weight in food with no sickness or appetite issues, no sitting on the saddle issues at all (Hurrah…at last!), and I didn’t wake each morning crippled with stiffness or knee pain. Although moral took a hit at times from the wind and rain, physically all was going great and I feel I am getting ever closer to working out what my body likes and doesn’t like.
In summary, I need to take pride that I have got to the point, where after eighteen hours of cycling soaked to the skin in torrential rain and headwinds from hell I can deal with chronic diarrhoea causing emergency stops every 5kms, ride for a further two hours, sleep for just three hours and then get up and start it all over again. Yes I might shed the odd tear here and there, but I just put my music in one ear and belt out 80’s classic at the top of my lungs and soldier on. That’s got to be progress right?
So yes TAW is tough, yes it broke me on this occasion, of course it’s disappointing as it costs a lot of money to do these events and takes a lot of time and effort in preparing for them, but the incredible hospitality of the wonderful Irish people made it so totally worth it. Their giving nature was like nothing I have experienced since walking across China. The acts of kindness just kept coming, too many too mention, but to give you just one small example…. It’s nearly 11pm, it’s dark, i’m soaked to the skin, the rain is still torrential, I have been on the bike since 4am and yes I might have been crying a bit at the time! When a car stops in front of me, out jumps a lady who comes running down the road towards me in nothing but a t-shirt, she is soaked instantly, but ever jolly and undeterred she runs towards me waving pizza. A couple of warm slices wrapped up in tin foil (her goody bag from her dinner out), she offered her house to sleep in (although I already had something sorted a further 5km down the road) and just generally wanted to know if she could help in any way. If I hadn’t of been on a bike I think she would have given me a big old hug. It’s for moments like this that I race.
We can choose to see failure as ‘the end of the world’, or see it as an incredible learning opportunity. I just have to regularly remind myself of this. In addition I try to override my brain, train it in fact, to see fearing regrets as a far greater problem than fearing failure.
As clichéd as quotes may sometimes seem they are invaluable to me. I sometimes print them out and stick them to my bike on long races. I love the constant reminders as a push in the right direction to keep my head following my heart.
“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt