The sun’s sitting at the highest point in the sky. Sweat’s beading down my forehead. My chest is pounding. And cleats are covered in grass. A huge smile is sitting on my face just thinking about the orange slices at halftime.
If you ever played peewee soccer, I’m going to guess this sounds familiar.
It’s something I’ll certainly never forget.
Sport has taught me so much throughout the years — teamwork, discipline, grit. I attribute most of my good qualities to it.
Whether is was peewee sports, high school lacrosse, and basketball, or my tenure on the practice team of a D1 basketball program — sport has been a constant throughout my life.
While I’m no longer involved in team sports, I continue to be humbled by such a magnificent teacher.
I’m currently training for an IRONMAN 70.3, a triathlon consisting of:
- A 1.2-mile swim,
- a 56-mile bike,
- and a 13.1-mile run (half-marathon).
It’s a distance and sport that requires incredible endurance, perseverance, and discipline. Even just finishing the event is an incredible accomplishment.
This is why it can take nearly four months to train for it.
One of my recent training rides took me to Palomar Mountain, one of San Diego’s biggest and baddest. With an elevation change of nearly 4,500 feet over a 13+ mile stretch, it’s touted as one of the top-50 hardest cycling climbs in the United States.
1. Go Big
When I first heard about Palomar Mountain, I knew I wanted to ride it, but I wasn’t sure if I was actually able to ride it.
“That would be an unreal experience!” I told myself.
“But I’ve only been riding for a couple of months, would I even be able to make it up?”
While I was super motivated, I’d never rode something like this before. With an elevation change of 4,500 feet, I started doubting if I’d even be able to do it. It was a daunting challenge. And something I’d never even attempted.
But, I really wanted to do it. And more importantly, I wanted that feeling of accomplishment when I made it to the top.
So, despite my feelings of doubt, I set Palomar Mountain as my goal.
In order to achieve big things, we have to set big goals. Goals we aren’t sure we can reach. Sometimes even daunting goals. Setting goals that stretch our abilities is a sure-fire way to achieve more than we thought possible.
2. Look Small
I was two miles into the ride and my legs already felt weak. I was breathing heavily and could tell I was getting a bit fatigued.
Me: “Ah jeez, what did I get myself into? I should just turn around and call it a day.”
Also Me: “No, just keep going. You’ll find your legs eventually. Just give it a few more miles.”
Here I was, just a couple miles into the 13-plus mile climb up Palomar Mountain, and I was already struggling.
This internal debate went on for a few more miles.
But then, around mile 4, I found my rhythm. And I developed a strategy to stop thinking about the seemingly impossible 10 brutal miles ahead of me.
Focus on the next 3–4 feet.
You see, I was only moving at a speed of about 6.5 mph. Meaning, I didn’t really have to be looking far ahead for obstructions on the road.
I was able to keep my head down and just focus on the next 3–4 feet ahead of me.
I stopped counting how many miles I had left. Or how many of the 21 switchback turns I’d completed. I wasn’t even looking at the next 100 yards.
I was only looking at the next 3–4 feet in front of me.
In doing so, I kept my mind off the remaining 10+ miles and 4,000 feet of elevation. And more importantly, I was able to keep a positive mindset as I continued to make progress.
Focusing only on the big, long-term goal can be daunting. Keep your head down and concentrate on the short term. The future doesn’t matter if don’t get through what’s directly in front of you.
3. Eyes Forward
Eventually, I found my groove. 3 to 4-foot increments were soon flying by. The next thing I knew, I hit mile 11 and was less than 3 miles from the summit!
This new strategy was really paying off.
While most of my attention was on the next 3–4 feet, every couple of minutes I would look ahead at the upcoming 100–200 yards.
This was critical for two reasons:
- It gave me a preview of what I could expect next (potholes, turns, tree branches, rocks, etc.). All valuable information when my concentration went back to the 3–4 feet ahead of me.
- It allowed me to check my progress. When I inevitably reached that next ‘checkpoint’, it gave me a sense of pride knowing that was one step closer to the summit.
Mentally, this was huge to keeping me motivated. It was immensely satisfying after working for a few minutes to look up and see the progress that I’ve made. I’ve found that by taking the time to appreciate my progress in the short-term, I’m more willing to keep working towards my long-term goal.
From time to time, you need to pick your head up and see what’s next. While the actual work (3–4 feet ahead) is crucial, without looking ahead, you won’t know if you’re on track.
4. Flush It & Move On
As I was nearing the top of the mountain, I hit a big rock. My head was down, focusing on the next 3–4 feet, and I didn’t notice the medium-sized rock ahead of me.
While I didn’t fall or blow a tire, it was a significant setback to my pacing, cadence, and overall mental state.
Once it happened, I accepted it, realized there was really nothing I could do to change it, and I moved on.
I flushed it and forgot about it.
And I went back to concentrating on the next 3–4 feet. Back to work.
Eventually, after an hour and 50 minutes of constant uphill climbing, I reached the summit of Palomar Mountain at an elevation of nearly 5,500 feet above sea level.
The view was absolutely breathtaking. And I was smiling from ear to ear.
That sense of accomplishment I yearned for felt even better than I thought it would.
We are going to hit roadblocks. It’s inevitable. Accept it, work through it and move on. Flush the memory, put your head down and go back to work.