Our Founder and Managing Director, Phil Kelly, recently undertook the challenge of a lifetime, attempting the toughest amateur bike race in the world, ‘The 7-Day Haute Route Alps’.
Phil has documented his experience via Linked In, sharing his learning from competing on some of the biggest climbs in cycling and what it took to get him to the finish line.
In my last post, which you can find here, I tried to provide some context around this race and the situation I put myself in. I believe the lessons are easily translatable to all walks of life and I hope you can gain something from these lessons too.
Lesson 4: Do what YOU need to do to get to where YOU want to be.
I sometimes describe myself as a “happy helper”. If I can help in any situation, then I will certainly do so. Because of this, I had to mentally prepare myself for any situation during the race where I’d be “invited” to help others. I had decided that unless it was a physical injury to someone, I would have to crack on, as there were lots of support vehicles dotted throughout the race to help with punctures or to pick up the back markers who were struggling with the required cut-off times. I put this decision down to self-protection and self-care, putting my needs and wants first.
This decision really paid dividends on stage 3, when the heat was really beating down and bouncing off the road. My bike computer was reading 51 degrees at one point. This stage had the additional cruel element of passing by our hotels after two big mountain climbs before the final descent towards the last climb of the day, and yep, back to our hotels. The invitation to an early shower and swim in the pool was extremely enticing, but having committed to complete the whole route, off I went on the descent. Strangely, I only saw a couple of fellow racers over the next hour as we dropped down and then crossed the valley floor to the foot of the last climb, the mighty Alpe d’Huez. This is a climb that is 14km long, averages 8%, and has a vertical ascent of over 1100 meters. Tough on any day and a proper heart breaker.
The climb itself did not concern me. We had already climbed more difficult climbs during the week, well that was the story I was telling myself. I was more worried about the accumulative fatigue in the legs and, of course, the heat. I went alone to the foot of the climb, trying to find my rhythm while controlling my heart rate and effort. Suddenly, a memory popped into my head. On day 2, I was cycling next to an American lady who was chatting to a fellow competitor, and her words re-visited me: “Whatever you have to do to get to the top is just perfect!”. Of course, she was right, and this thought set me up beautifully for the next hour or so as I slowly trudged up the sweltering, mythical, switchback-laden side of a mountain, all alone.
It was not long before I passed some competitors who were really struggling in the heat. One guy had reverted to walking, another was scrambling for some shade on the side of the road, and another was sitting in a stream with his shoes and socks off. While I was very jealous of his cool bath, I was not tempted. I just wanted to get this mountain done. I had mentally broken the road down into 3km sections and agreed with myself that if I needed a micro-break to deal with the heat, I would take it then or at the next most suitable stop. Then, 2 kilometres into the climb, I spotted a water spring on the side of the road. I decided not to stop because I had a “plan”.
As soon as I made that decision, I regretted it. Without any further thought, I let my gut instinct take over, and I turned around and went to the spring. It was nestled in the shade of some large trees, so it was a fantastic opportunity to soak myself in cold water, take onboard fluids, and refill my bottles. As I sat there, two riders went past, literally having the same conversation about the spring that I had just had with myself. They decided to push on as it was “too early” for a stop. 20 minutes later, I passed them on the climb as they were absolutely baking in the heat, out of water, with no opportunities to replenish. The spring, as it turned out, was the first and last opportunity to take onboard fresh water for the duration of the climb. That single decision ensured I got to the top with a little time to spare and therefore stayed in the race because I had done what I needed to do to get to where I needed to be.