We'd reached the top of our 'warm up' lap on Swains Lane. A steady climb up one of North London's most infamous roads. The plan was to give it all we've got on the second lap so we had an official PB bench-mark to work from. We sat at the summit and had a quick strategy sense check. I then placed my earphones in and was ready to zone out and silence those inevitable thoughts that would tell me to stop pushing.
During the descent, I picked up speed. Thoughts were now entering my mind at lightening pace, replaced every few seconds with different insights, affirmations and final nerves. I used this mental energy to remind myself: 'This too shall pass'. When I turn the corner and it begins to hurt, it won't last forever.
I had to embrace a fake fearless attitude as I began riding up the first half of the hill. Usually, I’m so nervous about the final gradient increase that I take the initial section easy - managing my mind and my legs in to believing the second half will still be possible. Staying in a tough gear for as long as possible, I pushed hard to find a steady rhythm, keeping my head down and my mind in the music. As the gradient began to increase, my legs screamed for the small ring. I accepted their request. I felt the bike jolt to a slightly slower speed as my legs caught up with the new pedal pace.
Reaching the cemetery on the right, I gave another push out the saddle. Hitting the steepest part of the gradient, I returned to the saddle and blocked out all useless thoughts. Remaining only those that told me to stay strong and keep pushing. Years & Years were playing down my ear and so my heavy breathing was completely drowned out by the beat. Unfortunately not for the riders who just passed me.
You then hit the bollard to bollard segment where your last dose of energy is eaten up and you spit out only the power of your will to finish the hill. My legs were screaming as my lungs tried to handle the situation. I could see the finish line and so pulled myself out the saddle and kicked for the final few seconds.
I parked up on the side of the road, only just managing to clip out, and bent over my handlebars. I hit pause on my music so I could hear my thoughts. Having blocked them out for 3 minutes and 45 seconds (benchmark), I was happy to be in the company of them again.
Once my breathing had returned to normal, albeit with regular coughing intervals, we began the descent. As we neared the bottom, Abi turned to me and said:
‘Should we do one more? For a cool down?’
When someone offers up another lap, I always feel a new standard of success is created. I had to say yes or it would have felt like an incomplete ride. We took this lap at a very steady pace and used it to build our ‘Swains strategy’ for next time. Commenting on what gear we should stay in, when is the right moment to be out the saddle and the point in the road where we could handle one final push. It seems serious. It is.
There’s huge appeal in taking something so novel and focusing on it like it’s life or death. When your mind is so focused on a Swains strategy, it doesn’t have room for anything else. It's a true form of meditation. That's why many of us will feel the the pain, but return next week. Because as the Buddha says: 'No matter how hard the past. You can always begin again.'