This is the second article in a series by Coul Hill of our Montana Spoke. Click here for Part 1.
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Ever think about quitting? Yes, every race. Read on if you want to find out why I don’t.
Almost every race, sometimes as early as when I wake up in a strange hotel room the morning before, that doubt creeps in. It says, “what are you doing?” It proceeds to tell me that my endeavors are meaningless because I am “too old, too heavy, too slow, too busy with everything else, and committed to so many more important things.” Sometimes I hear this voice right when the race starts to get difficult, right when I begin to push beyond my normal capacity to endure struggle and suffering. I will say this, that voice makes far less appearances nowadays as the success that the Lord has blessed me with has taken away much of its platform within me.
Last weekend, in the beautiful Northwest, in absolutely perfect weather, I put everything I had into my efforts and was blessed to finish with the pros in both 72 mile races. These were two of the strongest efforts I’ve ever felt. However, I made a crucial mistake afterwards: when the race was over Sunday evening: instead of sleeping and getting proper recovery, I drove home — all night — and got back to Billings about a half hour before I had to get to work. By the end of the day last Monday I was miserable sick; Tuesday, I knew I had a problem when I began my training ride and was suffering through pretty sharp pain in one of the muscles or ligaments in my right knee; Wednesday morning I endured the same issue and hoped that ice and proper warm-up would be sufficient to overcome it with the coming races. Friday afternoon I got off work at 3 o’clock, gathered the kids, and hit the road. It was 3 AM when we reached our hotel in Port Orchard, Washington — I had to slap myself to stay awake that last hour I was so tired. After only a few hours of sleep, literally, we headed up to Sequim, Washington for the Saturday race. It was raining like crazy the whole way up there and all I could think about was how dangerous the race would be, especially as I looked at the 3 foot and higher white capping waves in the sound just off the bridge. By the time our pro/1/2 race was underway, the rain had stopped but the gusts of wind had picked up quite considerably. Our pack started out with fifty competitors and the weather did great work to decimate group efforts and separate the pack consistently again and again. With several serious wrecks on the day, including one just a couple feet from my wheel, the weather indeed made it dangerous. Except of course for the guys that actually got to stand on the podium, the wind was the real winner because it beat us all to a blown-down pulp. A lot of guys crashed. A lot of guys quit. I didn’t. I gave it everything I had, and I fought till the end, and I finished in 13th place. After 84 miles of war with the wind, my 15 minutes in the bathtub full of ice was pure heaven. After that, a pie date with my wife (celebrating pi day, 3/14) definitely hit the spot. A quick check at the forecast guaranteed with 100% certainty that Sunday’s event would be an absolute downpour.
We got to Mason Lake with plenty of time to warm up but it was so cold and wet as the rain was incessantly beating down like a waterfall upon the day. I was worried about my knee because it had cost me a considerable amount of power the day before and was not really showing signs of improving just yet.
I had my Christian Cycling riding jacket on — not very aero — and made the mistake of choosing to wear it during the race to keep me, well, warm (a laughable concept in that weather). As I sat in the passenger side of my wife’s suburban, looking at other guys in their tents with heaters, I dreaded going out in the drippy wet to get on my trainer, so I hesitated as long as I could. I ended up only getting about a 20 minute warm-up, which was far less than sufficient I soon found out. As I headed down to the starting line I realized the brakes would be useless on this day; jokingly, I suggested to another that we remove our brakes so that we could be lighter since we will be unable to use them anyway. Remembering all the jostling, bumping, ping-pong balling, emergency braking, skidding, and close calls from this race last week, with the rain factored in, at this point I was totally sketched out.
There were 42 of us brave enough to start the race out in the elements on this day. I started with a great position, but quickly surrendered it as I was straight up scared to be that close in such poor visibility on slick roads with no brakes. Technical riding is definitely not my strong suit — yet.
We rounded the first turn and started up the first hill, my legs began to talk to me saying “we are not warmed up yet,” and my knee began to tell me “I am not warmed up yet either, and if you try to use me to get that power out of this leg, I will hurt you.” In that moment I started to fill the headwind as it caught all the drag in my jacket and pushed me to the back, and then off the back: I got dropped in the 1st mile. For the next 3 miles or so I pushed all the power I had into my pedals as I watched the 41 in front of me get further and further away until they were to never be seen again. At that point, the doubt monster came in at an all-time high: “You can’t win this one, you’re not strong enough, you’re injured, you’re wasting your time, you’re not good enough, do you really want to be out here doing this for another 70 miles?” At that point I seriously begin to contemplate stopping after a lap, but then I caught one rider and then another. As I pulled these guys around the course I continued my battle with the doubt monster. One of them quit at the first lap. The second informed me on our second lap (of 6) that he would be dropping out of the race at the end of that lap — I recognized that I was in for some serious alone time which was compounded even further by a lack of data because my computer system had completely malfunctioned before the race the day before.
As I started my third lap all alone in the torrential rain I began to think about how many other guys will be quitting, and that it really wouldn’t be a big deal to just drop out of the race and save myself from suffering in the cold wet weather of the pacific northwest and it’s oh so predictable downpour. Then I saw my wife’s suburban, her taking pictures, and our kids screaming “go Dad!” I knew I couldn’t quit, Jesus didn’t make me to be a quitter, and furthermore what kind of example would I be to my kids and my students if I didn’t finish what I started – what kind of example what I be if I quit just because it appeared as though I couldn’t win? I think about my family watching me in this monsoon like weather and how they didn’t come out to see me quit, they came out to support me as I put out my very best effort. Then I started thinking about my sponsors, what would I say to them? “Thanks for all your support, but I decided not to finish the race because I couldn’t win.” No, I realized then that I had no part of that quitter/loser mentality within me. If it took me within an inch of my life to finish I would finish and then recover. The rest of the day — and it was a long one — I prayed away the doubt monster every few seconds as he rode on my back and reminded me of my insufficient ability. I thought about a turkey sandwich, a protein drink and an extended dip in the hotel hot tub; I thought about my awesome wife, and how incredible it is that she comes out here and supports me as much as she does; her parents and how they show up to these races, our kids and how positive they are whether I’m in first or last place; I thought about Jesus, how he continues to work in me in ways I don’t know
and can only begin to fathom, how great He has made my life — by saving it — because my living testimony has me constantly on adventure after adventure and how very thankful I am for this incredible life I get to experience with all its trials, tribulations, hardships, and successes: at the end of it I know that He loves me and so does my family.
I didn’t crash and I didn’t quit, but I was the last finisher. However, because I didn’t quit I finished 16th out of 42 and I am grateful for the experience because I know it has made me stronger both as a cyclist and as a man — mentally and physically. It was a tough day, but thanks to the grace and provision of the Lord, I earned every bit of it.