Last weekend I took on a huge challenge to enter a bicycle road race from Portimao, in Portugal, the Mediofundo, 82km from Portimao, up into the Monchique mountains and back.
Why the significance of a race?
This was an endurance event of both physical and mental strength, especially for me. I fully understand the struggles of PTSD and mental health and that we are all dealing with our very own unique demons, but when I began writing Fireman's Tired Eyes, it began by getting things out of my head and allowing others to understand a little more of what Emergency Services, NHS, Carers and Military are up against.
Then as it has progressed the blogs became a series of books, to help others identify with Signs, Symptoms and Triggers and then finally to Break the Stigma of Therapy and give Alternative Therapies of self-help.
The ways I have dealt with my troubles has always been through exercise and cycling has always been a passion from a very young age. I wanted to push myself and push myself I did. I continue to lead by example and hopefully inspire others by my actions.
This race had some incredibly steep climbs, and of course, the heat making it harder, plus this was my very first bike race. Here I would be with 111 other riders. I finished 98th. (20th out of 25 in the over 50's age group.) There were many others doing the lower section of our route and then detouring off to make their route a total of 125km. My respect for these athletes, that are so much stronger and fitter than me is very high, but I also see everyone as an inspiration to keep trying.
I have to admit, this event was a massive emotional journey.
From the notion of entering the week earlier, where I was triggered back to entering Karate competitions and having doubts and nerves. Not only from the distance but also from cycling in larger numbers. Fortunately, the numbers dwindled very quickly as the front riders went out so fast. All machines I'm sure lol. The fear of failing and being laughed at, you understand and know how these thoughts arise in us.
But the first climb and many more out towards the first refreshment stop took their toll on me and cramp set in, eventually in both calf muscles forced me to stop. I was about 1km from this first watering hole on an incline. My thanks to the kind GNR Police officer who stopped to check on me as I am sat on the side of the road stretching out my legs, and to the volunteers at the refreshment stations, these were a lifeline. Rehydrate and refuel. So I was at the 30km stage and ready to go again. I had become separated from the Irish group as 1 of them had a puncture. When you have your head down climbing you are unaware of people dropping off. Everyone is moving forward in their own time and at their own pace. The 4 Portuguese 'Senhors,' that eventually caught me up towards the quarry and into Monchique was a blessing as every task is so much easier in a group. The cruncher was when we arrived in Monchique and directed right and up a stupidly steep climb that just seem to go on and on! I was forced to stop along with the Portuguese 4 riders. Literally, catch our breath. Then I continued up walking and then as it levelled off to about 15%, not 21% angle I jumped back on and attempted more of it. It again got the better of me. To the elderly gent who came out to cheer everyone on, your kind words were a blessing at that very moment in time, Obrigardo. I understood from him the summit of this one was only 100 metres away, but still a crazy climb. I was now on my own. This makes it so much harder. The ridge ride was up and down another 4 times and just as steep. I succumbed to stopping once more on the 3rd climb as cramp was constantly reminding me with little flickers in my legs. Sensible head on for a change.
I finally descended down towards Alferce and to the 2nd water stop. This was like a mirage as I didn't know we had a second one. What a welcome sight. Muito Obrigado. So, 2 bottles were refilled and banana taken. Hey, I was at the 50km point so only 30 km to go and most of it downhill. This still needs you to be on your game. It was during this descent I actually enjoyed the ride. But like every good feeling when under pressure, it is quickly replaced with doubt, pain and dread. Here I was out in the middle of nowhere and eventually on the flat and no shade, fatigued and searching for motivation. How many times I recall having waves of emotion rise as all I wanted to see was the finishing line and yet it was so far away. To be able to say I achieved it was my drive. So for every problem or negative thought I had, I deliberately thought of 3 more positive ones.
1: All the hideous climbs were behind me, 2: the end is close and 3: the sun was out.
Hey, it was on the spot autopilot thinking. Digging deep into making it happen takes a lot, but please know my drive to finish and be a good example for you all is my driving force. If I can achieve then so can you all. Your race and your pace.
As I reached Portimao I actually managed to catch up and pass another rider. But I was also overtaken by 5 of the 125km riders that had set off 15 minutes earlier than our group, and ridden further. Wow, much respect. But I tried to stay with them as long as I could. Seeing another rider means you are not alone. As I entered the city, you now had people clapping and I guess congratulating,(my Portuguese isn't that good yet.) It could have been abuse but I only had positive comments coming through. I encountered more small slopes and the end was nearing.
Crossing the line, yes on my own, was an incredible feeling.
Exhausted and elated. I believed I could do it and I did it.
The mind is a powerful tool and could have easily talked me out of entering and definitely screamed at me to quit, but I am not a quitter.
There is no shame in resting and then continuing.
I had completed my first ever bike race challenge of 82km and encountered some very steep climbs that I would have not done any other day. Just looking at them is enough to put me off!
Having support and encouragement is a huge energy lift. If others have your back and believe in you, then it is down to you to acknowledge their belief and to act on it.
Changing our energy may take action and conscious positive thoughts for it to happen.
It is within us all.
Everyone's mountains and challenges are different.
My finishing line was made that day, several times. Reaching the first water station and then over the ridge to Alferce, then back to Portimao. Trust me there were many finish lines in between.
Telling myself, just get to the crest of this climb or to the next tree. Don't lose sight of the rider.
For some, I fully appreciate it may be getting through the day or to the next payday. It could even be to make it to the next hour. Always look back and see how far you have travelled and see what conditions you have endured. You are tougher than you think.
Resilience is a powerful word, the word silence can be taken from it.
In silence, we can find answers. Answers that show us how incredible we are.
Crossing the finishing line. If I can do it once, I can do it again. Together we are so much stronger. Some things have to be met and challenged on our own, just know others are going through similar and together it can be easier.
Don't suffer in silence. Reach out if needed.
Be inspired by you and encouraged by others.