Life has been packed full to the brim, and then some, over the last few weeks. Many times it has felt like time was ticking away whilst I chased my tail, just trying to keep my head above water with work and riding.
We are away at the moment, travelling through the epic lands of Scotland. A place that truly deserves the adjective. Huge hills, magnificent mountains, stunning skylines and gorgeous glens. I have work for two days now, here in this beautiful country, and the shock of work-funded hotel luxury, in contrast to the honesty of van-life, has left me wide awake at 4:45 am.
Time to try and put into words the rattle inside of my head.
Being swamped in the primeval landscape of the Highlands, away from distractions, has really highlighted the depth of the mental exhaustion I am carrying. Daily chores, and chasing wheels I will never catch, has ground me down and the fatigue is deep-set. Riding is a struggle, legs lack power, and endurance is non-existent.
This is not overtraining in a physical sense, for my riding has been tiny in volume. It stems, without a doubt, from the internal need to try and live up to people's expectations of my ability, which are, quite frankly, way off the truth.
I feel like I have a constant target on my back, but that I have been mistakenly labelled as game. People chase me down, and look disappointed when I can't keep up as they fly past. I get looks of surprise when I am not keen, or able, to manage technical mountainbiking sections because apparently it's a surprise. Really, is it?
Let's get a few things straight. I am not that good at most things. Sure, there's the occasional glimmer of balls-out madness, but when real skill or speed is needed, I am well below average. I am not able, and never have been, good at climbing in sheer speed terms, or for that matter in power terms. I am, however, able to ride hills, very slowly, over and over and over and over again until my legs feel like they are filled with hot ash.....and even then, I can still climb. But this is at my pace. My slow, steady pace that 'real riders' don't even know exists. Some people mistakenly assume that my ability to Audax (200km + continuous rides) makes me superhuman and superfit. No, I just have the ability to ride slowly. It's really simple. The new breed of proper endurance athletes, those smashing out the TCR, H550, Tour Divide. These riders are fast, and able to carry it over massive distance. Some people assume that being able to do an uncomplicated gap jump makes me able to tackle steep rooty singletrack at speed. No, it really doesn't. Even now, after nine years of mountain biking, I still fail to look ahead, grab brakes at inappropriate times, have little ability to pump, and can't wheelie for toffee.
I know deep down I am limited genetically on what I will ever be able to achieve in technical and speed terms both on a bike, and on foot. Yet sometimes I get caught up in believing this weird image that people have of my ability, and my denial of the truth leads me to shy away from challenge which will accurately, and without fail, reveal my true mediocrity.
I set my Strava profile to private a while back as it was starting to feel like every day was a 'race day'. Or was it that? Maybe the increasing realisation of age, missed opportunity, slowing speeds and inability to replicate earlier numbers was a truth too black and white to bear, when witnessed on arbitrary leaderboards.
There are so many challenges out there I want to try, to push my own limits and see what I can manage, yet I am constantly shying away from them. Why? Because I can't face up to the fact that, when compared to others in numbers on a page, my huge efforts will be meaningless as they are hidden, languishing at the bottom of a list of finishers. That the real numbers will show my decreasing ability as I pass 'over the hill'. The real stories of participants are lost completely as the focus moves to only those good enough to dance on the podium or set records. It's vain I know, but at least I am honest......I work really REALLY hard to maintain the skills and fitness I do have on a bike. It makes me sad to think no one will ever know it because, no matter how hard I try, I will never shed that 'fat schoolgirl that gets picked last' DNA. However hard I drive, I will never have the power I want, the timing I lack, or the flow I constantly fail to find. My only hope of great achievement now is that I will at least still be trying into my advancing years, and that I won't succumb to the couch.
One of the greatest things I have read of late was a comment in the fell running book 'Feet in the Clouds' by Richard Askwith. I can't remember the actual quote (EDIT to add quote here for clarity: "Great sports are about much more than the rarefied activities of their elites. Their souls come from the mediocre majorities who know how difficult the acheivements of the superstars really are. Think what football would be without all those millions whose visceral understanding of the game's skills and difficulties is derived only from park kickabouts. The knowledge and passion of the also-rans are what give meaning to the activities of the elite. If the elite aren't interested in our perspective, they should be"), but it is a concise statement of how the elite should be grateful for the pack, as without them, their achievements have nothing to be measured by. Participants make racing what it is, yet all our focus goes on those at the very top. We make idols out of people who have good genes. Of course these folk have to work hard too, but without those uncontrollable genetic factors with which they are blessed, like the rest of us, they would be mediocre, no matter how hard they worked. Yet, here I am, scared to be one of those vitally important 'pack riders'.
So maybe it's time I show my true colours. Really face up to the horrors of my hidden fears. Become what I really am. Enter those events I have avoided for fear of letting people down and let those arbitrary numbers show the real truth. Maybe then people will believe me when I say I really am not that great, and then, only then, will the target on my back, unrealistic expectations and pressure will finally be gone. I will be free from my self-imposed prison of trying to maintain a false persona, and free to achieve my own goals and take myself to the limit again.
Scotland has indeed been a deep-thinking time, and a photo-heavy blog entry of our trip will follow, but in the meantime, here are a handful of my favourite pictures taken during the few weeks preceeding our trip.