Why do we set extreme goals for ourselves? Like wanting to climb Everest, swimming across the Atlantic Ocean, or deciding to Ride Across America on a bike? Ironman and marathon races are one of the fastest growing sports today. What drives us to want to reach this level of testing our physical capabilities? “The mentality is that people who are drawn to extreme sports are risk takers,” says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif., who was a member of the 1984 exhibition Olympic team in gymnastics. “It’s that they love to push themselves to the limit — physically, emotionally, and in every way possible.”
This past weekend I rode the Copper Triangle in Colorado. Talk about an extreme goal. Honestly I think this was the hardest physical experience of my life to date. The Copper Triangle is a 3-peak bike ride. 78 miles in total with 5,000+ elevation gain. Add to it that I live in Seattle, sea level and this ride starts at about 9,000ft elevation. When I was preparing for the ride the Wednesday before, I rode up Vail Pass (which is the last peak of the 3 peaks) so I could know what I was getting into. That night, I lay in bed and asked myself, “What was I thinking?” I had decided to do this ride to celebrate my birthday with one of my first cycling mentor and friend, Brad. He had ridden it before and said it was hard but beautiful. Thank goodness he was there to ride beside and in front of me, because he was right on both counts. The long downhills through the valleys were amazing and yes, there was plenty of risk involved screaming along at 45 mph on a bike. The views were spectacular and the smell of the air was so fragrant with pine and sage, I will remember that for a long time.
But why did I need to set such an extreme goal for myself I wondered as I gasped for air and suffered up the final climb of Vail Pass. Was it for the adrenaline rush? Was it to challenge my body and have a reason to stay in shape? Maybe so I could say I had done it? Copper Triangle, check! Well, to be honest I would say probably for all of these at some level. So how did visuals help me on that ride? In that final climb I used every single visualization I could think of to get myself to the top. I imagined myself throwing my arms up in the air after finishing. I saw my lungs breathing easier with every pedal stroke. I channeled every favorite rider I had seen climbing the hills in the Tour de France. There is one spot at the very end of Vail Pass where the grade pitches up to 11%. I have to admit that there I just prayed for it to be over. After 4 hours and 54 minutes it was. That’s how long it took for Brad to shepherd me through the Copper Triangle. At the end I was filled with gratitude; for my physical body, for the people who helped me, for those who supported the ride, for the gift of life. My big take away? You don’t have to go to this extreme to test yourself. You can test yourself by taking a risk at work speaking up when you don’t agree with your team. You can choose to change your diet, start something new, carpool to work or bring a friend a cup of coffee. Whatever you do, celebrate your success. Remember those who brought you to this point and thank them. Stamp the feeling into your brain and body so next time when you are wondering, “Can I do it?” you will remember, “Yes, yes, I can.” Patti