When people asked me why I continued during this year's Three Peaks Bike Race, even though I knew I failed my goal, my answer was: Because I don't think in races. I think in years. Every fail is painful, but it is also a message to be read carefully, to be analysed precisely and to be accepted without loosing sight to the goal at the end of the process. Taking the consequences and not running away from a hurtful truth, arriving in the position which resembles my performance, meant destroying an illusion which kept me from understanding what I need to change.I could have easily avoided that by just giving up and not riding until the end. That way I would have been able to tell myself I could have done it, I would have arrived in time, just the circumstances were not the best and maybe, yes probably, if I had continued I would have made it in the time I planned to.
But this would be a lie.
One could argue now that it's all pretty obvious and why all the torture, why enduring this pain when I knew the truth already. Isn't that just unnecessary self harm?
No. Some truths have to be lived, some consequences have to be experienced, otherwise the mind will just escape into some distraction and collaborate with whatever makes you feel better about yourself.
To change yourself, you need to be damn uncomfortable first.
It needs to be so fucking unbearable that you can't stand yourself anymore.
Otherwise it won't be real change, it will just be a silly masquerade, lasting as long as the wind blows your direction.
I knew in that moment during the Three Peaks Bike Race, when I woke up in front of a cafe on the floor somewhere in France, barely 3hours of rest, can't call it sleep, there was nothing I wanted more than giving up. And this wish didn't leave me for the rest of the race, 4 full days. This may not sound like a long time, but let me assure you, being awake 20h a day, beating yourself up mentally nonstop, can exceed 4 days to something that makes eternity look like a nice Sunday's walk.
Even worse than the actual feeling during those 4 days, was knowing shit didn't even hit the fan yet. When the race is over and the silence settles in, that's the time when darkness becomes a whole different dimension for me. I knew this already from my first race but I never imagined it could get even darker. Last year I struggled with the unexpected loss of a family member, a message that got to me during my very first unsupported ultrarace, topped off by a very unpleasant experience right after I finished. So obviously I didn't expect this year's post-race depression to be any harder than what I encountered last year. It's probably impossible to compare grief, as on every occasion it changes it's face slightly.
But to say those last weeks after TPBR were hard would be a harsh understatement. I felt like evaporating, tearing apart, not able to look at myself anymore, not able to believe in anything, solely holding on to the only thing I knew I could possibly do: Endure.
Endure day by day, trying not to ask for a why and certainly failing the how more than once a day. Desperately clinging to an idea, even though it seemed less than impossible:
Riding the Two Volcano Sprint in October.
I didn't see a way to do that race, I didn't meet any of the requirements. I was a mess, both physically and mentally and my finances could be summed up pretty accurately as being completely broke. (One downside of talking longer in a race than you actually planned, is, that is also gets a hella lot more expensive than you planned.)
My schedule for the upcoming months consisted of a workload that would make any decent workaholic look like a sissy, having to work full time and studying while also taking care of the hassle of every day life, including a dog. Even if I wouldn't have been in a deep state of depression, it would have been no good idea to squeeze in training for a race with 26 000 meters of elevation on a 1200km parcours with rough road-surface.
No one was convinced this would be a good idea. Not even myself.
But it was all I could think of.
So I got up every morning, depressed.
I went to work, depressed.
I came back home, tired and depressed.
I got up on my indoor trainer, angry, for not being able to ride as hard as I wanted.
I went for short rides, angry, because my saddle sore from TPBR was still winning the race long after it was all in the books, defining the word „endurance“ on a whole different level.
Depression became anger, anger became rage.
I was very bad company in those days, raging for nothing, on smallest occasions, exploding from all the pressure I loaded on myself. Not many people would want to bear me in this condition, so I tried to stay away from nearly everyone. My close circle consisted of only 2-3 people and I never asked them to believe in my mad purpose, but they still did their best to support me. During all those weeks I had no idea how I would make it to Italy in October, but I kept going.
At one point, I was having another nervous breakdown because of the uncertainty of my overall situation for the coming months and I finally realized something. What I had done during TPBR this year was nothing I was proud of, but it gave me the strength I needed to believe in myself in that very low moment. I had been battling so much, I had overcome so many obstacles without any hope for reaching my goal. And in the end I understood.
It was not the goal that was most important. It was the chance. All I was fighting for with all I had left now, was a chance.
Having that chance would mean the world to me, no matter if I could finish the race, no matter if I would fall off the bike ten minutes after the start. Having the chance to be there, the opportunity to race, the possibility to have one more try, the chance to come to peace with myself - this would be enough.
So I dusted off my jogging pants and faced my decision with all it's consequences, even though I still had no idea how to make it happen.
I lost weight, despite the recovery cravings making it unbelievably hard.
I prepared my bike, tested different setups and it worked out magically with the budged I had.
I continued sweating on my indoor trainer, trying to make up for the absence of hills in my surroundings.
I went to work and tried to organize my life around that goal.
During this time I only had two states of being: Complete absence of feelings or deep frustration. I felt like someone who had been abandoned in a deep dark cave, no light shining through the massive, cold walls, without a map to get out.
But I had a dream. And even though it was nothing more than a glimpse of an idea what once would maybe become a chance, that was enough.
The day I realized I would be able to go to Italy to ride the Two Volcano Sprint, I was at work, standing at the copy-machine.
I looked out of the office window into a backyard, where the leaves of the trees started to turn yellow, the wind blowing through the branches, bending them in a wild swirl into all directions.
A chance, I thought,
and I smiled.