Comfort zones are boring. Status quo is ordinary. “Doing OK,” means satisfactory but not exceptional. “Playing it safe” is a commitment to never pursue your full potential. When it comes to our potential to achieve great things, we all have our limits. Some people are just built to run or swim fast. Some people have high IQs. Some people are great with math. The point is, you will never know just how good you are, what your true potential is until you are willing to test your limits. And every time you test your limits at something, you gain experience. You learn. You get better.
Nine months ago, I decided to work with a cycling coach. At 65, my goals were simply to ride faster, climb hills faster, control my weight and improve my overall fitness. After a few months of working with my CTS coach, Tracey Drews, I could see measurable improvement in my power and fitness. Feeling good about myself, I figured it doesn’t make sense investing in all this coaching and working out without a real challenge to focus on. I decided to register for the Gran Fondo New York … a grueling 100-mile race that begins on the George Washington Bridge, goes north along the Hudson River to the top of Bear Mountain, and back. With 8,500 feet of climbing, this was going to be a very serious challenge to test my limits.
I trained hard all winter, including doing simulated resistance climbs on Bear Mountain. In the weeks leading up to the Gran Fondo, my coach had me doing longer and harder interval training and longer rides, some as far as 71 miles. I was confident and as ready as could be. I was also anxious as heck.
On May 17th, at 7:00am, I was standing on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge with my friend Sonny Rapozo and 5,000 other riders from 70 countries. This was Sonny’s 5th Gran Fondo New York so I had the benefit of his experience. The real racers were up front at the starting line. We were 3,000 riders back surrounded by people of all ages and cycling abilities, there simply to test their minds, strength and endurance. At the start time, it was unusually hot and very humid … and it was going to get much hotter.
With my heart and adrenalin pumping – we were off. With so many riders packed tightly on the wet pavement, I chose caution over speed. And then, one after another, the hills came at us … and they got bigger and steeper. At the 30-mile rest stop, I was feeling the heat and drinking as much as possible to remain hydrated. Leaving the rest stop, my legs were already feeling drained and tired. Looming ten miles ahead was Bear Mountain, the biggest climb on the ride at 1,300 feet over 4.7 miles with grades that varied from 5.1 to 10 degrees.
At mile 40, I began my climb up Bear Mountain. Even though I was passing riders half my age, it was hard. The steepest grades were in the last third of the climb. I just kept cranking until I saw, and crossed under, the finish arch. It was so hot; I headed straight for the water coolers. I filled my bottle and doused myself. It felt so good until a rider next to me said, “You just poured energy drink on yourself.” Fantastic! Now I’m cool and sticky. The ride down Bear was great … and then the hills and climbs started again.
At mile 55, after a very steep climb that sucked the last bit of strength out of my legs, I had to listen to my body and stop. It was just too hot to press on. On this day, the remaining 45 miles and 4,500 feet of climbing were beyond my capabilities. I tested my limits and knew it was a wise decision to stop. After all the training and preparation, it was a huge emotional disappointment not to finish. I wanted that Gran Fondo medal around my neck.
Here are some No-Compromise Leadership lessons on why it is essential to keep testing your limits:
- It’s about getting better: It doesn’t matter if you’re testing your physical limits or your business and leadership limits as long as you’re striving to achieve your full potential. Never accept that good is good enough. Good enough got you to where you are today. Good enough doesn’t take you all the way. Good enough got me to mile 55 … 45 miles short of the finish line. I am proud that I climbed Bear Mountain. At 65, I was in great shape. But, if I was 15 or 20 pounds lighter, I would have been faster and endured longer. I learned that I needed to train harder and get leaner to complete the Gran Fondo. In business and leadership, you need to take on the tough stuff and overcome your blockages to turn your vision into reality.
- Choose the challenge over excuses: Excuses are self-imposed roadblocks. Excuses are the easy way to explain away what you should have done or could have done better. Late is late. Avoiding the numbers is avoiding reality and a critical business discipline. Tolerating an employee’s intolerable behavior is a culture-crushing compromise. Excuses turn visions into pipe dreams. Excuses take you nowhere. When I signed up for the Gran Fondo New York, I knew it was beyond my current capability. However, my commitment to training improved my fitness and strength enough to climb Bear Mountain.
- Move on to the next challenge: When I texted my CTS coach that I was done at mile 55, Tracy responded, “Smart to listen to your body and live to ride another day. Start the recovery process and lets get on to the next challenge.” On June 27-28, I do the 150-mile, two day, MS Cape Cod Getaway Ride … for the seventh time. I’m looking to finish with my best time. And … I raised $7,300 for MS. When you finish one challenge, take time to recover – but always move on to the next challenge.
Thank you for reading this Monday Morning Wake-Up about my challenge to do the Gran Fondo New York. I’m still processing that I didn’t finish and what it will take to do so. No Compromise!
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