You'll probably agree with me, when I say that I think I might be going slightly mad, due to the fact I'm starting to take some enjoyment in playing with my cycling pain barriers. I can agree with anyone that says that this is definitely not normal! I can reassure myself however, that I'm also doing this to learn exactly what it is, that means I'm not thinking about the pain of riding any ultra-marathon distance.
I know that because of my likely side effects that I have as a result of my medication, that I'm not exactly an Olympian physiologically. I know that's not where I gain my competitive advantage from. It's in the way I think. And luckily, it's most prominent in the ultra cycling disciplines that the competitive advantage from strong psychology is felt.
My first learning point I have found the more I ride, actually makes total sense to something entirely different, that I think almost all of us have experienced young and old. Long journeys. It's what I like to call the 'Are we nearly there yet?' effect.
Put simply, distracting myself away from thinking about the specifics of riding, how long I've been riding for, how long I've got left, actually makes me feel less pain in my legs and the rest of my body. Distracting myself from what I'm doing entirely and riding on autopilot, seems to make my brain not engage with riding pain and it's particularly something that I can employ as a strategy during the 12 Hour Static Cycling WR attempt on the 10th of March. For other races, the scenery can be distracting. But even trying to think about something completely away from anything to do with the ride, does wonders for that feeling, that time is flying by.
It now makes sense to me, why, when I was a child in particular, long journeys where I did nothing but stare out the window and at most listen to music, meant long car journeys like Glasgow to the Isle of Skye, felt like they took an absolute eternity. It's apt then, that as I write this, coming back from my physiological testing at the Human Performance Unit in Essex, on the train from London to Glasgow, I've just realised that 3 hours have passed and I don't know where they have gone. I haven't looked at the time or been paying much attention to what station we've stopped at, but it's 3 hours into the journey already and I'm about 2/3rds of the way to Glasgow.
I don't know for sure, but I think in essence, what's happening to me, is that I'm just hitting a steady level of pain that then becomes normal and once I've got used to it, my head is free to wander and pass the time more quickly as well as not focusing on pain.
The second aspect to what helps my riding psychology, is that I know, that if I only do something for myself, I'd quit earlier than I would if I was riding for a team or a cause. So the fact that I'm representing a group of people, who I identify so closely with, I know will make my riding stronger and makes me more determined. Maybe even completely bloody minded about refusing to quit.
What that equates to, is in those little moments when your body hurts, you push that little bit harder, or don't drop a tempo, even if you might want to.
What affects this, is the little stories I've stolen for myself, from meeting some of the most remarkable people you'd ever hope to come across in your life. These are my friends and fellow patients alike, that have been through a far harder journey than myself with their epilepsy, but being the most graceful, erudite, generous people you could meet, despite their epilepsy. My friends Georgia and Andrew for example, far surpass my intellect, both with Law degrees and they never cease to continue to inspire and amaze me in equal measure. The patients I was treated with, continue to ground me with their courage, dealing with sides of epilepsy I didn't have to. They push me to even conceive of where they find their courage to deal with what I didn't, whenever I think about them. Incidentally, they also push me to try and be more courageous too, in other ways.
That brings me onto the last aspect of my riding psychology when it comes to ultra cycling. I've already tested my mental breaking point, during the Race Across America, and I didn't break. But there's a very good reason I didn't and it means that someone will have to literally drag me off my bike before I don't finish any ultra cycling race. To put it simply, even if I fail, I'll do it by finishing the time I was supposed to ride for, or make sure I just get to the line at the end of the race, if it has to come to that.
How this works, it extremely straight forward. I have a hell of a reality check when it comes to feeling sorry for myself and it goes back to those 5 years I spent in the Sick Kids Hospital in Edinburgh, between the ages of 9 and 14. I can only begin to explain how lucky I feel to be one of the eligible 5% for corrective brain surgery for my epilepsy. The fact that on top of that, even when I was having about 4600 seizures a year large and small, but that in Ward 7 I didn't feel ill, I hope demonstrates how remarkable some of the other patients were and still are in Ward 7.
It's a hell of a thing to think about in retrospect: A young man and a fellow patient in the same ward, incredibly poised, funny and dignified, while at the same time being wheelchair bound, wearing a seizure helmet, due to the severity of his epilepsy. I can't fail to think of him when I need to put things into perspective. So while he was such an awesome guy in the way he conducted himself, what he was dealing with was huge.
He was wearing a seizure helmet, while I wear a bicycle helmet. I can only think to myself, that since I have the opportunity to raise awareness for how to deal with his, and my own seizures, I should grab it with both hands. It's the only way that I can repay him, for the debt of using his inspiration to dig myself out of a psychological hole, by keeping riding and challenging the stigma that we both experience.
In case anyone asks, that's exactly why I still feel a debt of gratitude I need to repay and why I feel finishing RAAM isn't enough to repay it.
So there you have it.
While my medication may put me back more training hours, it's actually the fact that I have epilepsy and belong to the epilepsy community that is my competitive advantage.
It's quite literally, all in my head.