I just finished reading Hell on Two Wheels: An Astonishing Story of Suffering, Triumph, and the Most Extreme Endurance Race in the World. The book chronicles the 2009 Race Across America (RAAM), a 3,000+ mile pain-fest in which competitors pedal their road bikes from the Pacific Ocean (Ocean Side, CA) to the Atlantic Ocean (Annapolis, MD) in less time than the typical cross-country automobile trip. The top finishers average 300 miles per day with about one hour of sleep for every 24-hour period. The suffering that competitors endure is beyond words – heat stroke, hypothermia, saddle sores, hallucinations, and crashes. As an experienced road cyclist, I know what it feels like to spend hours in the saddle. I do 100+ mile rides frequently and on two occasions I participated in a 200-mile, single-day ride, which is a bit further than the distance from downtown Baltimore, MD to Central Park, NY. After two hundred miles, 11,000 feet of climbing, and 12 hours on the road, I was physically and emotionally spent. I had nothing left. So the thought of riding from coast to coast in 10 days is mind-boggling to me.
But the competitors in RAAM are not super-human. In fact, most are average Joe professionals with families, jobs, and myriad responsibilities. To read their stories, one realizes that success in ultra-distance racing has as much if not more to do with one’s attitude and developing coping mechanisms for adversity as it does with athletic prowess. In fact, many racers who succumb to fatigue or injury are forced to abandon the race, yet they return the following year with an even stronger sense of purpose and drive to finish.
What’s more impressive than the athletes’ cardio-vascular capacities is the manner in which they accept the realities of their situations, adapt to them, and ultimately persevere. One pedal stroke at a time, mile after mile, state after state, day after day, ocean to ocean. Finishing RAAM is about passion, commitment, optimism and hope. It’s possessing the knowledge that while roadblocks and wrong turns are inevitable, how we deal with them is what’s critical. This is the lesson to be drawn from the book and the one we should apply to our own lives.
For me, the timing of this book was particularly poignant. With just a few weeks to go until my 39th birthday, I am finishing a 12-month cycle of major transition (both expected and unexpected). In 2010, I sold my PR agency, Louder Than Words, and did a brief stint as SVP for the acquiring agency, before launching my new consultancy Communicate Good. Timed with the professional changes, my family moved from Boston to Baltimore with a newborn and three-year-old son. The challenges associated with so much change being thrust upon us at once have been daunting.
Yet, for all the upheaval and the unexpected twists and turns of the last year, I remain super-optimistic and excited about the present and the future. How will my consultancy evolve? What campaigns will I have the privilege of spearheading in the coming years? What causes will I help advance? What new friends will I make along the way? What will I be able to teach my boys and what will they teach me? What exciting experiences will my wife and I have in this latest chapter of our epic long-distance race?
If life was the Race Across America, I would be somewhere in Kansas right now (give or take). I’ve ridden far enough to gain valuable insight about the race, but still have many more miles to go before I sleep.