Lessons from the mountains

There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time. For the past twelve months the words of Malcolm X have enabled me to take strength from falling short in my first attempt at completing the Tour du Mont Blanc, they have helped me improve day by day and driven me to great lengths in order to ensure that I didn’t suffer the pain of defeat for a second time. 

The day after the ride I was interviewed for a short documentary that is being made, and was asked the question, ‘What does it mean to have finished the ride this year?’. More than anything the adversity I faced made my success this year that much sweeter, it added so much more meaning to my achievement of completing what is known as ‘the world’s toughest one day bike event’. For without that heartbreak and disappointment of abandoning the ride last year, all the way through to reaching the finish line this year, it would not have meant so much to me. It has been the driving force behind a year of dedicated training, and in crossing the line this year it proved to me that it was all worth while. 

A question that wasn’t asked in the interview, but one that I ask myself after all of my challenges, is, ‘What did that teach me?’. For me the challenges I take on are not only about pushing the physical boundaries of what I’m capable of, they are also aimed at teaching me about who I am, a journey of self-discovery in many ways. Last year I learnt that there is no shame in giving your all and falling short of your goal, and also that it’s not a failure if you lay it all on the line and simply aren’t good enough on the day. It was that lesson that focused my efforts on making sure that when I came back this year that I was good enough, that I had improved to such an extent that my best would see me achieve my goal.

As I sat reflecting on my success the words of Confucius came to mind, when he said that there are a thousand lessons in defeat, but only one in victory. And, whilst I fully agree with that in as much as we can learn more from our defeats than our victories, there were still lessons to be taken from this achievement.

There are no limits to what we can achieve in life. In 2015 this challenge defeated me, the mountains got the better of me and I had to accept that at the time I simply wasn’t good enough to complete the ride. As hard as this was to stomach it was the truth, and I was then in a situation where I had two choices. Accept defeat and say that I wasn’t good enough, period, or recommit to the goal and focus on becoming better. It just goes to show that we might not achieve our greatest goals straight away, but with the right application, willingness to learn and desire to improve our skills and focus, there are no limits to what’s possible.

Self-talk is a hugely powerful tool when used correctly. Last year I remember that I had to do battle with the voices inside of my head. As the race wore on, the voice of doubt grew louder and it was a constant battle to win the internal argument about my ability to finish the ride - eventually my body made the decision for me, but if I am honest I was mentally exhausted too. This year, in the build up to the race, there were moments of doubt given what had happened before, but once I started cycling they simply faded away and were replaced by a voice full of confidence, a voice that spoke only in the positive. This voice acknowledged that at times the challenge was immensely hard, but never did I allow it to do anything but support me, to build me up and to be my greatest supporter on the road.

Big goals must be broken down into manageable chunks. As I rolled over the start/finish line at 5am in the morning it seemed almost impossible that I would make it back there after 330km of cycling, with a staggering 8000m of ascent thrown into the mix. The goal was simply too big to focus on so I had to break it down into smaller sections. Depending on how hard a certain part of the ride was depended on how small the sub-goals were. At times it was simply a case of making the next five hundred metres up a climb, which may sound tiny in the grand scheme of the ride, but gradually I made my way up every climb. Every time I achieved a smaller target my morale was boosted and I was a little closer to the finish line. 

Perhaps the overriding lesson that this past year has taught me is tonever quit. It would have been far easier to have accepted defeat last year and walked away saying that I wasn’t capable of achieving the goal I had set myself. The only time in life that we truly fail is when we throw in the towel and quit. We may suffer setbacks and defeats along the way, but that’s all they are, minor bumps on the path to success. We all have greatness in us, we just need to believe in ourselves and never give in.

For more information on Marcus’s challenges please click here.