The Hardest Part

I’m going to guess that Tom Petty hasn’t suffered much, because the waiting most definitely is not the hardest part. Sure, the waiting sucks. The waiting can be hard. You show up at the coffee shop’s parking lot at 5am. It’s dark still, cold. Your buddy is running late. You’re just starting to feel the caffeine quickening your pulse. If you wait another minute, you’re going to have to pee again before setting out. Where the F is he? It’s hard.

But it’s not the hardest part.

Even for the warriors of Paris-Roubaix, the night before in the hotel is not the hardest part. The butterflies will assault their stomachs like the protagonists in an unmade Hitchcock film. Their palms will sweat. Their minds will race, but these moments bear no comparison to the feeling in their loins during that bowling balls and bowler hats section of cobbles through the Arrenberg Forest.

The hardest part is difficult to identify. For some of us it comes in a leg-deadening climb on a group ride with a bunch of hammers. For others it comes in mile 99 of a rolling century. But being able to pinpoint the hardest part is usually an exercise in retrospection.

The hardest part of what we do, whether it’s riding or just living, is recognizing the hard part when it arrives. Regardless of what we’re physically doing at that moment, the hardest part compromises our psycho-emotional faculties, so that we become unable or barely able to continue, either climbing a steep pitch or just getting out of bed.

We train for these moments. We ride hill repeats. We ride long, slow miles. We take rest days. Or, we confide our fears and anxieties to spouses and/or friends. We get a therapist. We join a support group. We tell the folks closest to us that we love them, and we remind ourselves what’s so good about life. This is all vaccination for when the hardest part comes.

We toughen ourselves for the hardest part, but, almost by definition, the hardest part comes when all that preparation breaks down. The hardest part is keeping it together in those moments. Sometimes, if you have trained well, you will be able to disassociate yourself from what’s going on, bring all that preparation to bear, find that little bit of mental/emotional toughness you need to persist.

Sometimes you find it. Sometimes you don’t.

The hardest part might be cresting the Gavia pass in a driving snow, or it might be taking the phone call that tells you a loved one has passed unexpectedly. It might be dragging yourself across the finish line in the Roubaix velodrome, dead last and forty minutes down on the winner, or it might be losing your job.

The hardest part might be just going on after what looked like the hardest part has come and gone. Life makes champions of us all, often when we least expect it.