Climbing Mountains: Part II

Category_Interview Category_Mind

We talked to Mary a few weeks ago who, after 10 years off the bike, decided to get back on. Here is the rest of her story. During those 10 years, did you ever think about riding in the meantime? I had been trying to get fit by running, but after years of neglect as a teenager running with bad shoes on pavements, my arthritis didn’t allow for such frivolity and so I turned to my other love, mountain biking.
I looked at my old Merida mountain bike and thought to myself “It’s time. I need to ride you more often.”
It felt great to be back on the bike (after a pretty decent service!!), and I started exploring my local area. How easy was it to connect with other women to ride with? Thank goodness for Facebook, right? I was able to find my friend and ex-coach Donna Dall and got in touch asking for some advice as to how to get back into MTB. She put me onto the group Brisbane Chicks Who Ride Bikes . I sent out an introduction message and was met with many enthusiastic replies and comments to my post. I explored the group page and saw a Wednesday Coot-tha climb event with comments on there like “meeting at 5.30am, see you all there”. Yeah. I smiled to myself and thought “maybe in about 6 months to a year I will attempt to go on this ride.” I kept riding around my local area, and also met up with a lovely lady called Bronwyn who took me to Toohey forest for my first mountain bike ride in over 10 years. Had you lost a lot of confidence in your time off the bike? I was very rusty and, yes, I did stop at some obstacles’ and downhill sections and got off and walked. I was definitely slow, unfit and huffed and puffed up every hill, but the feeling I had and the excitement I felt was just like coming home! I was back on the bike and loving it. So, why is Coot-tha been an important part of your journey? In life, we all have many mountains to climb, mentally, emotionally, psychologically and physically. Often, the way we deal with literal ones can be reflective of those more figurative. I kept seeing this event for the Wednesday Coot-tha climb and again I smiled and went “yeah, not yet Mary, no way you could get up there.” Then one day I let my thoughts explore the possibility… just for a second. So many questions went through my mind!

“Ok, what time would I need to get up to go there?”

“Could I go there?”

“Would my husband let me go there?”

“Would I get up the mountain at all?”

“Would they laugh at me, or be annoyed by my slowness?”

What made you actually turn up that first day? I was determined that 2015 was going to be my “push myself out of my comfort zone” year. I had already done the “Shave for a Cure” in March, and I knew how great it felt to do something I had always wanted to do but had been too scared to do it. What made me turn up? I guess among all of the thoughts and mental chatter there was one little voice at the back of my mind said “go on Mary, give it a go”. So I did! Well, I picked a date and contacted the ride leader who arranged a meeting spot for us to say hello and ride there together. I arrived early and waited. 2 other girls turned up and they were very friendly and kind. I even forgot to bring lights so another girl said I could borrow hers. I was so nervous, but excited, armed with my brand new Merida Mountain bike bought that week, I was determined to give it a crack. At the bottom of the climb, we received a short briefing about the climb, reminder about correct gear usage and the fact you could stop and rest whenever it was safe to do so. I was daunted about the steepness of 8-9% gradient, but heck I was here so off we went. And your first time? Tell us more! Starting off in middle ring I soon moved to granny gear and thought “Wow, this is hard! Very, very hard.” I had to stop twice that first time up, my head was screaming at me ‘STOP! STOP! STOP! You can’t do this, it’s your first time, so just stop, you aren’t a good bike rider, you are crap, in fact!!” But every time I stopped, when my legs hurt and my lungs hurt, I got back on and kept pedaling. When I got near the top, everyone clapped and cheered me as I approached! Wow you would have thought I had come first! Not last! See that’s the support you get from these lovely ladies in CWRB! When I told them I stopped twice, it was met with “Hey wow you only stopped twice?? You are doing amazing, what a great job, well done!”,
I had the biggest smile on my face. I did it! I really did it! After riding onto the look out and taking some amazing photos, I thought “Wow! I can do this!”
Since then, each week I do what I once thought would be impossible - the Coot-tha climb. Once you achieved it, did you set any other goals? Definitely. The next hurdle was to ride up without stopping. This was hard, as I seemed to have developed a mental block at one particular spot around ¾ of the way up (for those who know the climb, at “Shut up legs”).
I would feebly say “shut up legs!” to myself… but really it’s “Shut up head!”
But for a while, I felt as though I couldn’t crack it. How did you finally conquer it? I put a post on the Brisbane CWRB forum and asked for advice on how to mentally accomplish the climb, rather than physically do it. I had so many suggestions and comments but decided to choose the ‘count in your head’ method to try on the next ride.
As I had been doing more riding, I didn’t notice I had been getting fitter.
One morning, I just felt extra determined to ride up without stopping. I even allowed myself to say it aloud… and so off we set! Boy oh boy what a mental challenge. I counted from 1-20 over and over and over until I got to “the spot”. I took a deep breath, counted up to 40 then back to the start **ONE, breathe, TWO, breathe, THREE, breathe, FOUR, breathe** It helped regulate my breathing so I wasn’t hyperventilating and it also had the added benefit of achieving the “Shut Up Head” thing as the mental chatter didn’t have a loud enough voice over the counting. Also, I didn’t tell anyone this at the time, but during that first time riding up without stopping, I thought about my Mum, who had passed away from cancer in 2002. I thought about the battle she fought to beat the illness that was killing her, and of her determination to brighten others’ days even as hers was ending. And in an instant I knew I could do it. I even talked to her in those final pedal strokes to gain the extra strength to keep pushing to the top. I grit my teeth and before I knew it, I was crossing over the QOM line and I had done it!! I was exhausted, my legs were shaking, and I couldn’t talk but I had done it! It was psychological! I had it in me all along. Any advice to others who have a challenge in their minds but they’re a bit nervous? When it’s your turn to meet your own mountain, whether it is literal (Mt Coot-tha, Mt Gravatt or Mt Nebo) or figurative (a struggle or hardship in your life), what I try to remember is to count to 20, breathe, and pull inspiration from those you know who have fought with every ounce of their being to beat something. My guess is you will have more than enough to make it to the top, and heck you might even go up for a second time!

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