On Sunday, at about 5.30pm, I returned elated but cold, wet and exhausted after having completed the Etape du Dales 107 mile road cycling event. 10hours previously, waiting at the start line, my feelings had been very different indeed.
Spending 10hrs on a bike gives you a lot of time for thinking, especially when the friends you began the ride with slowly start to pull away from you and start to disappear into the distance. Suddenly, I was left alone, navigating the narrow stone-lined country lanes with only the biting wind for company.
I will not deceive you, 30mins into the ride and I was ready to turn round. I knew from speaking to my friends, who had completed the event many times before, that this was one of the toughest rides in the calendar. That news, combined with the brooding and bloated rain clouds overhead, the ever increasing wind and the fact that my gear ratio was potentially not ideally suited to serious climbing, made me just a little anxious.
I soon realised that if I dwelled too long on the task ahead my mind would start to turn against me, and therefore I chose a different approach.
I decided that all I would focus on was being in the now. All that mattered was the stretch of road that I was on in that present moment. Not the miles that lay ahead or even the miles that were behind me. Nothing mattered but the few feet of tarmac I was covering each split second. As I got used to this way of thinking, the thought of the finish and the pain of the effort began to fade away and were replaced by a feeling of…well, it’s hard to describe the feelings exactly, perhaps of calm or even the freedom of ‘nothingness’.
As the hours passed, I realised that life is like this. We set goals into the future that can sometimes seem too big to achieve. We see the unknown ahead of us and this can seem unnerving and overwhelming. But if we can just stay in the now, to enjoy this very moment and not to think about what is ahead or behind us, we can start to enjoy the journey. And almost without realising, we can be further along the road than we thought.
And what about my ride? With just over an hour to go, I recognised in the distance the hunched figure of one of my friends. With an increased effort, I joined him and we crossed the finishing line together.
We all have our own life journeys and it can seem that we are sometimes behind or even ahead of others. But this is meaningless. Just set the goal and then enjoy being in the moment.