We were less than an hour into OMG, the first race in the excellent four-race Mississippi Gravel Cup, and I watched my teammate and age-group competitor Hardwick pedal away from me seemingly effortlessly. With virtually all of a 95-mile race ahead of me, it was not looking promising. The course, two loops that comprise one lap and two of those laps for the full distance, was challenging, with both punchy climbs and longer grinds. On the southern loop, the gravel was largely hard packed, which made it even more frustrating to watch the group I believed I belonged in roll away. Before I’d even finished the first half of the first lap, I was contemplating pulling the plug.
The start of the northern loop of the first lap was encouraging, a good surface and gentle climbs. Then maybe halfway into the lap there was new gravel. Lots of deep, loose, fresh gravel. It was so deep that trucks and even bikes had left soft ruts in it. Drifting into one, or trying to cross to the other side of the road, I could feel my front wheel slipping away. It was like a giant Zen garden of gravel that was being constantly raked by trucks, ATVs, and 100-plus bikes. I thought about pulling the plug again.
Finishing the first lap there’s a brutal climb — sadistically steep — where I struggled to stay above 4 mph. Again, I thought about pulling the plug; I was back at the start/finish after all.
But the southern loop was really pretty country; narrow dirt roads hugging the sides of rolling hills and shallow ravines of untouched woods. Very peaceful, even when you’re struggling. National Forests like Holly Springs really are an under-appreciated treasure.
At the aid station at the end of the southern loop, about 76 miles in, I was only a couple of miles from the start and thought about pulling the plug. Two guys who were also stopped there had already made that call — one had a minor but annoying mechanical issue and the other had no interest in wading through the north loop’s Zen garden. “You’re doing 300 watts to go 6 mph. No thanks,” he said.
I kept on, eventually finishing and being greeted by friends who had been finished long enough to change clothes, eat lunch, and relax.
The key to finishing was to stop focusing on why I wanted to quit and come up with better reasons to keep going. When I first thought about quitting, it was only two hours into the race; my wife had the car and was exploring nearby Oxford. Pulling the plug would have meant ending her visit. So I kept on.
At the end of the first lap I kept going because the brutal climb was now a known quantity. I’d done it once; I could do it again.
Pulling the plug in the deep gravel of the north loop would have meant … well, I don’t know how I would have even gotten out of there. The only real option was to keep going.
The last moment of truth was at the rest station with two guys who were already quitting. It would have been so easy to just head back to the start with them. But the only reason to do that would have been to avoid the deep gravel. That was also a known quantity, and I figured that going through it a second time would be easier psychologically because I had a better idea of how long it lasted. And maybe there was a more passable path along the shoulder.
Turns out it wasn’t easier, and there wasn’t really a better path on the shoulder. But at that point I’d made the decision.
At the finish, my wife told me how much she enjoyed Oxford: Visiting Faulkner’s home and hearing barred owls in the woods around it. Lunch at a Greek restaurant on the Square. Exploring Square Books, a bookstore she’d always heard about but never had the opportunity to visit.
It’s really embarrassingly obvious. Just like focusing on where you want to go instead of the obstacle in front of you, you should look for better reasons to keep going instead of the much more apparent reasons to quit. Sometimes those reasons have nothing to do with you.
The ride: https://www.strava.com/activities/8355013935
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Seeing a notification that one of your latest "150 Words" has landed in my Inbox means several things. The first hits right away - an immediate smile, because I now have something to look forward to reading. The second is the ability to relate to something you have written. On the latter, I did several head nods on your thoughts on "pulling the plug". But it was your conclusion that really hit home - giving voice on ways to overcome those thoughts - by offering "The key to finishing was to stop focusing on why I wanted to quit and come up with better reasons to keep going. " Simple, yet powerful....love it!
You’re too tough to quit.
And you’re not a quitter either.
Great job on finishing.
Great read too