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 Hitchock 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, or 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.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

21 comments

  1. amityskinnyguy

    The Hardest Part is the 3/4 mark of anything. A hill, a headwind just before turning around…
    The apex of suffering is somehow not the nadir of will. The hardest part is when you could go back but don’t.

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  3. David A

    The Hardest Part…Sinaai, Belgium 1983 It is 58-60 degrees and pouring rain. I am surviving this race by taking the left side drainage ditch instead of the right over a 900 meter secton of Arenburg forest-like cobbles. A Dutch kid and I fly up the left side alone while 80 others line up and ride down the right. I drift over to the first 5 guys after each crossing of this monster. 3 laps to go I take the right side drainage tiles….a Belgian kid slams his brakes on, I hit him full bore from behind and cart wheel over him and slamm down on my butt on the stones….i cant even walk…the ambulance guys help me up. I pee blood for the next 4 days from the impact…my top 5 chances gone…my body a wreck.

  4. randomactsofcycling

    The hardest part is prizing myself out of the coffee shop after the Sunday Group Ride/smashfest and going home to mow the lawn, wash the car and do the chores…….

  5. Big Mikey

    randomacts has it spot on. No matter how hard the ride, the most difficult part is having the strength/patience to be productive/sociable after.

  6. Souleur

    After David-A, I feel like my hardest is soft in comparison.

    My hardest part evolves year to year. It…which remains un-named morphs like a little monster. It isn’t necessarily a hill for me, a climb, even a ride. I can overcome any hill, any climb and any ride. It..for me is something diffrent. Last year, the hardest part was resting properly. Sounds funny, but it was hard for me to stop for a day, not ride tempo or slow up a day. This year, the hardest part was staying on top of my form when it came in and recognizing ‘the moment’ in the race when I could go..and others could not.

    So, for me, the hardest part is indeed the recognition of ‘IT’ and responding accordingly.

  7. Touriste-Routier

    Sometimes the hardest part is just getting out the door. For instance, when it is 40 degrees F, raining, and you know no one else is going to show up for the group ride.

  8. Jon

    Random acts is right on. The leaf raking ahead of me this weekend already feels like the hardest part after the thrashing my body will take on the Sunday morning ride.

  9. trev

    damn, I have only read 1 of your posts I enjoyed and identified more with than this one, and its on BKW…….gotta go look for it. Nice writing.

    1. Padraig

      Trev: Thanks much for the kind words about the work we run here. I (Padraig) am the common thread between the two blogs and would love to take credit for this post, but it just ain’t mine. This is a post by Robot, who was a devoted reader of BKW, but wasn’t among its contributors. He deserves full credit for this.

  10. trev

    sorry I missed that.

    but I have to add that sometimes the hardest part is getting all suited up to go out and ride, train, race etc……and have to tell your 2 yr old son how Daddy just got home from work but has to go out and ride the his bike. His bike without the babyseat attached no less. thats hard.

  11. todd k

    The hardest part this past Sunday at Barton Park wasn’t the sudden knowledge that my rear brake had ceased to function as I came barreling into the bottleneck of fellow crossers on the first lap after a great start. It wasn’t the sudden realization that I was going to crash as my front wheel lodged into the rocks as I made a futile last ditch effort to “ride it out” via some rocks just off course in a vain attempt to avoid a collision with my fellow crossers.

    It wasn’t the uncertainty as to what personal damage I would incur as I my bike endo’d, catapulting me up into the air. It was not the feeling of being “a bit banged up and bruised” and covered in mud as I picked up myself and my bike as the race started to pass me by. It also wasn’t the getting back on the bike after the crash. Nor was it the discovery that my rear tubular was completely flat.

    It wasn’t running the some odd ½ a mile to the pit as everyone single person in my category raced past me. Nor was it being heckled for not riding down the steep drop down on my flat tire. Or the 2 minute wheel change that left me 6 minutes back. Or racing against another field that had ultimately caught and started to pass me as I left the pit. Or having to race very conservatively on every downhill since I had one less brake than usual and didn’t want to carelessly take out some junior that was almost ¼ of my age.

    Nor was the hardest part finding that I lacked a reasonable answer when I asked myself why I was going through such an extreme effort to stay in a race that had clearly passed me by. Or having a full 40 minutes and 8 steep run ups to reflect on that question after the crash.

    No, the hardest part was the realization that given life and my schedule outside of cycling, this was likely my last cross race for the year and that it is going to be a long 9 to 10 months before that next cross race.

    It is hard ending a your season on that kind of note… knowing that in many ways you have to start again from what sometimes sometime seems like ground zero. Knowing that you have a lot of hard work in front of you. Understanding what that hard work entails and how it feels. Base, Build, Race. Endurance, tempo, intervals. January, February, March…..

    Right now it seems like an eternity before I will get an opportunity at redemption for this past Sunday.


  12. Author
    Robot

    @todd k – Lovely. Just lovely. Comedy. Tragedy. Pathos. Hope. You finished the f’ing race. Amazing. Circumstances, cruel as they were, DID make a champion of you in the end.

  13. todd k

    Thanks Robot! My efforts in this race actually continued up through last night…. I looked at my results yesterday and noticed they had me listed as DNF… I eventually was able to get that modified, but there is a certain level of absudity in pleading your case that you were 73rd on the day.

  14. Fdub

    The hardest part is gearing up and throwing a leg over when it’s cold, and raining, and you know your hands and feet are going to be in pain by the time your ride is halfway done. The second hardest part, that stinging feeling when you turn on the shower and try to melt your bones. Can’t stnad on your feet, can’t unbuckle your shoes or helmet, just standing there with crab claws for hands, waiting for Godot to show up and give you a hand, but that asshole probably doesn’t even know you exist.

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