The Hardest Hour

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Of all of cycling’s records, the hour stands apart.

We love cycling for the transformative suffering on display ascending amid the majestic ski stations in France. The searing, soul-stealing pain that surely marks each lap of the track during a 60-minute bid for glory occupies a different place in our consciousness. This hour-long contest is the essence of man’s competition against himself.

For many of us, our hardest hour is not on the bike.

It is a dark place we know better than we think even if we will never, ever wind up a 54×14 on a velodrome with a shot at fame.

The hardest hour started minutes ago when you should have gone to bed.

Instead you’re reading this essay. Or sitting on the couch with someone warm and loving. Drinking Scotch with a television on.

The hardest hour kicks off around 10 p.m., without fanfare or a starting gun, when you know you should go to bed in order to rest tired legs and weary eyes.

Getting an extra hour of sleep for an entire week is akin to an extra night for most of us. Maybe more. Some cyclists pay hundreds of dollars a year to ensure they are topped up on electrolytes and the right kinds of sugars all in order to get a performance edge over their friends on a group ride. That pales in comparison to the edge an extra hour of sleep gives you.

The hardest hour begins at 5:00 a.m. when against all odds you awoke at 4:55 and turned off the alarm five minutes away from your reckoning. The tender nudge from a warm leg was all it took.

The hardest hour almost kept you from driving to go for a ride with a friend you haven’t talked with face to face in over a year. Or was it two years? Three? Is an hour to drive for each year of absence really too much? All it took was a few white-knuckle, 53×12-powered descents to be back at the elemental togetherness that transcends separation and defines true camaraderie.

You push. You fight. Our hardest hours are seeded with what writer Steven Pressfield calls “Resistance,” a slow leeching of the sack of poison that we all carry inside. That we have the bike means we’ve stitched it up as best we can. Pity those whose veins run thick with it. You at least know you have the tools to overcome.

We can also use the preparation and execution of an hour record as a window into the professional’s life. What amateurs don’t see is that every day of a professional’s life is made up of a progression of hard hours. They chain them together like cigarettes. For a professional cyclist, worth is accounted for by the watt, nourishment is measured to the gram, love is meted out by the minute and recovery is scheduled to the hour.

For the rest of us, the true measure of our success and failure is revealed by our performance during the hardest hour.

What is your hardest hour?

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12 comments

  1. Adam

    After waking before the alarm just as you do, usually before 6am, I hop on the bike and ride to work. Slurp back some coffee and I go about my nine and a half hour work day. Then it’s back on the bike for the hour ride home. I barely have time to shower and cook dinner before the wife comes home but I manage. Then, it’s time for the second job to begin. By nine or nine-thirty, my lovely wife is already in bed. I finish up with the second job around ten or ten-thirty and meet her there.

    My hardest hour is also the best hour of my day. It is the short bit of time that I can sit and enjoy the recounting of the day with my wife over dinner, a glass of wine or cold beer, knowing full well that my time with her is ticking away before I must go back to work.

    Tomorrow, I will no longer have to place my wife in the back seat of my career objectives. I’ve given up one job for the other. Not because the work is too much or too hard, sure I’m tired but I’ve always been tired. Because two months ago, I married the woman of my dreams, my biggest supporter, the one who without this next step of my life wouldn’t be possible. I look forward to more hours with her.

  2. Running Cyclist

    Brilliant. Without question, my hardest hour is not only 10pm, when I need to get to bed, but also 8pm, when the temptation to indulge in worthless calories is at its peak.

  3. Tom in albany

    Watching the weather forecast at night and trying to decide if I’m a cyclist or a father/husband first. Forecast is for severe thunderstorms, heavy rains, and, possibly, good-sized hail.

    I’m a father/husband first but the cyclist in me died a little when I set the alarm for my drive-to-work-time.

  4. Cory Burns

    My hardest hours were last year with new born twins along with a five year old daughter at home and the only training time i had was at night with the light on my helmet when everyone else is asleep. the rides always started off the same way, using the same roads almost every night because A. i knew the pavement well and knew i would not be surprised by a unknown pothole or shoulder that disappeared and B. my wife knew where i would generally be had something happened. Doing threshold intervals at 9-10 pm after a full day of work and being a dad when i got home were the hardest rides i have mentally ever done. this year i have more time, the tan lines are back and i take advantage of every mosment i get outside. the suffereing seems easier this year and i welcome the nights now instead of dread them as time to kit up and do a workout. i look at the clock these nights and smile knowing i can go to bed and rest or make a drink and relax with my wife. the rides and relative suffering being done for the day hours before.

  5. cormw

    I think I have two hours that are the hardest for me.

    First is the hour I lose with my wife at night when I have to go to bed early (9 p.m.) so I can wake up early enough to ride before work.

    The second is the hour I lose by waking up early (4 a.m.) to get my pre-work ride in.

    Both hours cause me to lose time with my best friend, but I’ve convinced myself that losing those two hours will allow me to have more days with her down the road, short term pain for long term gain.

  6. Pingback: Hard enough | August Cole


  7. Author
    August Cole

    Good to know I’m not alone.

    Vince – I’ve had some pucker factor moments at work but nothing has been as challenging as dealing … a with 2-year, no wait 3-year olds, actually almost 4-year olds… kids. Even angry adults are usually rational somewhere inside their addled brains.

    Cory – I upgraded my lighting year after needing a “gotta get outside” ride at 9 pm last fall. If you can motivate with that deep fatigue, you can do anything.

    Adam – Good luck with your next big effort. Sometimes you have to take a flyer to get what you want. Better yet when you have someone with you along for the ride.

  8. Markus

    The five minutes it takes me to get up and put on my indoor kit to hop on the trainer on a cold morning when it’s too cold or dark to go outside is my hardest hour. Once I have my caffeinated gel and some water and start spinning, I am awake and thinking to myself, “my friends/competition are still in bed, and I’m training!” Then I know I can win at the next race.

  9. SusanJane

    My hardest hour is listening to a certain commentator who doesn’t know spit about cycling and having each hour stretch on and on and on and on and on. I honestly pity his ex-pro co-commentator for having to sit mute through another mangled name, misappropriated term, or outright wrong basic principle. Learning on the job is one thing. But still learning things your average fan knows a year later? My god. If this one is primary for the Tour I just might boycott.

  10. Matthew

    Midnight until 2 this morning when my son and daughter got me up 5 times between them was a bit harsh. Then up at 5:20 for some top draw mountain biking round Yorkshire (I’m I’m holiday) before a day of child juggling, worth the pain.

    Extended sleep deprivation, work and serious cycling is a recipe for disaster – last year was a disaster after my immune system gave up following 2.5 years of abuse, really appreciate my riding now

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