As a coach and endurance athlete, I like to test my limits. How fast can I run a mile? How long can I hold a plank? Can I beat Gavin’s pace cycling on the “Chili Pepper” after downing an actual chili pepper?
Such tests require mental focus as well as physical strength. The truth is, your mind fatigues quicker than your muscles. If you can master the thoughts in your brain, your body can do amazing things.
That lesson is one I’ve learned many many times—but the test that truly brought it all home to me was a 2,700-mile bike ride I took across America. It started when a friend told me he was trying to raise awareness about human trafficking, a form of modern slavery that fuels the sex trade and impacts kids, women, and men around the globe. I offered to help in any way possible, and my friend responded: Would you spend 27 days on a bike, riding to raise awareness about the issue?
I loved the idea, so we mapped out a route from California to South Carolina—2,700 miles of road that passed through Phoenix, El Paso, Dallas, New Orleans, and Atlanta, ending in Charleston. But getting to the starting line in Los Angeles was harder than anybody expected. I’d injured myself while preparing for a marathon a few months earlier, and couldn’t train on my bike properly. Spending hours on the road in advance of the trip just wasn’t feasible. I was committed to doing the ride, but would I be ready to do it?
Planks instead of pedaling
Honestly, I was more concerned about the mental aspects of the ride than the physical training. I had chosen to ride alone on a fixed-gear bicycle—which would remind me of the pain and isolation faced by victims of human-trafficking. I decided to focus my mind and strengthen my body by doing planks, holding myself in position for as long as I could last. Each day I got a little better. Doing that was an epiphany: It gave me the reassurance that I could survive the ride. Mental stamina would keep me going even when my legs wanted to quit.
A week into the ride—doing 100 miles a day—I could feel my legs getting stronger. At stops along the way, I met with mayors, police chiefs, religious leaders, and other people and talked about the problem of human trafficking in communities large and small. The people had such big hearts. Our discussions energized me and helped me get back on my fixie each morning. After 27 days of heat, rain, wind, flat tires, and more than a few close calls with passing vehicles, I pedaled into Charleston and got off my bike for the last time. My fiancé (now wife) Sarah was there, was well as some friends and a local news crew. Everyone cheered. It felt so good to be done.
Crossing the finish line always feels amazing. But the lasting impact comes from training—getting up every day and pushing yourself just a little further. I tell my clients you don’t have to be an Olympian to achieve great things. You just have to commit to something—mentally commits. The biggest lesson I learned from doing planks and riding 100 miles a day is that the human mind is amazingly strong. If you can train your mind, you can do great things. The answer is really that simple: focus and commit and you’ll for sure cross the finish line.