How To Impose Your Will On A Situation

This Saturday, I crossed another thing off my list and did a century ride for the first time (technically it was 112.5 miles). I thought it’d be a nice relaxing ride in flat, midwest Indiana where I could take my time, relax and finish at my own pace with a few friends.

Of course, I’ve never done done anything close to 100 before and this was my first time on the bike this year, so this seemed like a great idea, but I’ll get to the full story in a second.

I did an interview the other day and had someone ask me “Not everyone can do what you do, what’s your secret?” I usually laugh at those questions as there’s nothing about anything I do that’s particularly special. I just don’t quit very often.

This past Saturday presented me with a lot of opportunities to quit (and I really, really wanted to take them), but, I simply decided not to. I imposed my will the race and I beat it.

There’s a few techniques I used to do so – which might be considered “secret”, but I don’t think there’s much beyond simple perseverance  Regardless, hopefully this is entertaining, helpful and useful the next time you run into a situation that simply needs to be “willed” into completion.

How To Impose Your Will On A Situation

Throughout this, I’ll be referring specifically to my century ride experience but you can use these techniques in almost anything you do.

Decide That You’re Doing It

Do or do not. There is no try - Yoda

The biggest decision is when you start. I decided that I was going to do it from the get-go. I could have said, “I’ll try to do it”, but in my mind when I set out that morning, I wasn’t going to “try”, I was going to do it.

Recognize & Embrace The Suck

Riding a century on a whim as your first ride of the season with zero training is not a “smart” idea. I just wanted to do it so I decided that I was going to do it. I realized quickly that it probably meant I’d be sore by the end of the day, but going into the race, I knew that it was going to suck. There was no getting around it.

I already accepted it and realized that was part of the deal of me signing up. That made what happened later during the race (slightly) easier to accept.

Break It Down

The first 56 miles of the race were relatively easy. But, while we started out in a large group with a bunch of other riders doing different distances, by mile 56, there were only 20 or so people left riding the full century ride and they were pretty spread out at that point.

At mile 56, my riding partner cramped up and headed home. At that point I didn’t really want to think about doing another cold, hilly, 56 miles by myself. We had already had some intense hills and a little rain and I was already cold, tired and wet with my nose dripping constantly, but I kept going.

However, I didn’t think about going another 56 miles in one set, I just thought about going 10. Then, every time I did 10, I mentally reset and did another 10. Over and over and over. No, it wasn’t anything crazy, but every 10 miles was a mini accomplishment and made it feasible – whereas 56 miles seemed much, much tougher.

I did the same thing when I was climbing some of the steep hills that seemed to take forever. Instead of worrying about the whole thing, I just focused on making it to the next tree, and then the next one. The cute butt strategy didn’t work in this scenario since I was surrounded by cows & sheep, but I could still use the same principle.

Say What You’re Willing To Give Up In Order To Accomplish What You Want

There’s one thing about knowing that whatever is coming up is going to suck & there’s another thing to actually say it out loud.

When I ask people “how bad do you want it?” – a lot of times they get offended because they think I’m saying they don’t want it bad enough.

Well, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

“Wanting it” isn’t’ very specific and whatever you want probably requires something more sacrifice than you anticipated at first. In order to get what you want, be very, very detailed about what you’re willing to give up in exchange for that. Because, you will be tested and asked for every single thing in exchange for what you want.

I literally started talking out loud to the “race” about what I was willing to give up in exchange for finishing the race.

  • I’m willing to be cold.
  • I’m willing to get rained on.
  • I’m willing to put up with all the wind you got.
  • I’m willing to bike endless hills.
  • I’m willing to ride the rest of the way alone.
  • I’m willing to do all of that…

But you will not beat me…so bring it.

Expect The Pain

Well…it was brought.

When you tell the world what you’re willing to be tested with – the world will be sure to test you with it. You better be expecting it to show up.

Not long after I left my riding partner,

The wind started to gust as a support car came up next to me to tell me to expect a thunderstorm bringing 30-50mph winds.

Great.

The temperature dropped about 10 degrees and the rain became more constant. The wind started to come on full force and no matter which direction I headed, it always seemed to be a headwind. Somewhere in all of that, I found my face kept getting continually pecked with what I thought was dirt or gravel. Confused, since there weren’t any dirt roads around – I quickly realized what it was – hail.

Awesome.

Miles 60-90 with no one around me. Completely alone – I nicknamed this part of the race purgatory.

Become Indifferent

Something happens when you expect the pain.

It’s not a surprise anymore.

It might be hard, it might hurt – but you can’t say you didn’t expect it.

It actually makes things easier because you get rid of the fear & anticipation of what might happen.

Instead of having to battle fear AND the actual work, all you have to do is deal with the work. That work might suck, but you can’t say you didn’t know it was coming. All you have to do now is put your head down, pedal, and focus on the doing the work.

Never Stop Moving Forward

It doesn’t matter how fast you go, as long as you do not stop

There were a couple of times where the wind was blowing so hard it almost blew my bike wheels out from under me. Race organizers would have pulled us off the course if they had been able to find us out in the middle of no where Indiana, but I kept going.

When that happened, pedaling was futile, but I’d get off and walk until that storm died down.

Realize No One Cares About Your Excuses

Somewhere between miles 70-90, I had missed my last rest stop had about 15 miles left to the next one and hadn’t taken any sort of break in about 45 miles.

At this point, I was mad (see above) and talking out loud to myself about all the reasons why I deserved to be mad.

I’m tired, I’m cold, I’m wet,  I’m hungry, my legs hurt, I’m all alone, and no matter which direction I go there’s always a headwind.

And then I looked around.

There was no one even remotely in sight except for a few dumb looking cows staring at me chewing grass.

I had to ask myself: Who are you talking to?

 

The cows don’t care about your excuses

 

No one cares.

 

No people.

No cars.

No bikes.

 

Literally no one.

 

Just some stupid cows.

 

There’s no one you have to justify your reasons for quitting out loud to. You’re all alone – you’re the only that gets to decide.

So, if you want to quit, go ahead and quit.

Otherwise, get back on your bike and start pedaling & stop trying to convince yourself of all the “acceptable” reasons you should quit. Stop whining. The cows don’t care about your excuses. They’re too busy being distracted by the strange human in tight shorts & weird shaped hat.

Quit or don’t quit. But the cows don’t care. So stop trying to convince them.

I shut up and got back on the bike.

Create Imaginary Enemies

I couldn’t get mad at the cows, so I made the race my enemy.

The event wasn’t even about 112.5 miles anymore. It was a personal competition between the race and it’s friends (wind, hail, and rain) and myself.

This let me create a “tangible” something that I could push back against.

Make It A Game

There were times where I was laughing out loud because the “race” seemed to be personally invested in getting me to quit and delivering one massive middle finger to my century ride attempt.

In response, I tried to laugh it off and ask out-loud, “is that all you got?” – only to see that – sure enough – it wasn’t.

Cue hail. Stronger winds. And lower temperatures.

Are you kidding me?

If it was anyone else it would have been funny.

Refuse To Lose

At one point inside of 85 miles, I determined that the only thing that was going to stop me from finishing this event was a broken leg. I figured I could walk the last 20 miles if my bike broke down and I had to.

But I was not going to quit.

In my mind, failure wasn’t even an option.

Get Angry And Yell

Seriously, this works better than you think it would – especially if you’ve already made your goal your personal enemy that will be conquered.

You need to get mad at your goal & make it personal. Because, if you really, really want something, sometimes it gets ugly.

When your imaginary enemy starts blowing you around the road, get mad at your goal. Get angry. Then fight it and beat it.

It works for the hulk. It can work for you.

Go Crazy

In a sense, I’m glad I did most of the second half of the race alone. Mainly, because if other people saw me yelling out loud & laughing at the wind in the middle of a thunderstorm, they’d probably think I was nuts – which at that point – I probably was.

But, as strange as it sounds, going crazy allows you to escape a little bit of the insanity going around you in a 40mph wind/hail storm.

Remove Yourself From The Situation

This might be the most “zen” recommendation here, but remove yourself from the situation. Forget all the pain, all the hills, and the storm (literally) happening around you. Pull yourself out of the situation and look at this from a third person perspective.

If this was a story (and you were the character), what would you root for the character to do? Do that.

Recognize Opportunities To Quit For What They Are

I finally hit mile 100 and the sky started to break. The rain was letting up & it warmed up slightly. 12.5 miles to go and I’m home free…or so I thought. Around mile 102, I was coming off a downhill and slowing around a corner when I realized there was about an inch and a half of gravel that I was about to hit.

Uh oh.

In slow motion I could feel the bike sliding out from under me as I crashed down on my left side.

I let out a yell – more from anger than pain. 10 miles to go in the race and I crashed – I should have figured as much with how things were going. At least my bruised hip took the soreness away from my legs.

As I dusted myself off  and looked at my bike, it would have been easy to give up at 102 and go home. I got the century – that’s what I wanted – plus a couple. But at that point it was personal. I recapped the race quickly and realized that all of the things that I had said “out loud” to the “race”, happened.

  • I’m willing to be cold. Okay, how’s so cold that you’re constantly shaking sound to you?
  • I’m willing to be rained on. Done. Plus how did you like the hail ?
  • I’m willing to put up with all the wind you got. Done. How’s 40mph sound?
  • I’m willing to ride alone. Done & done. Have fun out in purgatory?
  • I’m willing to ride hills. Good, cause you’ll have to bike ALL THE HILLS.
  • If you’re going to stop me, you’re going to have to break my leg. Well, we tried.

It would have been easy to quit. But I was 10 miles away from finishing what I started. I could walk that if I needed to. The crash was just the race’s final attempt at getting me to quit.

There was only one option.

I jumped back on my bike.

——-

In order to pre-empt many of the comments I know are coming:

I realize a century ride is NOT that far. Heck, the 112.5 miles was only 1/3 of the 3 legs to an Ironman. I thought it was going to be a nice leisurely ride that I’d be able to kick back and relax on with a few friends as we rode through the plains of Indiana relaxing and enjoying the view.

But, as things go, something unexpected happened and changed the game entirely. It became much less about a certain distance than it was a battle of the wills between me and the storm.

I wasn’t fast and I definitely wasn’t looking very pretty by the end of it, but after climbing a few hills for a few miles after the final crash, the course from from 108-212.5 was all downhill and as I zoomed around a few hills as the sun went down, I don’t know if I’ve ever been so happy to see a finish line.

THE POINT OF THE STORY

When things get bad, and you get rain, hail, wind and storms when you’re expecting, you can either quit and go home or you can push through it, impose your will on the situation and do what you came to do. If you do, eventually, the clouds will break and the rain will stop and the bruises you get will fade and you will finish.

Do something difficult – it’s worth it.

impose your will

Please don’t take this as woo-woo fluff fluff mental crap either. Actually get on your bike and ride it. Ride through a storm. Take a cold shower. Have a real physical experience. Experience it for yourself. Let it make you stronger.

Comments

  1. Sarah says

    you are amazing! this is the best thing i’ve read ever! it’s the truth. life is bloody hard sometimes and you just have to keep going – put your head down and plough through! thanks for this, needed it!

  2. says

    Congrats on the big finish man! Well done.

    I am missing taking on random weekend warrior challenges right now as I am sticking hard and fast to Jason Fitz’s BQ plan for me.

    Keep it up….Looking forward to following your Ironman training for the fall.

    David

  3. Deborah says

    OOOO-RAHHH Joel! That’s the warrior way!! I smiled all the way through this!! What you did isn’t very smart — seriously? no training? — but it damn sure is gritty. (And a great reminder that the Universe will deliver exactly what we ask it to deliver.)

  4. says

    Awesome achievement Joel and a great collection of tips – I definitely used a few of those when I cycled Land’s End to John O’Groats despite very limited preparation – 900 miles over 14 days while still at 250lbs!
    The thing I remember most is deciding, right up front, that I was going to finish no matter what.
    I also knew and accepted that pain was on the cards – saddle sores, cramps, muscle exhaustion, rain, freezing cold highland winds, and tortuous hills were all inevitable; carpal tunnel syndrome, buckled wheels, scrapes from falling off my bike were just a few of the unexpected delights that the fortnight threw at me, and just added variety. ;)
    In my training I had mainly ridden 10 miles and had a clear view of my usual comfortable 10 mile route. So the 60-90 mile days were neatly broken down into 6-9 reps. I knew emphatically I could do 10 miles, and so that’s what I did. Over and over again. 90 times in all!
    The hills were the worst. At 250lbs every hill was a thigh-searing challenge but I allowed myself to go as slow as I needed to as long as I kept moving. I knew if I stopped It would be easy to find reasons not to get started again so I sucked up the humiliation of being overtaken by people walking alongside and just kept moving.
    You’ve got some great additional tips there which I will definitely add to my repertoire for this year’s challenges!

  5. says

    Wow, what an awesome story. As someone who bikes everywhere, I’m kinda jealous you got to do this. I can totally relate to the laughing and talking to yourself on the longer stretches, so funny, but it does help. Happy to share in your joy over this.

    Although I cringed when I read ” I’ve never done done anything close to 100 before and this was my first time on the bike this year, so this seemed like a great idea”. You MUST have been saddle sore after that one. “I realize a century ride is NOT that far” too. A century ride is PLENTY far with no recent training. Congratulations!

  6. says

    Totally get it. People seem to forget sometimes it’s not the thing itself but the underlying process and lessons behind it.

    Once you’ve gotten used to doing uncomfortable things your body and everyone around you just kind of accepts that you’re willing to do crazy stuff, embrace the suck in order to be awesome. And them expecting that, sort of makes you accept something challenging as an inevitable event, something that will happen no matter what. It’s only a matter of time.

    Thanks Joel, now people around me think I’m crazy running around doing “impractical” and “unrealistic” things.

  7. davidd says

    That doesn’t look like the cheap road bike you rebuilt for a hundred fifty bucks. ;-)

    Thanks for the “old school” Joel vs Goal story! And thanks for sharing your “secret” for getting things done!

  8. Gail says

    Reminds me of the day I did 46 miles, one day, no training, hadn’t ridden in over a year, overweight, wind, rain.

    I said I was going to do it – and I did.

    I can’t recall how I found your blog but I’m so glad I did.

  9. Jason A says

    Congrats man! Had a slightly similar experience, decided to bike from the border of brazil to argentina (through uruguay) all without having rode a bike in 15 years. None of my days were centuries, but I could relate to the mental battle inside, I too was yelling at the wind at one point. I thought it was hillarious that no matter which way I went, the wind hit me dead on. Great post, and great achievement. nice one man

  10. says

    Another insightful and well written post, totally inspirational! Just what I needed this week. I have been stuck in my own purgatory, and it’s time to get pissed and angry!

  11. says

    This is an awesome post. I particularly relate to 2 points: embrace the suck and no one cares about your excuses; I saw this when I started doing marathons and juice fasts . When you acknowledge that something is going to feel like hell it empowers you. I learned this on my recent 15 day juice fast – when you know not eating for 2 weeks and being around people who cook and eat is gonna suck, the fast is easier because you are mentally prepared for the cravings and the food envy. Juice fasts also taught me that an excuse is just an excuse and people are moved by your actions not the reasons you give for not taking these actions.

  12. paurullan says

    Thanks for the post, one of the bests you’ve written recently.

    I totally understand and how you felt in the rain, my Olympic felt like an Ironman for me, so thanks again for the help lately.

    And congratulations ;)

  13. Ken says

    Great job! I know it can be difficult! I[m doing a 44 mile ride this Sunday, that’s easy. In June I’m doing the Cascade bicycle club Flying Wheels century. in July I’m doing the Cascade bicycle club Seattle to Portland Classic…200 miles. This will be my third year. The first year I did it in two even century days. Last year (and this year) all 200 miles in one day! I’m not fast, I started at 4AM and finished at almost 11PM. This year I hope to be faster but either way, I will do it!

  14. Jojo says

    There’s nothing that beats that feeling you get when you challenge yourself to do something, go through with it and finally look back at what you’ve accomplished despite all the setbacks and temptations to give up. Simply awesome!

  15. Caryn says

    Congrats on “weathering the challenge!” Thanks for sharing your great story. Glad you didn’t get mad at the cows; they’re not stupid.

    Really appreciate your taking us along on our inspirational ride. Looking forward to what’s next for you!

  16. Patrick Kyle says

    “n response, I tried to laugh it off and ask out-loud, “is that all you got?” – only to see that – sure enough – it wasn’t.

    Cue hail. Stronger winds. And lower temperatures.”

    My sister once said that the Universe conspires to test your resolve. Your adventure is proof that this is true.

  17. Melissa says

    Incredibly inspiring and I love/am addicted to this blog! You have amazing insight,
    ….Just one thing, cows aren’t stupid

  18. Valene says

    WOW is all I have to say. I’ve been dealing with this lately and I haven’t been able to really take on quitting and my own failure to take action. This has been such an inspirating story. I’ve missed reading your blog, Joel. You strive beyond the human condition of quitting and conquer life as if you can experience nothing else. Amazing triumph…

  19. Stephen says

    I’m sorry, but riding a bike for fun through some wind and cold is not worthy of writing a whole column and getting everyone to kiss your A because you did so. If you need pats on the back for riding a bike I guess you fulfilled your need, but here’s an idea, if you made some kind of self breakthrough that day, use that to keep building on instead of wanting some kind of praise for doing something you didn’t have to do in the first place.

    • says

      Hi Stephen, I’m sorry you don’t like my free blog. Feel free to check out any of the other sites on the internet. It’s a big place. I’m sure you’ll find something you like.

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