I’m in training for a long weekend family cycle ride. After struggling along the Coast to Coast last year, I realised that I need to get to grips with cycling uphill. Distance is not a problem. Downhill is a doddle. But uphill is different – it hurts!
So on Sunday mornings these days, you’ll often find me puffing and panting my way up Parbold Hill, which is about 15 miles north of Liverpool. It’s a mile or so of 15% gradient, which is a serious climb in anyone’s books. It starts off steep enough. After a few corners, when you’ve reached the village church and convinced yourself you’re nearly at the top, you turn around another corner and – oh no, please no... but yes! – it gets even steeper.
he first time I tried it, I thought I was going to die. No, I tell a lie - I was sure I was going to die. My lungs were bursting, I was sweating (and swearing) and needed three or four stops before I finally made it, just about in one piece, to the top – where there is a great view across West Lancashire and Liverpool, assuming you have enough spare oxygen to keep your eyes working.
The next few times, I realised death was probably not an immediate threat. I could get to the top of the hill as long as I didn’t mind stopping a couple of times on the way. Two weeks ago I got to the top with just one stop. I found going as slow as possible was the best way: it takes less energy and means I can keep going a bit longer. Last Sunday, somehow, I made it all the way up with no stops at all.
But even when I realised I could get to the top in one piece, I was thinking to myself ‘Why on earth am I doing this? What is the point of choosing to put myself through so much pain and agony, when there is absolutely no need at all to do so?’ How does this square with my ‘Best is yet to be’ post, where I was writing about just being, and not needing to achieve so much any more? Why can’t I just be sitting at home watching cricket, or taking the dogs for a stroll?
Hmmmm. It is a bit confusing.
Why do we sometimes choose to do difficult things, when we really don’t have to?
Surely we have enough tough times in our lives without having to go and deliberately find ourselves some more. Am I trying (in vain!) to preserve my alpha-male status? Or maybe it’s just a way of keeping boredom at bay.
But I don’t think so. It seems to me there something important about setting ourselves challenges to keep us ticking over, to keep us feeling alive. And I guess there’s a balance to be struck between being and doing.
What do you think? Have you done tough things that you didn’t need to do? And if so, why did you do them?