Cadence, camaraderie and conquering mountains on a bicycle

A few weeks ago I took part in my second cycling challenge in the Alps, in aid of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. This was a 200 mile loop around Mont Blanc, taking in France, Italy and Switzerland, ascending a total of 10000 m over the three days.

And whilst weaving my way up to the Col du Grand Saint Bernard at 2496 m, I was struck by the similarity between cycling up a mountain and running a start-up business – at least in terms of my own personal experience.

 Ascending the Col du Petit Saint Bernard

Ascending the Col du Petit Saint Bernard

A QUESTION OF CADENCE

Every cyclist has their own unique cycling style, or rhythm, which is usually the most efficient way for that person to cycle. While there are many factors that affect this (fitness, energy levels, bike setup etc), the end result is a unique speed at which they can turn the pedals, referred to as their cadence.

Trying to maintain a cadence that is higher or lower than your optimum can mean working harder than necessary or less efficiently. This is particularly crucial when ascending. Being with a group of riders, there is a tendency to change your rhythm to match the speed of others (often induced by a competitive spirit!). In the Alps, you’ll soon be found out.

Returning to the Grand Saint Bernard. Over the course of this 21 mile climb, ascending 2000 m, the natural rhythm of our group meant that we gradually fanned out up the climb, with about 90 minutes separating those that summited first, to those further back. But we all made it!

Now I’m not suggesting that every start-up business can be successful, but perhaps a large number of those that fail, do so because they deviate from a rhythm that they can sustain – be it due to financial resources, workload or otherwise.

 Col du Grand Saint Bernard @ 2,496m

Col du Grand Saint Bernard @ 2,496m

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY

Running a start-up is, forgive the cliché, a pretty lonely business. So one of the key things I get out these weekend ventures comes from the inevitable camaraderie of cycling with a group of like-minded people.

The first time a group of us decided cycling over mountains was the best way to spend our leisure time was two years ago when we took on the Traverse Aravis High Alps Challenge from Geneva to Nice. The week before we set out, our mate Pat was diagnosed with testicular cancer and so, of course, he had to pull out.

Whilst I’m thrilled to be able to raise money to support crucial medical research through sponsorship when I do these events, I’d be lying if I said that was the biggest kick I get out of it and that was especially true of this trip. What made this ride different to the others was that Pat was with us this time.

Thankfully Pat’s cancer treatment over the past couple of years meant he was (and is!) fit and well again, and so central to this weekend venture was going away with the same group of guys and, finally, getting Pat over the mountains.

Pat was pretty worried about his ability and I can totally understand why. He’d not been able to do as much training as the rest of us, a consequence of him running his own business too, and whilst he’d conquered his own personal mountain with the cancer this was his first real life mountain on two wheels.

TOO SUDDEN A TRANSITION

To my mind, nothing beats the feeling of jumping on the bike and setting out for as long and as far as daylight and time will allow, which is why I made sure I’d taken my bike with me wherever I was working and really ploughed time into training beforehand. Since so much of my work in running NuNano is cerebral, it’s great to be able to unwind and stretch the other muscles in my body, feel the wind rushing past my face and the blood pumping round my body.

Despite my pretty intensive schedule of cycling on the run up to the trip - much more in fact than I had done before the Geneva to Nice ride - I was surprised to find that the first half of the Grand Saint Bernard was the worst I’d ever felt on a bike. The constant uphill in 37 degree heat really sapped my energy, faster than I could replace it with various drinks and gels. I could only imagine therefore how Pat must’ve been feeling.

This particular ascent really made me appreciate my limits, both physically and mentally. But nothing beats that feeling when you arrive at the top of the mountain – your body is rushing with happiness hormones that you can stop cycling and end the pressure it’s feeling - nothing except this time, for me, the moment when Pat made it to the top of the mountain.

TRUSTING YOUR INSTINCTS

Pat had feared the trip the most, but he made it, refusing to give up but crucially doing it at his own pace. He could so easily have pushed himself too hard, too fast and burned out, but actually he did the smart thing and listened to his instincts.

A number of musings came back down the mountain with me – the sense that giving up isn’t even an option; that doing what makes sense for me on my bike makes just as much sense for me in my business. Building and developing NuNano in a way that might be different from those around me doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way to go about it – far from it, it’s what is likely to help me succeed. And, finally, that sharing the journey with other people is actually really important to me, and this blog is a good way of sharing it.