Eight days ago I arrived at the beach in Monaco and in doing so completed the world’s first Alpine Coast to Coast. My mission: to climb the highest peaks in each of the eight Alpine countries and cycle the distance between them, starting on the Coast of Italy and finishing on the Coast of France.
It was the biggest challenge of my life.
I went through so many dark moments in my mind; when I didn’t think I could do it, when I was so cold I thought I would break, when I hurt myself, when I was in tears feeling like I’d hit rock bottom, when the weight of the challenge and what lay ahead seemed too much to bear. My mind often struggled to deal with the effort ahead and focused on negative thoughts and feelings. Yet on the other hand, deep down, I knew I’d never felt stronger. I was totally out of my comfort zone, yet somehow within it. Then there were the darkest moments when climbing and cycling in the night; climbing to the summits of Duforspitze, Mont Blanc and Gran Paradiso, with nothing but the beam of my headtorch and my own thoughts to look at.
Dealing with negative thoughts
But what of my thoughts in the dark of night? What was going through my mind whilst climbing these cold, icy mountains, when every part of my body was crying out to stop? When my breathing was so heavy and my heart rate so high I felt my body might burst.
My thoughts? Often largely negative; “I can’t do it”, “I’m so cold”, “I haven’t brought the right kit”, “I’ve got a headache, what if it’s altitude sickness?”, “I’m not acclimatised”, “It hurts too much”, “I’m so tired”, “I can’t feel my fingers”, “What about the next mountain and the cycle after that, I won’t be able to do it”….
I learnt how to navigate my way through these thoughts, how to appreciate and accept them for what they were – natural doubts. How to work with these thoughts and ultimately, how to overcome them. I learnt how to trick my mind into feeling more positive. In my darkest moments I would tell myself I felt the opposite to how I was feeling. I would repeat the words “I feel strong, confident and positive” over and over again, until those words became the way I felt. Or at least until the sun rose and began warming my frozen soul and mind.
When being out of your comfort zone becomes comfortable
Over the four weeks when we were on the road, being out of my comfort zone became comfortable. Dealing with the unfamiliar became familiar. Hunting down the ability to produce my best over and over again, became my daily objective. Finding ways to uncover and unlock more strength, more resilience and more motivation was what I lived for. I loved it all. It became part of me. There was nothing other than the now. Living and breathing this challenge. Focusing on what we needed to get through today.
No past, no future, just living in the moment.
The Finish Line
When I reached the beach in Monaco, the first thing I did was burst into tears. Not exactly how I imagined it was going to be!
Charley and I had put everything into getting to there, that last stretch of 370kms cycle split into 252kms and 110kms over two days with a 3 hour rest sleeping on the floor of a carpark in Italy. Over the last two days, I’d felt such incredible highs, the feelings were out of this world. I couldn’t believe this was happening, we had done it. When I saw the sea as I hit Ventimiglio, I had another wave of excitement and a huge sense of achievement, as well as a massive WHOOP-WHOOP! I thought “bleeding Nora, I’ve cycled here from the Italian Coast, through all the countries and climbed to the summits of the highest mountains and now I’m back at the sea!”
By the time I arrived in Monaco, over an hour later, all I wanted was to get off my bike and out of my sweaty cycling kit. I wanted to call my Mum and tell her I’d finished, let her know she didn’t have to worry anymore. I wanted to go swimming in the sea and have wonderful dinner with Charley knowing that we didn’t have to get up the next day and climb a mountain or cycle across a country. In a way, I couldn’t wait for it all to end and to go back to my life. A life that I’m busy creating in the image of my dreams. A life that had been put on hold whilst we lived day in, day out of this expedition. A life that was calling me, begging me to come back, be part of it and drive it forward. A life where I could do what I wanted without the daily pressure to perform to my maximum, where I could just be.
The truth is, I miss it and have a feeling of empytness.
I miss it a lot and I’ve found it really hard to adapt, to come back, to settle into my life.
All the things I do feel empty by comparison.
My levels of what’s normal or acceptable are so out of whack. Take exercise for example, everyday for 1 month (bar 4 rest days) I exercised for between 8-12 hours per day. Every night I’d go to sleep and my heart rate would be over 100bpm trying to recover and pump oxygen to my muscles. Any exercise I do now doesn’t give me the same sense of satisfaction. The levels of my self-expectations are so high, everything I do in search of the way I felt during the Alpine Coast to Coast leaves me feeling empty.
It feels so silly to write all of this. Like I’m complaining about one of the best things that’s ever happened in my life. I’m not trying to complain, I’m trying to come to terms with it all.
To process it and come through the other end smiling and stronger again.I feel emotional as I write this.
This is the beauty of writing a blog, there are no rules. It’s my blog that I’ve shaped (with the help of your feedback), my corner of the internet where I can express my thoughts as they are, where I can be me.
Accepting it all as it is
This is all part of it, part of the journey. Dealing with the post-challenge blues. It’s inevitable that after such a huge, life-changing, demanding and intense few weeks that it takes a little time to adjust. Of course I wish I was waking up every day on a massive high, that I felt incredibly proud of my achievements and that I was using this high to drive towards my next goal. It will come, I know it will, but for now I have to let things run their course and accept myself for who I am and how I feel each day.