Audacity and cycling

In her monthly blog post – Collyn Ahart shares her approach to cycling goals and how she tackles challenges. Being raised on the other side of the Atlantic she sees a stark difference between the two cultures and how they view ambition.

It’s perhaps something we could all learn from, to have a bit of faith and push ourselves to believe we can tackle some of those big, scary goals.

Collyn Ahart

Books on entrepreneurialism and start-ups often talk about the importance of having – to quote Michael Acton Smith, “big, hairy, audacious goals”. These goals are often about changing the world for the better and to most people may look both naive and cocky. People will ask, ‘who are you to think you can do this?’

In my ten years living in the UK, one of the most notable differences to the North American culture I grew up in, is that on this side of the Atlantic, audacity is looked on with both skepticism and scorn. The self-deprecating British are wonderful in so many ways, but when it comes to having an entrepreneurial sense of self-confidence and the gumption to try, to put yourself out there and risk failure, American culture is far more supportive.

In the process of creating my own start-up, I tend to spend a lot of my time cycling thinking through the gnarlier problems brewing at work; and I’m often smacked with how similar my approaches to cycling and to business have become. I’m audacious. I take on big, hairy, audacious goals when it comes to both sport and business. Small goals are great, and they get me through the day to day, the month to month. But having a big scary one looming out there can make all the difference.

And people laugh. At least on this side of the pond. Who am I to think I can do these things? But they fail to recognise I’m not doing it for them, for their acceptance or approval. The world is bigger than that. In 2011, I’d never been on a mountain bike – at least not a proper one, and I thought I’d put a big hairy audacious goal in my calendar to ride the Absa Cape Epic 9 months later. People laughed. I didn’t even have a mountain bike, let alone know how to ride one. Let alone take on one of the toughest multi-day events in the sport.

But, I wasn’t doing it for them. I was partly doing it for myself, to prove to myself I could take on such a monumental adventure and succeed. However, mostly I was doing it to prove to others that if I could do it, in fact more importantly – anyone could. I was doing it mostly for the women who constantly tell themselves they ‘could never do that’, they’re ‘not built for it’ or that they could ‘never get back’ to the fitness they once had.

Now after over a year of illness and injury, of constantly letting myself down and struggling through even some of the most basic of goals (again, just like starting a business), I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and have given myself some big hairy audacious goals for 2014. Who am I to think I can get onto a few podiums this year? I could barely ride the Rapha Women’s 100 back in July.

My first goal is to get onto the podium of the Desert Dash, a 370km mountain bike race through the night across the Namibian desert from Windhoek to Swakopmund. This is only 6 weeks away and I’m treating it more like extended base training rather than something I’m going to peak for. But it’s still pretty scary and I know when 4am rolls around and I’m out on the course, my eyes and legs struggling to keep going, having the audacity to not only think – but to believe – it’s possible, will keep me moving forward.

This is what audacity looks like: belief. It’s not enough to want to do it. There has to be something, deep inside you that believes you’re capable of it too. It doesn’t mean we’re not full of self-doubt, but being audacious means having the guts to look that doubt in the eye and embrace your potential failure. Put it all on the line. It doesn’t matter what other people think of you.

I have the deepest respect for elite riders who’ve put it on the line and said, “Fuck it, I believe I can do this.” Particularly in a media culture that treats female athletes like we don’t know our place and does its almighty best to reduce our achievements to “hot bodies”. I am inspired by women like Sally, Sharon, Lydia, Rachel and Bex who put it all on the line without much support or significant funding, not because they win races or are extraordinarily strong, but because of their mental tenacity to believe they can do it. I would go into business with any of these women because I know they have gumption, guts, and a healthy relationship with failure.

So, who do I think I am swanning in here and believing I can win races? Well, the thing about audacity is that it’s not ignorant. Naive, perhaps, but audacity is above all else about having a good hard look inside yourself, at the good and the bad, and believing you can do what you set your mind to.

And just like creating a start-up, the key to success is not about making no mistakes and never failing. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who believe in you too, who are more experienced than you, who are willing and able to support you and guide you. And this first step, is finding a coach.


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