Lost kit #1: It sucks. You’re going to love it

Stephanie Boland
4 min readSep 11, 2020

In which I sort of compare myself to world champion road cyclist Greg LeMond.

People always assumed I’d be good at PE. 5’ 9” by 14, I looked like someone who should be able to shoot a netball or lap my classmates on the running track. One naïve teacher even picked me for cross-country, an emergency stand-in for a girl who was injured and surely one of the worst times ever recorded on the course. For while I could hold my own over the short distance between two rounders’ stops, anything that required aim, skill or effort was out.

Arguably, PE lessons are not the best way to get people into sport. You can’t totally blame the teachers for that: with thirty pupils in a class and at most an hour to play with each lesson, it’s not surprising that the people like me — the people who just couldn’t figure out how to shoot that netball, or what sort of pace you need to start running at to be able to maintain it for five kilometres — weren’t going to get the (substantial) attention we needed to improve.

Nor is it really their fault that, with only a couple of sports each term, it was easy to go months at a time only trying things you sucked at. Who was going to draw out a childhood love of riding your bike, or suggest you take your sore knees off the pavement and on to a treadmill, when there was only ten weeks to learn tennis?

Add in the indignity of communal changing and the fact that nobody is excited to have you on their team when you throw a ball like you’re trying to wrench your arm out of the socket, and it’s easy to see how you can go through your teens thinking exercise just isn’t for you.

And yet, in my case, all that was only part of the picture. The real problem was this: I thought that when it was hard, I was failing.

Greg LeMond in yellow.

A couple of weeks ago, I was riding with my local cycling club up Beddlestead and considering the cost of stopping. It’s far from the world’s worst climb — the average gradient is 4% — but it stretches over a few kilometres, and not being a strong cyclist I was only about half of the way up when I started to feel terrible. (Remember the heavy panting at the beginning of Kraftwerk’s “Tour de France”? I sounded a bit like that.) The four other guys in the group were out of sight, and one rider had already turned back.

But whether it was the shame of having to explain I’d given up, or the knowledge that, despite all present evidence suggesting the contrary, it is physically impossible for a hill to last forever, I kept my legs moving. And even though I was in what cyclists call “granny gear,” and even though it would have been so easy to get off and push — not even stopping, really! — rotation after rotation after rotation took me, inevitably, to the top. At 30, I’d learned a lesson which I hadn’t twigged all those years ago on the cross country track: as long as you keep going, you don’t stop.

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Back then, I thought the point where you started to gasp and ache was the point where you had reached the limit of your fitness. If you were good, I imagined, it felt good.

An undisputed banger, and also the noise I make when a road goes even slightly uphill.

Today, I know that on every run there will come a point where I want to die. A long cycle will include a point that feels more like death has already happened; every gym class a moment where I am furious at the instructor for conducting the training I paid for.

Somehow, knowing it’s coming makes all the difference. Once you learn to read feeling awful not as a sign that you’re unfit, but as an unavoidable part of getting fitter, then the sweat and pain transform from a signal to stop to a signal it’s working.

Former world champion road cyclist Greg LeMond has a quote which speaks to this sentiment: “it never gets easier, you just go faster.”* In other words: it is always going to suck if you’re doing it right, whether it’s week one of Couch to 5k or stage 15 of the Tour de France.

Who knew?

*(I can’t imagine LeMond was ever as slow as me up a 4% hill climb, but whatever. I bet he was a terrible goal attack.)