The fight with our own ego

By Laura Pöhlmann 

Hello cycling, hello world, hello challenge!

When I started gravel cycling in 2018, everything was exciting. I wanted to be like the cool kids of Instagram, those guys that ride their bikes over gravel in the most remote areas. It was soon clear that my bike horizon was pretty small and every ride was an adventure. Like the Tour Divide, but only 20 km through the local forest. 

New places, plants and encounters with animals were all highlights. Birds of prey, wild animals, or strange beetles were out there, not so far from my front door. The more I rode, the further I got and the bigger my world became.

That was the moment when I started to compare myself.  Idols or local celebrities were suddenly more realistic, and I set myself new goals, as I thought ‘I can do that too’. So I went from the small 20 km rides with friends quite fast to my first 40 km solo ride, to muddy 85 km rides with cold fingers in winter, up to over 150 km gravel events. 

Did I lose the moment? 

The limits of your own body eventually start to show. Either I was not used to the physical and mental strain, or I did not know myself and my needs enough.  I didn’t want the physical tiredness and exhaustion, or this tiredness in my head, because there were so many beautiful corners to experience out there.

There were trips where I went to my limits and beyond them. I could no longer enjoy them. I felt the consequences on the days after or during the rides themselves. Sometimes I didn’t know if I could even make the last kilometers to the finish. My body and my mind were simply telling me to stop. 

So I started to take better care of my body and experimented a lot with food and drink. I was no longer willing to risk my health and well-being.  At the same time, I wanted to go further and face new challenges. That can’t be combined that easily, can it? 

The thing with the relation

There are these crazy people who just ride 500 km in a row, or rock Paris-Brest-Paris. For others, home-bakery-home is a huge challenge. Basically every hurdle is the way to the next one and we get used to the jumps inbetween. Every jump is one more towards the end goal, only that there is no goal in reality, because once you get there, we make plans for the next thing. Inspired by idols, social media or expectations of ourselves.

These steps help us to grow, but sometimes we lose ourselves in comparisons with others instead of staying with ourselves. Competition catapults you out of your normality. With only the numbers in your head, you quickly lose sight of the moment and the relaxed attitude that a ride should have.

I think we need more courage to admit our physical condition in order to define the right goals for us, and not be driven by an ego that’s in competition with an illusory world.  Not mastering a goal, challenge, or tour is nothing bad, but it requires greatness to admit it to oneself. It requires the courage to fail.

About Laura Pöhlmann  (born 1988, based in Ingolstadt, Germany):

My first bike, a squeaky colorful BMX, was lying under the Christmas tree in the early 90s. Growing up in the low mountain areas of Germany without access to a mountain bike, cycling community or infrastructure, I lost the fun of cycling, and only in the big city jungle did I rediscover it a few years later. In 2016 I bought my randonneur, and two years later a gravel bike. I share my experiences and adventures around the bike under the name “malpurajo” on Instagram, Strava, and komoot.