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Month of Pain

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Like a lot of other Whistler locals I spent the month of September on a mountain bike saddle, hunched over, heart thumping against my ribs, lungs gasping for oxygen, the remnants of a strawberry banana energy gel running down my chin.

Still, it was hard not to smile. When you meet the eyes of a fellow rider and see the same strange mix of discomfort and joy; when supporters and volunteers call out your name at aid stations; when you somehow manage to keep those pedals turning over, knowing that every spin of the wheel brings you that much closer to home, all is right with the world.

They called September the Month of Pain, and while it was quite painful at times I enjoyed almost every minute of it.

My personal Month of Pain kicked off with the West Side Wheel Up on Sept. 9, followed by the two-day Samurai of Singletrack on Sept. 16-17, and wrapped up with the Cheakamus Challenge Lite course on Sept. 23 — if you can call 42 km with all the hardest climbs and singletrack of the Cheakamus Challenge “Lite”.

Not being the world’s greatest athlete, and always trying to make up for a lack of natural ability with hard work, it’s been a long time since I first bought into the whole idea that “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Try hard and do your best, the thinking goes, and always remember to have fun.

Some former teammates and coaches would probably call that loser talk, and in a way I’d probably agree. But when you’re young and genuinely love sports, but have exactly zero chance of ever representing your country at the Olympics or joining a professional sports team, sometimes you have to be realistic.

I’m glad there are people out there who are winners, who think it’s nothing short of failure to place second. For me, watching grown men cry after losing the Stanley Cup final — almost all of them millionaires with trophy wives and full trophy cases back home as a testament to a life of excellence — has always been one of the most profound images of what it truly means to be an athlete.

I’ve always respected great athletes, and all the riders and runners who hammered their way through the Month of Pain deserve a hell of a lot of respect.

But in a way I have even more respect for the guys and girls who ride along at the back of the pack. One of the coolest things about the Samurai is that the last place riders always get the loudest cheers of the day, with the fastest riders joining in. The top racers know that the slow riders usually suffered the most to get to the finish line, and some riders were on course for 12 hours and needed headlamps to find the finish line. Some of those riders were cut off on the second day because of the rain and dark, but went back for an unscheduled third day to finish the route properly. Now that’s worthy of respect.

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