Ever since I started doing Crossfit several years ago, I’ve been drawn to stories of people who lean into physical challenges, from super- intense workouts (Crossfit calls them “Hero WOD’s”) to the achievements of differently abled athletes and others with physical limitations who push themselves beyond what they thought was possible.
Of all the amazing stories out there, 24-year old Amanda Coker‘s recent cycling milestone blew me away.
Amanda averaged 237 miles per day on her bike (12 hours of constant riding) for 365 days–from May 14, 2016 to May 15, 2017–on a seven-mile loop in Flatwoods Wilderness Park in Thonotosassa, Florida to set a new world record for most miles biked in one year…86,573 miles.
To put that into perspective, a good amateur cyclist rides 300 – 600 miles a month. The best ride 800 -1000 miles a month. Then there’s Amanda: She averaged 237.1 miles a day–that’s 7,211 miles a month–for 12 consecutive months. That defies the limits of performance.
The previous women’s record was 29,603 and the men’s was 76,076 miles. Not only did she nearly triple the previous women’s world record of 29,603 but she also blew away the men’s record by well over 10,000 miles!
During this grueling 52-week journey, here are just a few examples of what Amanda overcame:
– Temperatures ranging from 27 to 114 degrees.
– Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine and Tropical Storm Colin plus floods and lightning.
– Just 5 – 7 hours of sleep per night.
– 6,000 – 6,500 calories burned per day.
In addition, Amanda suffered road rash from run-ins with rogue riders, saddles sores she would “rather not discuss in detail,” and consistent skepticism from the endurance athlete community who doubted such a feat was even possible.
The Bigger Question: Why?
After discovering cycling as a teenager, Amanda began racing, placing 6th in the junior national championships in 2010. A year later, while riding with her father near their home in North Carolina, she was hit by a car and suffered a traumatic brain injury and numerous other injuries. Unable to attend school or work, Amanda began to withdraw from life, suffering from anxiety and depression as she faced an uncertain future. Then, in 2015, sensing the need to break what had become a pattern of lethargy and self-pity, she decided to get back on the bike.
At the urging of friends and a record-breaking cyclist named Kurt Searvogel, (the men’s world record holder) she set her mind–and her body–to the seemingly impossible task of 365 straight days of cycling.
The sheer tenacity she displayed in logging hundreds of miles day after day not only strengthened Amanda’s sense of purpose and resolve, it inspired others to push beyond their own self-imposed limitations as well. In fact, so many riders who showed up at Flatwoods Park to ride with Amanda have set their own personal records that they created a large poster with the names of the “100 and 200 mile club” to document their achievements.
Granted, most of us will never accomplish anything physically close to Amanda’s remarkable achievement, but there’s a lot that we can learn from her grueling and gritty journey. Here are three that stand out to me:
1) There is virtually nothing you face that is insurmountable. For years, no one thought it was possible for a human being to run a mile in under 4 minutes. (Some medical experts said it was impossible–that the cardiovascular system could not process oxygen fast enough through the bloodstream). Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister changed the world’s thinking–and within a few years numerous other athletes duplicated the feat. Like the 4 minute mile, Amanda’s feat should convince us all that we are capable of so much more than the comforts of modern life cause us to settle for. If a 24 year old woman who nearly died a few years before can summon the mental and physical toughness to endure 12 hours a day in 90 degree heat on her bike, what excuse could we possibly make not to commit a fraction of the time and effort to strengthen our minds and bodies?
2) The power of why. I can only imagine how often Amanda was tempted to give up, but the searing memory of her life-altering accident (her father was also seriously injured) created a sense of purpose so strong that nothing–not even two of the strongest Florida hurricanes in a decade–could stop her. Instead of giving into bitterness, Amanda instead channeled her emotions into a burning desire to rise above her setback, bringing many others along with her. In her popular TED Talk, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, neuroscientist Angela Duckworth explains that the more people can see meaning in their work that extends beyond their own personal interests, the higher their level of passion, persistence, and achievement.
3) Routine rules. As author and peak performance expert James Clear notes, the most successful people in any field don’t point to their passion or motivation in reaching their goals. Instead, most learn how to, as Clear puts it, “fall in love with boredom.” Consider the monotony Amanda must have experienced as she endlessly circled the 7-mile Flatwoods loop–34 laps a day– for 365 consecutive days, 12 hours a day. It’s almost incomprehensible to me. But it makes a compelling point: Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated, but only a tiny fraction of people have the tenacity to embrace the discipline of continuous and deliberate practice.
I realize that, to some, devoting a year of your life to riding a bike for 12 hours a day is, at best, misguided and, at worse, pure insanity. But in a society increasingly dominated by personal comfort, self-gratification, and nearly constant distraction, Amanda’s journey is a fitting reminder of what’s possible when we commit ourselves to a single purpose.
It reminds me of a profound piece of advice Eleanor Roosevelt once gave to a graduating class: “Do something every day that scares you.” In other words, resist the constant pull towards passivity and the urge to settle. Instead, lean into your discomfort and develop the habit of spending time at the edge of your comfort zone.
Have you ever attempted a physically demanding challenge such as a marathon, bike race or a fitness competition? What would it mean to the quality of your life to challenge yourself–physically, mentally, socially or spiritually? Feel free to leave a comment–I’d love to hear your feedback.