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What is your 'yellow jersey' in fitness?

Health & Fitness column

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

It's July. For those of us who love to ride a bicycle that means one thing ... the Tour de France. This year is the 100th running of the Tour. It began on June 29 and will end on July 21. One hundred ninety-eight professional cyclists from all over the world are competing for the coveted yellow jersey.

The Tour is 21 days long with only two rest days. That's right ... these guys race 19 out of 21 days. And they still ride on their rest days! These racers will cover 2,115 miles during those 19 days. Do the math. That's an average of 111.3 miles per day.

I've ridden 100 miles in one day 20-plus times. It is hard. Most people only think about how tired your legs must get, and they do. But, it's not just the legs. Your back starts hurting, your neck aches, your hands start going numb, your behind gets really sore from sitting on that saddle.

I realize that this is what these guys do for a living but that doesn't make the suffering at over 30 mph for days and days any easier.

Think about that word for a minute -- suffer. Nobody wants to suffer. But often times, the difference between those who achieve their goals and those who fall short comes down to who is willing to suffer. Are you willing to suffer through that last mile on your run? Are you willing to suffer another 10 miles on the bike? Are you willing to suffer through another heavy set in the gym?

These cyclists are willing to suffer like no other athletes. Tony Martin is from Germany and races for the Omega Pharma-Quick Step Team, a Belgian ProTour cycling team. The 29-year-old Martin is a world champion and time trial specialist who crashed in Stage 1 of the 2013 Tour. Martin's Stage 1 crash was nasty, and he was lucky to still be in the race after losing consciousness on his team bus after the crash. It was so bad that his left lung was bruised and layers of skin were shredded off his back, preventing him from sleeping properly for several nights.

Tony Martin suffered. But he also kept pushing himself. He was back on his bike for Stage 2 at the Tour and even won Stage 11's individual time trial. The individual time trial was a 20.5-mile route in Normandy that started in Avranches and ended at the breathtaking island citadel of Mont-Saint-Michel. Martin averaged 34 mph and won the stage with an impressive time of 36:29, the fourth-fastest time trial pace in Tour history!

Canadian Ryder Hesjedal of the Garmin-Sharp team was also involved in a Stage 1 crash and has continued racing in the Tour. But it wasn't until several days later that people realized what a physically heroic accomplishment that has been. Hesjedal has been riding with a broken rib. "There's not much you can do about a fractured rib except to deal with the discomfort, so that is what I've been doing and will keep doing," said the three-time Olympian.

Stage 10 of the Tour came down to a sprint finish and featured the Tour's top four sprinters -- Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel. Tom Veelers is Marcel Kittel's lead-out man. Lead-out men exhaust themselves all day to make sure that they're in the front of the peloton with the finish line in sight. When the sprint starts, the lead-out men battle headwinds and elbows, amid a vicious pack of guys all trying to do the same thing, in order to clear a path for their team's lead sprinter. The lead sprinter takes the glory and the lead-out man disappears. It's a pretty thankless job. Veelers did his lead-out duties and began to drift back during the last 150 meters of race. As he did, Mark Cavendish and Veelers bumped each other, and Veelers was thrown completely from his bike onto the pavement at 40 mph in the middle of a frenzied sprint wearing nothing but spandex and a helmet. Ouch. And there he was the next day, Stage 11, ready to race again.

It is difficult for someone who is not a cyclist to fully understand how painful riding a bike can be. I can remember watching bits and pieces of the Tour several years ago (before my cycling days). I never knew why people made such a big deal about all of these guys riding bikes. Honestly, I thought it was a waste of TV air time. I get it now.

I doubt anyone vying for the Tour's yellow jersey will be reading this article, but you are. What is the yellow jersey in your life? A half marathon PR. A push up without putting your knees down. A podium spot in your next local bike race. A pull up. Losing that 10, 15, 20 pounds.

We all have our own yellow jerseys to win. They don't come easy. You have to be willing to suffer on your journey. Push a little harder. Go a little farther. When you fall down, you get back and keep on going. When you think you've reached your limit think about the words of Ryder Hesjedal: "There's not much you can do about it except to deal with the discomfort so that is what I've been doing and will keep doing."

Michele Moulton is a certified group fitness, boot camp and Spinning instructor with over 23 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. She operates Bodystrong Fitness offering group fitness classes at the Stardust Skating Rink facility. She is a Category 1 cyclist and the PCP Race Team Director. She is also a state auditor and the mother of two boys, Austin and Harrison.