This post is dedicated to a complete stranger on a bicycle.
I ride into the office most days and I like nothing better than to feel the satisfied glow of having pushed myself physically as hard as I can every time - it's been a way of life for me for as long as I can remember.
Yesterday, as I was riding home, I noticed someone riding close behind me a practice known as 'drafting', where the trail rider gets an easier ride due to being in the lead riders slipstream and so having to do much less work against wind resistance than they would normally. It's a busy cycle path and so this happens pretty frequently; often riders alternate the lead so that everyone gets a bit of a break but not yesterday - he sat there for many kilometres, tight on my back wheel.
After a while, long after the time when the lead would normally change, I figured that he either had no intention of taking his turn at the front or it was all he could do to keep up and taking the lead appeared, to him, to be beyond his capability.
And so I sped up.
Not because I wanted to shake him off, but because I decided that if he was going to sit in my slipstream and let me do all the hard work without taking his turn at the front then he was going to have to work just a little harder for it. Yet every time I looked back he was still there! So, I pushed even harder; harder, in fact than I ever have on that ride. I reached home, stored (read that as 'dropped') my bike, grunted a very short greeting to my wife and son and then sat there in the garden making the trees move every time I breathed in, trying to force feed myself with oxygen!
I have no idea if that stranger on a bike was at his limit, or was just coasting and enjoying the fruits of my labour, and I don't really care. All of us need competition of some kind in our lives - something to push against in order to become stronger. It's been said in many ways by many people that the size of the hero is measured only by the size of the opponent, whatever form that might take. By simply being there every time I looked back, my 'opponent' provided the impetus I needed to look deep inside myself and find just a little more strength and courage to push myself harder.
My hope is that he had to dig a little bit deeper too.