It is all about getting better and doing your best, not being the best

29 January 2021

If you do not believe me, listen to Chris Boardman Desert Island Discs. He became the best cyclist of his time, but when he started out someone else was better than him.


This has certainly been true for me. In 1987 I ‘fell into’ the sport of climbing; I was 17. Climbing changed my life completely and has been one of the major influences in my life to date. I was lucky that I had some natural talent, but with climbing, it was the first time I had found a sport that I really wanted to improve at. I was realistic though; I was never going to be the best. I only had to look around at those that were performing at their limit to see how talented they were. I could walk into ‘The Vaynol’ in Llanberis and Johnny Dawes was playing Space Invaders with Paul Pritchard. These two were legends and truly inspirational, and I knew that if I really wanted to climb some of the routes they had done I had to get better. To do that I needed to work out what my weaknesses were and get better.


Chris Boardman, in his Desert Islands Discs, plays a song by a character called Baz Luhrmann. The song is Sunscreen. There are two lyrics that stand out for me:


Do one thing every day that scares you


Don’t waste time on jealousy;

Sometimes you’re ahead,

Sometimes you’re behind.

The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.’


I realised I loved bold, scary climbs and so that first lyric really worked for me. From there I had a list of climbs to do. Life was good and the picture shown is me on a climb in the Dolomites – two brilliant days. We failed on this climb in 1995, but 15 years later, we returned and succeeded. We had got better.


Jump to 2020. I had just returned from five weeks climbing in Patagonia. I was fit and fired up, determined to get strong again after years of parenting with young children and all the pressures of that. I thought that this might be the year I would climb ‘The Cumbrian’. Then Covid hit, boom! So for now that plan is on hold again.


I have always been a cyclist, but I have never been a fell runner as it hurt my knees and I needed to work hard at it. The immediate gain was not visible and I just felt sick after every run. Covid has changed all that. I needed a plan. I needed to see myself improving at things and Strava has been fantastic at showing those gains. That is where the second lyric from Sunscreen comes in – ‘The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.’


Sky Cycling used to talk about marginal gains. So, I purchased new shoes and my knees no longer hurt when I run. A physio solved a minor injury. And I can now run up hills that I used to walk up.


So, if you have got this far please think about this. If you really want to be the best, you first need to understand you must get better. Listen to Chris Boardman; he is a legend.


So, for any students reading this, if in your exercise time you can think back to this article, maybe look at that hill you normally walk up and try running up it. If your breathing gets hard then do not just stop; try to go just that little bit further, next time further again. This does not just relate to exercise and sport but to everything you do in life. Develop the right attitude, which is often referred to as a mindset – a growth mindset.


Mr Platt, Head of Outdoor Learning