Okay, so it wasn’t 70. It was 69. Miles, that is. I did 69 miles on my bike after weeks of not being out on my bike. The last time Dave and I rode, we did a quick 17 miles and called it good. Since then, we’ve had stuff going on – events, travels and such – and the long rides and runs just haven’t been happening. But this week, I sat down and wrote out my long ride and run schedule leading up to Wisconsin in my planner and I had a “Oh, sh*t!” moment. My ride today called for five hours. FIVE HOURS. How could I do that after weeks of not riding? I wasn’t sure that I could.
And it wasn’t just that I haven’t been building up my mileage that concerned me. Last night, I came home from work with a headache worse than I’ve ever had. I fell asleep on the couch at 7:30. I slept hard, apparently completely oblivious to the noise Dave was making in the kitchen and the opening and closing of the front door just feet from my face. I woke up at midnight and went to bed, still painfully aware of the headache. After about a half an hour of not being able to sleep, I crashed again until 6:00 this morning. And I still woke up with the headache. Could I manage a ride of any kind today, much less a five-hour ride? I wasn’t sure.
I met some of my Academy friends, all of whom are also racing Ironman Wisconsin, at a nearby bank so we could all start together. I was thrilled to make a new friend in the group – one who bikes about my speed. She was lovely, and after months of texts and emails, it was nice to put a face to the name.
We got started, and I was even more grateful for the company once I felt how hard my body was having to work. I’ve certainly lost a bit of my bike fitness not having been out on the road. I’ve done lots of spin classes, but being out on the road is just different.
The first turnaround point was a gas station at mile 26 where Dave was sweetly waiting with a cooler of Pickle Juice, Gatorade and water. On the last mile or two leading up to the gas station, I was prepared to ask Dave for a ride home, but the minute we pulled into the gas station, one of the guys from the group, who was about to head back out, said something like, “How are you doing? Are you going to pull this out?” It was like he knew I’d been struggling. And immediately I heard myself say that I would. Somehow I would pull it out. I think my pride kicked in and I was unwilling to be a quitter in front of a teammate I’d just met. So I got some fuel and kept going.
Leaving the gas station, the road is nine miles to the next turn. And it’s a hilly nine miles. Again, my brain went into the gutter. All the hills and the heat were getting to me. All I could think about was how the next turn would be at mile 35 and that was already double what I’d ridden the last time I was out and wasn’t that good enough for today? I convinced myself that if Dave was at the turn with the cooler, then I would stop. But he wasn’t there. So I kept going.
I made the turn to the next hilly 7 mile stretch. This was the hardest part of the route. Twice I stopped riding and had to give myself a pep talk to keep going. Dave isn’t coming for you. He knows to stay away. He saw weakness in your eyes at the gas station, and he knows you don’t want the out even when you desperately want the out. This is the last hilly stretch. Just keep going. Finish this stretch and the cooler with Pickle Juice will be there waiting for you. So I kept pedaling.
When I finished that stretch, all that was before me was the Creek Road stretch that I regularly ride, which we had planned to repeat once for additional mileage. If I could get through the next ten-mile mostly downhill stretch, I’d be back at the starting point where Dave would hopefully be waiting with the cooler, and I could refuel for the last out and back. My new friend Jill and I chatted the most on this stretch, and I’m most grateful. Her company was exactly what I needed to distract me from the heat and the tiredness in my mind and body.
Back at the starting point, we got to refuel with Dave. He’d noticed my shaking and my uncertainty at the gas station previously. I think he could sense my rejuvenation at this stage of the ride. We were at mile 52 and had less than 17 miles to go. All that remained was a familiar out and back on Creek Road. He could see that I would make it, and for the first time, I could see it too.
I rode the last out and back – a ride I’ve done a million times – incredibly aware of every hill. My mind did all the work that last stretch. After having completed the truly hilly portion of the ride, there was no way I was going to call Dave for a SAG home on the stretch of ride that we ride more frequently than any other. So I pushed.
It took right about five hours to get those 69 miles done. I didn’t know when I set out this morning whether I could get it done. I had a good half-dozen moments, perhaps more, when I wanted to quit. But thanks to my teammates, Dave, and the miracle that is Pickle Juice, I kept going.
I probably shouldn’t have jumped from 17 to nearly 70 miles, but today was a good mental exercise for me. I’m a big believer that these endurance races are mostly a mental game. Put in the time and get the body ready, and the body will be fine. How the day goes depends in large part on how the mind does. And today, my mind was either incredibly weak or incredibly strong depending on whether you focus on the number of times it wanted to quit or the fact that it didn’t. I didn’t.
I’m proud of today’s effort. Proud and grateful. I haven’t been focused on getting ready for Wisconsin so today was a good kickstart for me to get my body and mind in gear for the race that is just nine weeks away. Today I saw that my body hasn’t forgotten what to do. It’s my mind that needs to get stronger. And it will with a renewed commitment to consistency in my training.
Thank you, team, for helping me get this ride done today. And thank you, my sweet Dave, for the wonderful support. You guys made all the difference for me today.