Friday, July 5, 2013

Familiar Ground

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland)

What does a person who hasn’t done more than a 40 mile training ride for over 6 months do if they signed themselves up for a 2 day 150 mile bike ride?  I found myself pondering that question the evening before the MS150 last weekend, and came up with the answer:  You just do it (oops, sorry is this statement a copyright infringement, Nike?)  What is the worst thing that could possibly happen?  Leg cramps, dehydration, blisters, bad weather, flat tire, GI distress?  For each of these little problems, the solution would be typically 10% physical, 90% mental.  I was a little unprepared, but one thing that came to mind was no matter how uncomfortable I felt, it could in no way compare to the pain of physical therapy over the last 6+ months J.
First, I found that cycling folk are somewhat different from triathletes.  They are constantly using either hand signals (right turn, left turn, debris in the road) or yelling out instructions to direct and warn fellow cyclists- “On your left!” “Car back!” “Car front!” “Clear!”  “Bump!” “Hole!!” (the first time someone yelled “HOLE” in my ear, it scared the crap out of me and I nearly fell off my bike.  I’ve never had anyone in the bike leg of a triathlon yell out anything helpful, although I realize that this was a charity ride, not a race.  For all I know, in an actual cycling competition, maybe there are no warnings and no one cares if the rider behind them gets swallowed up by a man-eating pothole or gets run over by the car behind them. 

Day 1 started at 7:30am; everyone clustered together with their team.  All 1000 of us were herded through a 10 foot fence opening like grains of sand finding their way through the narrowest part of an hourglass.  Only it doesn’t hurt grains of sand if they were to collide with each other.  I think that little mass start was more dangerous than any of the unmonitored major intersections that we crossed.  I was impressed with the patience of drivers, and it restored my faith that not everyone in a pick-up truck hates cyclists.  Although this was a 150 mile ride over the course of 2 days, the first day was 85 miles.  Whoever thought of that was brilliant.  It was a huge psychological hurdle to be over the halfway point and feel as though you “only” had 65 miles left the second day. 

Of course the burning question for me on Day 1was what would my legs feel like after riding 85 miles.  Recall that come this October, I have my ¾ iron distance event that includes an 84 mile bike ride and 15 mile run.  Each time I started to feel some trepidation, I would think to myself that the body does what it knows it has to do, and on this day, it does not have to run 15 miles.  Instead I focused on making it through the day and then resetting myself so that I could do the same thing the next day. 

So I rode those 65 miles, along with my Team Vitamin Shoppe teammates and everyone else. 
It was a hillier, hotter, more gnarly day.  To be honest, my climb up some of those steep hills was driven by the very real fear that I would come to a standstill well before I could get my shoes unclipped (new shoes and pedals=more practice clipping and unclipping).   Do I endure the pain of the climb….OR the pain of falling off my bike and getting run over by passing cyclists?  Well, at least pushing through the pain of the climb would not have any humiliation attached to it.

The last 20 miles seemed rather endless, but by that point I was so desensitized to the discomfort, all that mattered was forward motion. To paraphrase what the Chesire Cat explains to Alice in the quote above, basically, you’ll eventually get somewhere if you just keep going far enough. Those moments where I was incredibly uncomfortable, I would look at my bracelet that says, “GRATITUDE,” and remind myself what this endeavor was all about, and it would readjust my attitude.  My gratitude was heightened as I rolled over the finish line, met by cheering volunteers and my family. This
included our newest family member, Clementine, our lovey golden doodle who was so happy to see me that she sat on my lap on the car ride home.  (You’ll be hearing more about the adventures of Clemmie as she continues her training to become a certified therapy dog.) She is very attune to changes in emotion and must have sensed that I needed some type of help.  Perhaps she thought, “what could be better for mom after she’s ridden her bike for a million miles on a 90 degree day, than a 30 pound fur coat on her lap?”  

And so all of the familiarities of triathlon have returned—the sweet fragrance of neoprene fills the air as I hang my wetsuit to dry in the bathroom, the refrigerator is now stocked with gallons of Gatorade, dozens and dozens of gels are stuffed into the pantry, water bottles take up more space in the dishwasher than dinner plates, piles of lycra workout clothes fill laundry baskets, and my training plan is posted on the refrigerator.  Somewhere along those 150 miles, a seismic shift occurred--I was an injured athlete no more.  For the first time in a very long time I felt like an endurance athlete. A crazed, slightly obsessed, ecstatic very grateful endurance athlete. 

A giant thank you to everyone who sponsored and supported me!!  Our team raised close to $6,500 for MS!  Yay Team!!