Milestones. Sometimes they’re physical and tangible, like crossing a state line to a place you’ve never been, and sometimes they exist in hidden spaces inside the self. Either way, they are a gateway to a new layer of self, a new dimension of seeing the world, whether their impact is large or small.
This week was our scheduled 100-mile ride, or a “Century”, as spandex-clad Tour de France fanboys tend to call it (and as it’s known in the world of cycling). Century sounds a bit epic and intimidating, like standing at the edge of a cliff and looking way, way down at the infinite landscape stretching on and on for 100 whole miles. 100-miler sounds more like taking one mile at a time, in small bites, til you get there.
No matter what you call it, I was doing it. The team met in a new spot along the Pacific Coast Highway, and I managed to somehow let my GPS lead me astray in getting there. As if 100-miles were not intimidating enough, I ended up arriving just in time to throw on my helmet and scramble onto my bike to catch up with my already-wheeling away teammates.
My goal this week was to relax, to let myself have fun this day, and not worry too much about my time, or about being separated from the pack. Typically anyway, everyone sort of spreads out during the long rides. I was going to keep it steady, focus on keeping my breathing even, and avoid panicking about anything for every mile until the end.
It was going okay, but then it wasn’t so okay Within the first 20 miles out into Ventura County, I began to get a familiar cramping in my thighs and hip. For some reason, my body really does not like that stretch of the PCH. Luckily, I managed to get to the mile 25 SAG station and hop off to get in a long, long stretch session, which enormously helped things.
There are always spots on the PCH that are no fun, like long climbs along lots of beach-going parked cars, and stretches where you can’t really see much of anything cool, and you just have to keep on truckin’ til you do get to something cool. I can definitely think of worse places to bike, scenery-wise, but sometimes the cars and trucks zooming past you while you hug a small sliver of shoulder can be intimidating.
Overall, I was handling my ride pretty well, all things considered, and I was keeping up a nice little merry clip– not all-out, but a good, happy-legged pace. Best of all, even when I had to dig deep, my mind hovered just above that really nasty ditch-place, the one that’s really hard to get out of, once you’re in there, and it’s a really dark, desperately tragic, alone spot to be in.
At the second SAG spot, at the turnaround to head back out to Los Posas in Ventura County, I met up with one of my teammates, Lisa, who’d already “been there, done that” at Ironman Coeur D’Alene the previous month, but who had come out (along with many other already Ironman teammates) to ride support with us along the way. Lisa and I chatted easily along the road, maintaining a 15-17 mph pace along most of the flats and moderate inclines. She told me about how she maintained an easy-going pace, and still had plenty of time to finish her race. Of course, I thought, she had 17 hours to finish hers, whereas Vineman racers only have 16 hours. Yipe and yipe.
Before I realized it, I’d cycled out to Ventura and back to the first SAG station. Over 60 miles killed, and only 40 to go. And I still hadn’t gone to a really dark place. Things were not sucking. I was actually enjoying myself. And keeping a decent pace (for me) just over four hours in.
Back again to the turnaround I went. Lisa had left me to myself at SAG, but the fun I’d had riding along with her on that second loop remained. Though, admittedly, the cycling was getting a little bit harder as my legs and body fatigued, my attitude and outlook were still, as compared to my other monstrous cryfests, really awesome.
I saw my speedier teammates heading back toward the start line, figuring they were probably about an hour ahead of me, overall. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Conversely, if you’re feeling happy, then you don’t feel much like comparing yourself to others. Seeing them speed by, the only thing I could think was, Wow, they must be really happy to be that much closer to being over this ride.
I knew it would be my turn to be “over” the ride soon enough. Heading back toward the start, there was a ton of traffic, plus lots of long, not too steep climbs that really required some deeper digging, just to get past them.
Finally, I could see it, the FINISH. Seven hours and twenty minutes in, I was almost there. It was happening. I could almost taste it. Then, SPLAT!
It wasn’t so much a “splat” really, but it happened as fast as a splat would. Something caused my handlebars to jerk crazily to the side, and, before I knew it, I was flying head-first toward the ground at 16 mph. Luckily, my years of horseback riding training had subconsciously prepared me for any fall, as if my brain knows, “Ground contact is immanent. Prepare to go limp in 5, 4, 3…”
My shoulder took the brunt of the impact, although I quickly became aware of my face sliding across the pavement as well. Just to show where my priorities were at that moment, I remember thinking: No! Not my face! I have meetings at company headquarters tomorrow! I tried to pick my head up as much as I could, even though sheer inertia (and my bike) had me somewhat pinned to the concrete.
I landed with my bike on top of me, and I was in pain. Luckily, it was a holiday weekend, so there were lots of people around to witness my spill. Some woman in a long, jersey dress had stopped along with a couple of men and another, older woman. The jersey dress lady pulled my bike off of me and asked if I was okay. My knee, shoulder and face were bleeding. She was convinced I had hit my head (I had not), and called the paramedics. Meanwhile, a nice man helped to pick me up off of the ground, once I determined that nothing was broken.
I called Jason, who showed up almost immediately (I was only a half mile from the finish), and waited with me until the paramedics appeared, which was also almost instantaneous. They slapped on a crude gauze bandage and put me through some standard brain damage tests. Then, we loaded my bike into the car and headed back to where I started.
Tears flowed freely, maybe a bit because I was in shock, but mostly because I had experienced the greatest ride of my life, and had it end SO suckily that it trumped all of my other spills and mishaps. My insides were stuck on some kind of looping coaster of emotion and couldn’t make sense of any of it.
The next day, we were scheduled to swim two miles and run 20. For obvious reasons, swimming in salt water was out, but I was determined, soreness and all, that I was going to attempt the run.
I started out a little faster than I should have, given that both of my knees and body were pretty banged up. By mile 11, my shoulder and back were beginning to cramp up . I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to continue.
“I’m just not sure about this…” I began to tell Jason.
“Listen, I know you can run a marathon, but, mentally, I need you to finish what everyone else is doing. If it gets too painful, just walk it out, but you need to finish the mileage,” Jason calmly, but firmly laid down the law.
Booh. This was not going to be easy. Everything hurt. It was hot. I hated the whole world. But eff if I was going to “walk out” the next nine miles. I just kept on going.
While, yes, the mileage was much slower, and much, much more painful than it would have been had I not been body slammed into the concrete the day before, I finished what I started in just over four hours.
“So, theoretically, I could do a sub-five hour marathon on race day,” I mused to Coach Emily while stretching out my ridiculously sore body.
“Yes, you could,” Emily replied. “But don’t hold yourself to that.”
Sure, anything can happen on race day, but I’ve already experienced my fair share of banana peels, monkey wretches, and other such plan-spoiling devices. And, more importantly: I know that I am prepared for anything, that, mentally, I can take the hard knocks.
Vineman, I’m coming for you. And I’m more than ready.
P.S. It’s the last weekend to donate to support me and to fight cancer. Please click here to help: http://pages.teamintraining.org/los/VineFIrn13/SDIronWoman