it was ninety two degrees at the start of saturday’s 50 mile race. and as we turned the first corner after the start, i realized we were in a nice hot headwind. hot + windy = doesn’t bode well for me.
we settled into a single paceline really quickly, which surprised me a bit – a lot of other races i’ve done, we seem to stay in a bit of an organized jumble. this was a long race and the single paceline, and speed at which we were going; made me just feel like it was game on from the get go.
everyone was taking turns at the front. long turns. now, i know me; and i can’t take long turns – especially into that kind of a headwind. so when it was my turn up front i did my best to contribute to the group effort, but in hindsight, my pulls were most likely too long.
it was one of those days where i knew from the first pedal stroke that something was just off. maybe it was the heat, the rollers, the lack of sleep the night before, or anxiety over that “last mother of a hill” at mile forty seven.
the women were the last group of the day to race, and since i was the last girl in the women’s race, the sweeper truck was right behind me -from the point at which i made a rookie mistake coming off of my 4th pull at mile 15, and for the next 35 miles. i was at the same time grateful, annoyed and mortified over this.
the course was nothing but rollers, out in the blazing sun. i’m not sure there was ever any sort of shady section. i had plenty of fluids, bars, gus and chews on me and took more water at the neutral feed zone.
what i had forgotten to bring with me was a psychologist. cause i was cracking, coming unglued, out on the proverbial ledge. i needed some sort of finish-this-damn-race hotline and desperately wanted to call my husband; i needed someone to talk me off the ledge. cause the voice inside my head just kept saying “jump”. put your bike in the truck behind you.
so i’d hang my head. sit up. give up.
but then, i would gather my wits and my collective shit and get back into the rhythm, settle in to the drops and start pedaling with a purpose again.
and then i’d start to unravel.
this back and forth of pedaling with a purpose and completely coming unglued went on for the miles. it’s so hard to get out of that bad place in your head once you’re there. that place of feeling that the heat is sucking every breath of life out of you. being mad you’re last. the desperately wanting to throw your bike and your tired body into the back of that truck right fucking behind you. and the knowing that the worst of the course is yet to come. i was, at times, sobbing. wanting off my bike, wanting the race to be over.
i was totally in the dark as to how long i had been out there, how many miles i had done and what i had ahead of me as my bike computer kept going on the fritz throughout the race. miles would pass by and there would be a big fat zero indicating speed, distance and time. i had no idea how much longer i had or how many miles were behind me.
every time i came upon a hill i wondered if that was the mofo hill that signaled i only had 3 miles left to go. i climbed them all and none seemed as bad as i had been told and i knew once i crested them that they weren’t the mofo hill i was looking for.
i finally did make it to that last hill. it was as bad as everyone had said and then some. once i realized i was at the bottom of it, i knew i had to stop crying – i needed every bit of everything i had. so i got my collective shit together once again and climbed the hill with purpose. slow, grinding, borderline pathetic purpose. i could hear the drone of the sag wagon behind me. i felt a huge sigh of relief once at the top, which was totally premature – cause i looked up and saw there was more. just one more little fuck you of a climb. i did it. and i think it took every last once of anything i had out of me. but as i went down the descent so steep it was covered in spray painted ‘caution’ signs, i was holding back tears of joy at knowing the hell was nearly over.
and then i wondered if the finish line arch would still be up. i wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t there. i had no idea how long i had been out there. but i turned the corner and saw the 1 kilometer sign and saw the arch still up at the ghost town of a finish line; and willed myself not to cry as i crossed the line. i think two people were there. the announcer – who announced my finish, god love her - and the guy who left the arch up; after pretty much every other racer had packed up and gone home. there’s a special place in heaven for people who stick around this long.
i crossed the line and rolled into an empty parking lot sobbing from utter mental and physical exhaustion and just hoped nobody saw me. even after i thought i had gathered my collective shit and could face others – once i did, the tears started again. it was quite simply - the toughest day i have ever had on the bike.
i still had one more day of racing and was determined to make it a better one. once i finished crying.