Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Teetering On The Edge

There are a few things you might not know about me.

I can be pretty stubborn. I don’t like failure. I don't like finding out there are things I can’t do. And I don’t like crying in front of people.

Okay, so maybe those things aren’t exactly earth-shattering. They probably don’t come as any big surprise to anyone who knows me.

My not-so-lucky Trusty Companion got an up-close-and-personal look at those things last week – when during a sweltering day during our vacation he brought me on my toughest bike ride yet.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit how tough it was on me – mentally and physically.

We made our way one afternoon to the start of TC’s bike race in Bow. I was admittedly nervous about it from the start. I’d felt a slight set-back in my cycling ability lately, not really sure of the reason, and tackling those hills, especially in 90-degree weather, seemed more than daunting.

But I couldn’t back out. I couldn’t say I didn’t want to even try.

So I clipped into my pedals and started up the first hill. Without exaggeration, it was about a mile long. Nearly immediately, I had my doubts about making it to the top. I remember walking up the same incline during TC’s race to encourage the cyclists up the hill. (I only found out later that I had only walked about a quarter way up the hill. Yikes.)

I pressed down on the pedals and, despite my best efforts to shift gears effectively, got slower and slower. At some point, I knew I wouldn’t make it all the way up. I stopped on a side road for a break – something I don’t usually do during a ride and something I don’t like to do – and built up a little momentum to make it up the rest of the hill.

One down.

Little did I know what the next hill had in store for me. You know when you pass those yellow road signs warning trucks of a steep hill, it’s gonna be bad.

And it was. A few miles bad.

I made it up as far as I could – which in reality didn’t seem really far at all.

I knew I wouldn’t make it up. After a panic moment of trying to keep the bike balanced upright long enough to clip out of my pedals at the slow-motion speed at which I was now traveling, I hopped off the bike with a lot of frustration.

And I walked. And walked. And walked.

It wasn’t even an easy walk. My cycling shoes clicked along the pavement and I navigated my bike up the steep incline as cars whizzed by me. Great, I thought, all of these drivers seeing my moment of defeat.

At the top, TC (in his usual supportive and cheerful fashion) greeted with me with some encouraging words. To be honest, I can’t even remember what they were.

Yikes, I had gotten there. No, not the top of the hill.

I was teetering on the edge of the Bite Me Zone – that emotionally charged zone in which the parts of our personalities leap out at unsuspecting supporters. Not just the little parts of our personality we don't want others to see – the parts that form during the most physically and mentally taxing parts of our training and lives.

I admit my heart and my head were completely out of the ride at that point. I wanted it over. I dreaded the last 25 miles. I dreaded that it meant going over that first hill again to get to that second part of the ride. I dreaded that I had no idea what the last 18 miles had in store for me.

We rode in silence. I felt the frustration building up in me – and I know TC sensed it too. He gave me a little more space than usual, and at one point even quietly asked if I was mad at him.

I told him I wasn’t. And it was the truth.

It had nothing to do with TC – although he did pick the route and, as I reminded him, really overestimated my abilities. (“It’s just because you are so fantastic at everything you do,” he said. Really?? How could I ever get mad at someone like that?)

I was frustrated with myself. Frustrated with my inability.

It seemed like another hill was around every corner we turned. And it seemed as if I struggled with every one of them. Looking back, I’m sure it was because I was just mentally defeated and didn’t have it in me to give it my all. Or much at all, really.

As we rounded the loop past the parking lot with the car, I seriously considered telling TC that I’d just wait for him while he finished out the 29 miles.

But no, I couldn’t quit. I don’t quit.

So I pressed on and slowly started up that first hill for the second time. I planned a stop at the same spot I did during the first go-around. As I pulled over for the break, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.

What? Why was I crying? I couldn’t help it. I was totally frustrated with my performance, my inability to make it once around a loop that TC and the other racers had done three times. I felt completely inadequate. Like, who was I kidding trying to do these athletic things?

Luckily, cycling always involves wearing sunglasses so TC didn’t see my breakdown. (I confessed it later to him on the car-ride back.) I know TC sensed I was bothered more than usual. He offered some more supportive words and even a high-five at one point. I forced a very fake smile (he knew it was fake, I'm sure) and I quickly took off down the street to get ready to get the rest of the way up the hill.

I was determined to make it up in one trip – still a very, very quiet trip for us. We finally made the turn from the loop and headed out to finish the last 18 miles, a long way to go when you’re dancing on the edge of the Bite Me Zone.

The road quickly turned into the fastest and steepest downhill I’d ever experienced. I used my brakes to try to control my speed, but had really lost all confidence in my ability. I didn’t even feel good riding the downhills, where I usually enjoy the break for my legs and the wind whipping on my face.

I only hoped we wouldn’t be putting that hill in on the other side. I wouldn’t have been able to take it. I think I even told TC that if I got the slightest sense that we’d be going back up anything like that, I’d pull over and he could pick me up with the car later. Yes, I was willing to quit.

Luckily, the rest of the road was much more manageable. And with every mile, I felt my frustration disappearing. The weight lifted from my shoulders and the storm that was brewing inside me subsided. I started to talk about the beautiful views and chatted with TC along the way. We were heading home, the ride wouldn’t be much longer and I felt darn good about the trip back to the car.

Better spirits, for sure.

We eventually pulled into the parking lot, where TC announced we did 29 miles (we had planned 28 miles and I'm not exactly sure how that extra mile came in). We loaded up the bikes and I apologized profusely to TC for my cranky attitude that emerged along the way.

I was only teetering on the edge this time. I’m almost afraid to see what happens at Mile 21 or so of the marathon, when I hit the real Bite Me Zone. I bet TC is too.


1 comment:

  1. A tough ride for sure and an effort to be proud of. You're the one who introduced me to "the miracle isn't that I finished, it's the I had the courage to start" or in this case, the accomplishment isn't that you made or didn't make it over the hill, it's that you had the courage to try. Good work on a really tough day in the saddle.

    I didn't tell you this, but I really suffered going over Chestnut Hill on my ride last night... Perhaps a little payback from the cycling gods. :)

    - TC


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