Photo credit: Kim Cross – @kimhcross on instagram
Perfer et obdura. Dolor hic tibi proderit olim. (Be patient and tough. Someday this pain will be useful to you.) — Ovid
One of the most important lessons cycling has taught me is not about sport, but life: your capacity to suffer can exceed the limits of your imagination. But only if your mind is strong. As the mind goes, so goes the body.
Today was the hardest ride I have ever done. It is not, however, the hardest thing I have ever done. Losing a father is tougher. Watching your mother in pain is harder. Heartbreak is harder. Even a rough day on the bike is still a pretty fine day. That said, pedaling 101 miles with a staggering headwind, and 12,000 feet of climbing ended with a 12-mile pitch that only got steeper as we fought our way through the sleeting rain—as bike rides go, that was hard.
The toughest part, surprisingly, was not the sore knees, the searing muscles, or the singular discomfort of sitting for 10 hours on a bike seat the size of a shoe. It was being the weakest link on a team of strong and amazing women. I came into this knowing without a doubt that this would be my place on the team. I was at peace with that. I don’t mind falling off the back and struggling my way through at my own pace.
Today, the group decided to stick together. Which was the smart thing to do, given the brutal winds that made me feel like that “You haven’t had your V-8 today” commercial, leaning sideways. At some points we drafted behind the Rapha sprinter van to get a little relief, trying to conserve our legs for the massive climbs ahead.
I did a poor job of eating at breakfast, fighting the nervous nausea that came with anticipation of our biggest climbing day. I chocked down a little oatmeal, a few bits of eggs and potatoes, and that was all I could manage without puking. I continued forcing bites down on the bike, but with a pace just a hair above comfortable, and with winds that at times felt like they might gust me off my bike, I was afraid to reach down to eat and hydrate. Plus: my legs were just tired. I am not trained up for this—at all. The longest ride I have done in months is 30 miles, thanks to the train-when-you-can plan of a working mom.
At the end of the second of three increasingly hard climbs. at Mile 70, I cracked. When someone told me “We’re halfway done climbing” I just started crying. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I felt like I was holding the team up. The weakest link. The LCD. It is a hard role to be in, especially when you’re used to being the one encouraging others. It easier to have a positive attitude when you’re feeling strong. But it is even more important to have a positive attitude when you’re feeling weak. Because as your head goes, so goes your body.
Another super-strong teammate (and pro cyclist) Krasniak Julie pushed me for what felt like miles. Those last miles, in the sleet, I dug so deep I ended up somewhere in psychological China. I am learning so much, though, from being the weakest link and learning to accept help from others. And not beat myself up for being the weak one. It is a feeling that none of us should forget, especially when trying to encourage beginners who struggle and hurt as I do now.
I reminded myself that I am not here because of my strength on a bike. I am here because other ordinary women, maybe some working moms like me, can look at me and relate. And maybe they’ll say to themselves, “If she can do it, maybe I can too.”
Getting to the top hurt. At times, I rode through tears. It hurt physically and psychologically. But it made me stronger in every way.
This was my second century. Ever.