“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
I have wanted to complete an Ironman since the first time I saw the World Championship televised many years ago. I always felt that this goal was out of my reach and have had some failures along the way that would suggest that my theory is true. Luckily, or unluckily for me, I am a very stubborn woman. Last year, I completed my first marathon which was the final of many checkmarks in my mind towards my goal of completing an Ironman (Marathon ACHIEVED: Roses and Sunshine vs. Death and Destruction). I loosely researched some of the closer races and settled on Ironman Louisville (mostly because of the “easier” swim). I was all set to register when my hip injury from the marathon seemed to reappear, putting my plans to register on hold until I was medically cleared. By the time I was medically cleared, my doubt had started to flare up.
Nevertheless, on June 24, 2018, I pulled out my computer and registered. I did it during a fit of confidence knowing that, once I pushed the button to register, failure was no longer an option. We won’t discuss what happened when the realization of what I had done hit me a couple days later…
Ironman is 90% mental and the other half physical.
Seventeen weeks into training, I am starting to believe that’s the truth. This journey has been full of countless hours in the pool, on the bike, out running, and even more hours lying in bed whining. I constantly post about my trials and tribulations on social media because social media has become the basis for my self-accountability. If I don’t post about workouts, people ask me about them and it keeps me in check and keeps me moving. But, social media also has me connected to people that are invested in my journey and are willing to lift me up when I can’t seem to lift myself up.
There are days that I am 100% sure I will finish the race…
… And there are days that it takes every ounce of my being to keep moving forward and I am 100% sure I will fail.
It is truly a constant back and forth in my brain and an even bigger back and forth in my heart. I have to check in with my “why” no less than 75 times a day. The mental and physical exhaustion I feel on a daily basis completely engulfs me and leaves me in a heap at times.
What is my why?
There is not just one why, there are many. I believe that the presence of multiple “whys” is purposeful in that, if one fails, another can pick up to fill its place. My whys are things that don’t require much brain power to remember so that, in those moments that my brain is scrambled, I won’t have to dig very deep for them.
My first “why” is a deeply personal one that is basic and super simple; I want to prove to myself that I can do this, that I AM AN IRONMAN. I have always been my biggest critic and my biggest doubter. The closer I get to the race, the more people ask how I’m feeling about it. My answer appears to be the same every time, “I know I have put in the work, so I am physically ready, but it will all be about how I handle my mental mess on race day.”
I have had tons of doubts coming into this journey, but as I have weaved my way through it, some of those doubts have fallen away. I truly wasn’t sure if I would be able to manage the training that comes with this journey in conjunction with life, work, and being a mom. Every day, I get up knowing exactly what needs to be done and I make a mental plan to accomplish it. This journey has taught me discipline that I wasn’t sure was something I was capable of, discipline that I know will be priceless on race day when things aren’t going right and all I want to do is give up. In those moments, I think about what brought me here and all that I have overcome on my way to that moment.
Another “why” is that I am doing this for those I have loved and lost that no longer walk this Earth. I have suffered deep losses throughout my life and I have turned those into driving forces to push me to be better. I think about my guardian angels often, but their memories often flood my mind and my heart when I am out there putting myself through intense suffering. I know that, at any given moment, they will be there for me to lean on.
The biggest and most important “why” is that I want to teach my children that ANYTHING is possible, as long as you put in the time and the effort. This journey is one of sacrifice and there is no one that feels it more than my two children. There are times that they want to do things or have wanted to go places and I can’t adjust my training schedule or I am just too tired to do it. They have been more than understanding of what I am trying to accomplish and the work that it will take to cross that finish line. They have been at my finish lines before and there is nothing like the joy that comes across their faces when they see me finish a big event. They are my biggest champions, my favorite spectators, and my reason to keep breathing.
As this journey is coming to a close, I am full of mixed emotions. My body is tired and just wants to sleep in late, to not have any more planned workouts, to ride easy for the sake of riding easy, to not do more intervals of any kind, and to just stop running for a week. But at the same time, this journey is teaching me about myself and what I am capable of. I am terrified of what happens the day after Ironman when there are no more workouts and no carrot hanging out in front of me anymore…
I have a little over three weeks until race day and I plan to cherish every workout, each moment of exhaustion, ache, and pain. All of the “suffering” I have endured with my friends has brought me infinity closer to them. They are a part of this and they are a HUGE part of my “why”… I will think about the mornings that I didn’t want to swim but went to the pool anyways. I will think about how they pushed me to go faster and faster in that water even when I feared I was about to drown. I will think about all the long, slow miles they have run with me even on days they didn’t have to run. I will think about all the miles out on the bike in the hot Florida sun. I will think about the days they dropped me out there but still waited at different points to cheer me and push me to keep going further and further. I will think about how the best thing they did for me out there was drop me even though I hated it. I will think about all the phone calls and texts about endless Ironman tips. I will think about nutrition test days. I will think about the well wishes. I will think about the tough love. I will think about when they believed in me even when I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I will think about how they have helped me shatter my self-doubt. Most of all, I will think about their love because, without it, I would not be 17 weeks into this brutal training. I have not broken yet and you can be for damn sure that race day won’t break me either.
Ironman Louisville, I’m coming for you!
”She was powerful, not because she wasn’t scared but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear.”
“No athlete is truly tested until they’ve stared an injury in the face and came out on the other side stronger than ever” – Anonymous
I have missed running and I have missed blogging but it seems as though the inability to do one took away my ability to do the other.
Life has been a crazy series of ups and downs since my marathon at the end of January.
I continued to try and run despite having lingering pain from my marathon injury, only to find out in May that I had broken my pelvic bone. I was stunned when I heard the news; it was certainly not what I expected the doctor to say to me… Lucky for me, I had only broken my lower left pelvic bone and not the upper one as well (however, you could see on the x-ray where it had also tried to start breaking) so my break was a “stable” one that required no surgery or extra hardware. I rehabbed it the right way; I went to PT, I did strengthening exercises, I only returned to running how/when I was told that I could.
When I started back running, it was completely miserable… My body had forgotten what it was supposed to be doing and how it was supposed to be doing it. Slowly but surely, I started to run more and enjoy it more. I had a series of great runs but still was only running 30 minutes three times per week. I wanted to run more but I was doing my best to be patient. Luckily, I was able to keep riding my bike because it was non-impact so I could continue training for my big ride, Six Gap Century which is on September 24, 2017 (and which I’ll explain in a whole other post hopefully). Unfortunately, my tri season was going to be a wash because I wasn’t able to run enough for a race.
On August 27, I joined two of my amazing friends to compete as a relay team for the Hammerhead Olympic Triathlon. I completed the bike leg of the tri and felt great with minimal hip pain. My teammates did awesome as well and we came in 4th. I left feel amazing after having FINALLY been able to compete in a race this season.
But, as is so often the case, life had other plans for me… Later that evening, while leaving a friend’s house the unthinkable happened… I didn’t see a hole and as I stepped off a step went right into it and rolled my foot completely under. The series of pops I heard were some of the worst sounds my ears have ever endured. I fell straight to the ground, rolling, and repeatedly saying “no, no, no.” The pain was intense but the mental realization was that much worse… When I was finally able to muster a sentence all I kept saying was, “I cannot be injured again. Please God!” But injured is exactly what I was.
Luckily (or unluckily), I had only badly sprained my ankle. It looked terrible; it was completely swollen and all sorts of strange colors. The pain I felt was unbearable and brought me to tears on numerous occasions. I couldn’t sleep for days because every time I moved my foot, it woke me up. I was a mess. I couldn’t run and now I couldn’t bike either. My brain and heart were a disaster. I threw a spectacular pity party every time I was home alone.
It didn’t take me long to get back on the bike but running was a whole different story… I was supposed to stay in the boot for a month but there was no way it was going to last that long. Last week I took it off for a day and was quickly back in it the next day. Friday night it came off and hasn’t been put back on since. Today, I decided to go run with my run group. And running is exactly what I did. I meant to take it easy but I pushed myself instead and it was GLORIOUS.
I have come to love running in a way that I can’t really explain. It is easy for me to explain my love for cycling but not quite as easy to explain my love for running. There is just something about it that moves something in me and makes me feel alive. I can’t quite pinpoint it; maybe it is that it doesn’t come easy and I have to work for every single thing or maybe I love it because it was taken away from me for so long. Distance does make the heart grow fonder after all, or that’s what they say at least.
At this point, I can only hope and pray that I stay healthy enough to get back to running more because I am pretty sure that if I injure myself again I will pretty much lose my mind. I have definitely learned (over and over and over again) that injuries will teach you precisely what you love the most. But, I have also learned that every single thing that happens to us truly does happen for a reason. All of my injuries have forced me to focus on my swimming which is I am slowly starting to actually like too. I almost feel like I am in the twilight zone after having typed that last sentence…
Stay tuned. Who knows what will happen next and what other lessons I will learn along the way.
“The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.” ~Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon winner
The objective behind me running a standalone marathon was simple: I want to do a full Ironman so I needed to know that I could run a marathon.
I enlisted the help of a friend, Patrick, whom I knew had coached plenty of my amazing friends during their various athletic endeavors. I started running with the Two Rules Running group (www.tworulesrunning.com) on a regular basis and could see, pretty quickly, the improvements that I was making. As I mentioned in an earlier post, marathon training was stressful and physically/emotionally exhausting but, I was managing to follow the two rules of my running group… 1. Look Good. 2. Don’t die. Simple enough, right?
I was lucky enough to remain injury-free throughout my training but my journey was not without adversity. At the end of my 12th week of training, life threw me a curveball that I wasn’t sure I was going to get up from… A relationship that had become an integral part of my marathon journey ended in epic fashion. I found out that I had been cheated on and the news knocked me down physically and emotionally in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. The news and the experience sucked the life out of me and sapped me of my motivation to do much of anything. I was trapped in darkness that I didn’t feel I could escape and the last thing I wanted to do was get out of my bed, let alone go run anywhere.
I wanted to quit, I believed I was done. I told the people closest to me that I was done.
Thankfully, as I have said so many times prior to this and as I am sure I will say plenty more in the future, I have surrounded myself with some of the greatest people in the world and there was no way that they were going to let me get away with quitting. Not now, not ever. They did, however, let me get away with staying in bed for a couple days but that’s it. By Sunday afternoon, Leigh Ann forced me to get out of bed and go outside and send her a selfie while outside and Lavonne later showed up with her bike ready to go for a ride. We DID go ride and it was just what I needed; the ride and the cry on the side of the road in the middle of the ride. No one wanted to stop me from feeling what I felt; they kept encouraging the emotions while also gently pushing me forward.
I am a big believer in feeling your feelings. I believe that the only way to move through pain is to FEEL through the pain. The key, I believe, is to not allow yourself to get stuck in any part of the pain for too long. Obviously, this process is quite often easier said than done but it CAN be done. There were many days when I got stuck in the pain and I hid from the world allowing the circular negativity to go round and round in my head but there were plenty of days where I kept going and I kept running. Running is so very intensely mental for me and there were so many training runs that were filled with doubt and ended in tears. They ended in tears not because of anything that had happened on the run but more so because I expended so much mental energy running that there was no more energy left to keep my sadness at bay.
So I kept running and I kept crying and running and crying and running and crying some more. Sometimes even crying WHILE running.
My friends were never far away, in fact there were an overwhelming number of friends that offered and in turn joined me on my training runs during my last few weeks. No matter how much I wanted to retreat to my bike and call it a day, I kept running. I had a job to do and I was going to finish what I started.
The week after the proverbial shit hit the fan was supposed to be my heaviest training week and that weekend run was supposed to be the longest of my training, 22 miles. Three of my amazing friends (Ron, Kelsey, and Alice) joined me for some of this run; Alice for five miles, Kelsey for fourteen miles, and Ron for eighteen and a half miles. No matter what distance they each ran with me that day, they all left an amazing impact on me. They pushed me and kept me distracted so that I wasn’t stuck in that mental space where doubt lives. We didn’t talk about the break up and no one asked how I was doing, we talked about completely random things and we laughed a lot. Most importantly, although not on purpose, they left me to run the last three and a half miles alone. I needed those miles alone because I needed to push myself through that point where I was exhausted so that I wouldn’t give up. In fact, not only did I not give up but I pushed myself to run faster and I felt a sense of happiness creep in. It was at this very moment that I realized that no one, NO ONE, was going to take this away from me.
This was MY journey and MY sacrifices and there was no one in the world that was worth me giving up on anything, EVER. He didn’t get to take this from me. I didn’t get to give it to him to take.
I felt renewed, not necessarily happy, but I felt a renewed drive to run the marathon and accomplish a goal that I had only dreamed of accomplishing before. I won’t lie and say that everything went back to normal after my realization because that would be complete bullshit. I continued to run, I still cried, and I still doubted my ability to accomplish my goal but I knew that I wasn’t going to give up (a tiny detail that I didn’t realize was going to come in super handy on race day). I kept channeling my inner Wonder Woman and I kept training hard.
The last three weeks of training were a blur but what I can tell you is that they were full of lots of running and fear and doubt and then some more running on top of that. A little over a week before the race I received an email saying that we were able to pull up our bib numbers so I excitedly searched for it, it was 407. It wasn’t until a little while later that I realized the significance of that number, maybe it was weird coincidence or maybe it wasn’t coincidence at all and just some strange continuation of my “fun” relationship with the universe. You see, 407 is the area code for Orlando which was where my recent ex-boyfriend was from and also the city in which we met. I went straight to the universe conspiracy theory belief but one of my wonderful friends, Tammy, gave me this advice instead… “He was a big part of the journey and now this is the last piece. You will wear that number, you will run with everything you have, and you will leave everything about that relationship out on that course that day.” It appeared that having 407 as my bib number was, in fact, kismet.
Kismet (n): destiny; fate
I drove down to Miami two days before the race and must’ve gone through my mental packing list at least 7754 times before getting on the road but still managed to forget something that I had to go back home for. The five hour drive down south just served to make me incessantly think about my race plan and the 16 week journey that I had just gone through. I honestly couldn’t believe that the journey would be “over” in just two days.
The day before the race, I went to the expo to pick up my packet and the “realness” of everything finally started to set in and panic wasn’t far behind. I did all the normal pre-race stuff; I laid out Flat Beca, attached my Valentine’s card from Jimmy (my guardian angel) that goes with me to every big event to the back of my bib number, affixed my bib number to my shirt, set out all the nutrition I was going to bring with me, and charged my watch. I sat down and started reflecting on all the work I had put in during the 16 week journey…
Over 506 miles run during 86+ hours of running and countless new relationships forged.
So much of this journey had included so many amazing people but race day was going to be all about me, I would be toeing that line all by myself. I only had to overcome my own fear and doubt to finish the final 26.2 miles of my marathon journey. It would be my biggest test of endurance thus far and was sure to be one of my sweetest victories to date. I had trouble falling asleep the night before the race which I knew was completely normal but I was able to at least get a few hours of rest.
January 29, 2017, Race Day Report:
I woke up at 2:45am to the sound of howling wind and pouring rain. I pulled out my phone and checked the weather; temperature in the mid 50s, 10+mph wind, and LOTS of rain coming. I was overcome by panic. All I wanted was to get back under the covers and wish the day away but that wasn’t really an option… I had come too far to give up now. I started getting ready and was inundated by thoughts of everything that had happened over the last month, the anger and sadness I was feeling was truly overwhelming. My brain felt like it was trapped in a vice and I was focused on a dark cloud of doubt, fear, and negativity. I had a “come to Jesus” with myself and yanked at the mental reins. I pulled out my phone and looked at all the awesome texts, messages, and Facebook posts that my friends and family had taken the time to send. I started to focus in on all the love and light that I am surrounded by and I knew that, no matter what happened today, I had more than enough to be thankful for. I am a lucky woman and I had everything I needed to push through this day no matter what challenges came up.
I bundled up and headed out at 4:00am to ride the Metrorail surrounded by tons of fellow runners. I focused on my race plan that would hopefully get me my desired 4:15:00 and read all the positive messages over and over. Once I got downtown, I headed straight towards gear check where I handed over my warm pants and phone. The thought of not having a phone and taking 9657 start line pictures was a weird feeling; it had been a long time since I had been that disconnected from the world. I realized right away that it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be which made me feel better about the day ahead; all that cold weather training was paying off. I made my way to corral C and tried to take in as much of the start line experience that I could focus on. 6:00am came quicker than I expected it to and by approximately 6:05am my 26.2 mile journey began.
The first challenge of the day was the MacArthur Causeway Bridge where there were walking people to dodge, a steep incline to forge over, and a cold wind to contend with. Luckily at the top there were awesome guys playing the bagpipes to greet us which kept me smiling. People were flying past me but I kept reminding myself that the majority of people were doing the half marathon and I just needed to make sure to run my race and not theirs.
Somewhere between mile 2 and 3 I heard someone scream something about Team Chocolate Milk and I looked over and saw a woman that I had been standing near in my starting corral who was wearing a Team Chocolate Milk shirt. She was right ahead and to the left of me so I quickly crept over until I was right behind her. I thought about just creepily running behind her and pacing off of her but then I got to thinking about how lonely the race was already feeling without all my awesome running community friends so I decided to say hi. I asked her what her goal time was and she responded with 4 hours and then asked mine. When I told her my goal time she quickly responded that she wouldn’t mind running with me because she wasn’t really dead set on making her 4 hour goal. We introduced ourselves as we continued to talk and get to know each other. Jill was a very unassuming woman and you never would’ve guessed the extent of her badassery simply by meeting her. As we continued to talk, I knew that I was in the company of a BEAST (12 Ironman finishes and multiple Boston marathons)! I had somehow, randomly (or not so random at all) picked the right marathon buddy who would help me accomplish something I had never before done. Meeting Jill was truly my saving grace…
I was feeling pretty good, staying relatively warm, and keeping a pretty steady pace until the rain started at about mile 5. My hands instantly froze and it was nearly impossible to bend my fingers but we kept moving and running. At about mile 6 or so, I stopped to use the port-o-potty which seemed like an impossible feat given my frozen fingers and it felt like I was losing too much time in the endeavor. As soon as we started running again I finally met “the gorilla” I had heard so much discussion about. I hadn’t had any issues with my gracilis muscle through training but I knew from what others described, that was precisely what was hurting me. Jill asked if I need to slow and I said “not at all, I’ll be fine.” I had learned to run through pain in the last 16 weeks and pain wasn’t going to be what stopped me today. Jill told me that she was running to my pace so if I needed to slow down at any point that I should let her know. I told her that she wasn’t allowed to let me get away with wanting to slow down or stop. She agreed to my terms and we kept running and kept talking. I thought back to my 16 mile training run with my friend, Cat, and how we talked for the whole beginning and how I had paid for it at the end of that run and I knew today was going to be the same but I was enjoying the company and the conversation way too much.
Miles 7-14 were pretty uneventful other than stopping for a moment for Jill to grab water and swallow down a gu and for me to fight to get ibuprofen out of a baggie with frozen fingers (I considered swallowing the baggie too when I couldn’t get them out). I believe there was also another potty break in here somewhere during which I was again painfully aware of losing precious minutes. The continuous rain and cold wind was playing tricks on me and making me believe that I HAD to pee when I really didn’t have to at all… Mile 12.5 also saw with it the turn off of all the half marathoners and where the rest of our race really began.
We kept trucking along and continued to talk about race experiences and our running/triathlete friends. At mile 17, we both rejoiced in finally having the remainder of the day measured in single digits. We were still holding a pretty decent pace but I knew that my goal of 4:15:00 was all but lost thanks to the multiple potty breaks and the brutal weather we were being forced to endure. Mile 17 also brought with it one of my favorite encounters along the course… I have yet to decide if the guy was schizophrenic or had dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) but what I can tell you was that his conversations back and forth about himself and yelling at himself about how he was going to finish the race and had what it took to finish the race (in different voices and with LOTS of F bombs, I may add) were simply amazing. Like I said to Jill, they say you have to be crazy to run a marathon and here was clear proof of that!
I was starting to mentally struggle around mile 18 and I kept reminding myself that despite what I was thinking, my body was more than capable of finishing the race and finishing it strong. I kept reminding myself that the doubt was all in my head and I just needed to keep moving my feet. Jill was still talking to me and telling me stories but I was significantly less responsive at this point. I told her that I was probably not going to talk much from that point forward to which she said that she was planning to keep talking, for which I was very thankful. Mile 18.5 brought my high school friend, Lauren, with it and as soon as she screamed my name, something brightened inside me and I got another wind that made me realize that I was definitely going to finish the race. I smiled at her, waved for her picture, shouted that I loved her, took one last look at her friendly face, and kept moving.
Miles 19-22 are mostly a blur. Jill kept talking which kept me distracted off of hitting any kind of wall, my calves were cramping to holy hell, the physical pain was overwhelming, and there was another unnecessary potty break but we kept moving. I believe in here is when I told her that “I loved that she was all roses and sunshine while I was all death and destruction.” We both got a good laugh out of that one and thankfully she kept bringing the sunshine because Miami clearly wasn’t planning to offer any today. I felt like I was starting to fade and I crammed Gu chews in my mouth as well as some Jelly Belly sport beans. I made sure to grab water often from the awesome volunteers but made sure there was no stopping unless it was for the bathroom. There would be no walking today. Jill did try to tell me that if we kicked it into high gear for the last 5k then I still had a chance to make my goal but at that point, I was just hanging on for dear life by a tiny thread that was dangling over a pit of brimstone and fire. I sloughed off the 5k kick idea and told her that maybe we could kick it with 2 miles left. This segment also brought “Joe” with it… Joe was a hand cyclist doing the marathon and while I was really happy for Joe and what he was trying to accomplish, I really wanted to kill Joe. Joe had a regular cyclist with him and his cyclist was warning people that Joe was there except that Joe was so busy zig zagging that we honestly couldn’t tell where Joe was going to be from one second to the next. This was so stressful and I was burning entirely too much energy on worrying about being run over. At one point, Jill yelled to me to jump up onto the grass because Joe was aiming right for us. We both jumped on to the curb in the nick of time to avoid getting run down by Joe. Thankfully there was a hill ahead and we were finally able to shake free from Joe for the last time.
Miles 23-25 were on the beginning portion of the Rickenbacker Causeway towards Key Biscayne with a turnaround under the bridge. There were more inclines on this bridge and while I was super thankful for all of my hill training it seemed like even the slightest road incline might as well have been as steep as a damn mountain. All I wanted was to be done, to not be wet anymore, to be warm, to stop hurting, to FUCKING STOP RUNNING. Jill had other ideas for me at mile 24 when she started speeding up and told me to keep chasing her and not give up. I just wanted it all to stop. I wanted to lie down and die. Instead, I kept running… I kept chasing the proverbial rabbit. Our pace picked up and somewhere between mile 25-26 I heard my other high school friend, Gus, yell out my name. I looked over and saw his face, but couldn’t muster even a smile because I was so focused on keeping up with Jill and on how bad I felt.
I FINALLY saw the 26th mile marker and I knew it was so close to being over. She yelled back that the finish line was right around the next corner but I was entirely too tired to be elated. I was so excited to turn that corner right up until I turned it and saw the last thing on earth I could ever want to see at that point, ANOTHER FUCKING DRAWBRIDGE WITH MORE WET DRAWBRIDGE GRATES. Why?!?!?! Why did the race coordinators hate me? I yelled to Jill that I couldn’t go anymore and she assured me that I could and that it was almost over. I dug deep and pushed with every last ounce I had. As I came through the last leg towards the finish line I heard the best word I have ever heard in my life “MOMMY!” I turned and saw my kids and my parents. I wanted to run to them and collapse on them but I was sooooo close and I couldn’t slow down. I threw my arms up and finished like a champ. I was finally done.
I crossed that line, hugged Jill, and then instantly wanted to collapse on to the ground but she held me up. She held me up just as she had done for so much of the race. We walked through the finisher area, got our medals, got water and Gatorade which I couldn’t drink, got food which I could eat none of, and took pictures. The minute I came across the finish line I felt every pain that I had forced out of my mind and felt 9000x colder. My legs could barely hold me up and my body was shaking uncontrollably but I had finished and I had followed the 2 rules… I looked good (kinda) and I didn’t die (though I really really wanted to).
I am truly humbled by the love and support that I got from my family and friends on marathon day and every other day of my life. I cannot thank my parents, kids, Steve, Lauren, and Gus enough for braving the cold and rain to be out there supporting me and cheering me on. I could not have done this without their love and cheers pushing me forward. Both my father and teenage son took turns being my human canes to get me from point A to point B while I essentially dragged my leg around everywhere we went after the race. Steve took off my wet shoes and socks for me and replaced them with dry shoes (and, c’mon, who wants to be that close to my feet!). When I mentioned this to him, he simply replied “I’ve been there before and I know how you felt after you finished the race. It was the least I could do.” My celebration was their celebration and my pain was their pain.
I was truly overwhelmed when I opened my phone and saw my Facebook and texts INUNDATED with well wishes from SO SO MANY people. I literally laid in a bath of hot water and Epsom salt for an hour after getting home reading it all and crying joyful tears. It is hard to convey the gratitude and happiness I felt towards every single person that has been a part of this journey, no matter how small. So many people reached out after my break up just simply to ask if I was ok, if I needed anything, to just tell me they cared about me… My core training partners, Caroline and Zac, kept pushing me and kept making me laugh even when I really didn’t want to anymore. My running community rallied around me in ways that I have never before witnessed. I am thankful and so humbled by it all.
I went to Miami to run my first marathon in my hometown and that is precisely what I did. Official finish time: 4:23:47 @ 10:04/mile pace. I didn’t do it as fast as I intended to but I overcame plenty of adversity to get to that start line and it was only right that I should overcome plenty more to cross the finish line.
It has taken me a while to gather my thoughts and sit down to write this post; I am a little over a month removed from the marathon. Unfortunately, I am still healing from whatever I did to my leg during the marathon so I have been unable to run since then. It’s funny that with as much as I whined about running during my training, all I want to do now is go out for a run. I know that my desire to run comes mainly from the fact that I just can’t right now and I don’t do well with being injured. Life has taken a lot of twists and turns since marathon day and training has really been my outlet for dealing with life the last few years so it is hard to be without it. Fortunately, I CAN still ride but the short winter days often make riding a hard feat to accomplish during the week.
My marathon journey changed me as a person in so many ways that it is really hard to pinpoint all the lessons that I learned. And, even thinking about it now, I am not sure if it changed me as much as it reinforced things that I already knew about myself or brought other things to the surface of my life that I had forgotten about. I am completely grateful for the experience, all of it. I am grateful for the easy days, the hard days, and everything in between.
I walked up to that start line alone and finished it next to a new friend who will forever be etched in my memories. I had every intention to run the race alone that day and had somewhat mentally prepared myself for the feat that it would be to get through the day by myself with only my thoughts to keep me company. I will be forever grateful that God put Jill in my path and pushed me to say hello. I honestly believe that, given the crazy weather conditions, there is no way that I would’ve done as good as I did without her constant motivation, distraction, and support. Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve finished because I don’t quit, but it wouldn’t have been quite as close to my goal as I got.
I walked up to the start line with a lot of emotional baggage and I finished an infinitely lighter person. I took Tammy’s advice and I left everything on the course that day. I didn’t realize this right away, though, this lesson took some time afterwards to realize but I can definitely look back today and see how I changed on January 29, 2017. I am a strong woman with an incredible drive to push through adversity like a bull in a china shop but during the four weeks leading up to race day, I gave my power to someone else and I accepted much less than what I deserved to receive.
Race day taught me that sometimes you have to let go of things to achieve bigger, better things. Sometimes you have to change your focus in order to move in the direction you want to move in. The simplest way to describe this lesson is: If I had given into the pain that I felt at mile 6, I would’ve given up and not crossed that finish line. Instead, I refocused my mind on to other things and I kept moving despite AND in spite of the physical pain to accomplish my goal. The pain did not disappear, I simply allowed myself to move PAST it. To many people, this may seem like a really stupid thing to do but, to me, it means that sometimes we have to let go of the pain in order to get to where we want to go. Our bodies will do what our minds tell them to, it is often our mind that fails us well before our bodies do.
I registered for the 15th Miami Marathon to achieve something that I had only once dreamed of, to know that I could run 26.2 miles, to become a marathoner. I became a marathoner that day but I also became a better person.
“Like the marathon, life can sometimes be difficult, challenging and present obstacles, however if you believe in your dreams and never ever give up, things will turn out for the best.” ~Meb Keflezighi
While I needed to allow myself to feel my emotional pain during those last few weeks leading up to race day, I also needed to decide that I was done feeling the pain. I needed to stop holding on to the pain and the feeling of loss for what I believed could’ve been. I needed to refocus myself on to what is and everything that my life was at that very moment in time. I needed to move out of the bad and into the good. I needed to let go. I needed to ALLOW myself to move PAST it. I needed to greet the pain one more time, say hello, and then say goodbye. And, I did that just as soon as I realized that I had left it all out on those dreary, rainy, cold Miami roads.
A few years ago I learned an important lesson about forgiveness which I had since let fade to the back of my mind. Forgiveness isn’t always about excusing what was done to us; sometimes it is about forgiving ourselves for allowing ourselves to be in whatever situation we have found ourselves in. For the second time in my life, I had almost let someone steal my thunder. I am a firm believer that something cannot be taken from us unless we, ourselves, allow it to be taken. In this situation, he could not steal my thunder unless I was willing to let him have it. I almost gave it away, almost… In the end, I had my come to Jesus with myself on race day morning and several more along my 26.2 mile run. I had to forgive myself for allowing myself to remain stuck in the emotional pain so that I could move out of the pain, so that I could enjoy the moment that I was living in on that glorious day. I could not have both the emotional pain of the loss and the joy of my accomplishment, I had to choose. I chose to bask in the glory of crossing that finish line. I chose me. I chose happiness.
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore” ~Andre Gide
One day until I walk up to the start line of my very first marathon EVER.
Seems like just yesterday that it was sixteen weeks away…
So much has changed in my life over the course of the last sixteen weeks. I have changed so much over the last sixteen weeks. I know there’s some sort of crazy life growth lesson in here that has happened in this process that I should totally be referencing right now but I can’t see it because I’m way too focused on panic and imminent doom. (Thinking about panic and imminent doom totally makes me laugh but kind of a crazy person heckle kind of laugh.) Besides, I am pretty sure that I will have more than enough time to think about all the important life lessons when I am cruising along on Sunday.
There is so much information flowing in and out of my brain at the moment that it is hard for me to focus on anything let alone what I have learned in this process or even thinking about what my actual race plan is… I am lucky to have wonderful friends willing to help me come up with a plan and a wonderful coach that basically made it simple and just said DO THIS and gave me my plan. My head is definitely not in a place where it can handle wiggle room… I need to live in absolutes right now. I need other people to make decisions for me so that I don’t have to think.
I have experienced this sensation multiple times before big events but it doesn’t seem to really get easier over time and I certainly haven’t gotten used to the uneasy feeling that is currently living in the pit of my stomach.
I am a big believer in the power of visualization so I have been trying to visualize my race as much as my super ADHD brain will allow me to. Focusing on visualizing this race reminds me of when I did Assault on Mt. Mitchell and how heavily I relied on visualization when I started to feel like I could no longer keep going. I am reminded of a mantra that I used during that century ride, “breathe in confidence, breathe out doubt.” I can already tell that I will be using the hell out of that mantra during my marathon.
I know that I have put in the training to be physically ready for this race but now I have to actively work to drown out those pesky self-doubt thoughts that always love to creep into my head. Now the marathon becomes a mental race instead of a physical one. It helps that I have so many people in my life that are constantly reminding me that I am ready and that I am going to do great. I. Just. Have. To. Keep. Reminding. Myself.
Physical plan: Finish in 4:15:00 at a 9:40 min/mi pace Mental plan: Breathe in confidence, breathe out doubt. One foot in front of the other. Just keep moving. Soak in the experience. And, most importantly, HAVE FUN!
See you on the flip side blog world! Hopefully with a whole lot more insightful stuff to say…
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
“If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” ~Frank A. Clark
I truly believe that I had created a perfect bubble in my life with all my cycling and a “small” sprinkling of running and swimming… Cycling kept me sane enough to both live my life and continue to incorporate the smattering of training in the other two sports.
Approximately 10+ weeks ago I dropped a bomb in my life and upended everything that I knew to be right and good… Marathon training. DISARRAY ENTERS.
I no longer know which way is up and which way is down, all I know is that I have to run to get there.
Running has quite literally TAKEN OVER my life. Everything I do (even my damn vacation) has to be planned around how many miles I have to run on what day.
Monday is a rest day.
Tuesday is a track workout day.
Wednesday is a normal run day.
Thursdays is either a hills training day or a group run day. (They alternate)
Friday is a rest day.
Saturday is hell day (aka LONG slow run day).
Sunday is a normal run day.
REPEAT. EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.
Nowhere in that schedule is there a mention of a cycling day. Not even a horrid swim day for that matter. Hell, there’s not even the mention of a “you’re a mom and you have to take care of kids in here somewhere” day. Not to mention a “you have to adult and work a job to pay for all these asinine races you keep registering for” day.
Why. Do. I. Do. This.
I have destroyed my comfort zone with the decision to train for a marathon. I have erased the one activity that keeps me grounded from my once “normal” schedule. Sure, I could try and ride on my rest days or do it in addition to running on other days (if there were 70 hours in a day) but running makes me tired. Spending hours upon hours on my feet makes me want to fall asleep on my desk at work, in the shower, driving, living life… My feet hurt all the time; they are basically two big blisters littered with lots of smaller blisters (as I finished writing that sentence I paused writing to pop a ginormous blister that had formed UNDER my big toenail). My hips? We won’t even talk about how much those hurt… Let’s just say that ‘my hips don’t lie,’ the pain has become a normal part of everyday living now, and I have perfected the slanted walk. Marathon training is extremely physically taxing on the human body but the toll it takes on the mind is even bigger…
I did this to myself.
I need to ride. I need the open road. I need to feel the headwind push against me. I need to struggle against the climb of the hills. I need to feel the whoosh of the passing cars. I need to experience the complicatingly uncomplicated. I need Princesa. I need to think. I need to clear my mind. I need to find my balance. I need to be.
I did this to myself.
They say that only 1% of the world’s population has ever finished a marathon… I am starting to think that it’s because the other 99% are actually smart/sane/rational/normal/insert other synonyms here.
I did this to myself.
I run and most days I am not sure why I am doing it even though I know the deep, underlying reason for the “why am I doing it” question. I want to be an Ironman. But I would be flat out lying if I said that doubt doesn’t enter my mind all the damn time, every damn run actually.
Doubt truly is one hell of a thing… It can drive even the most determined person to the ground. And doubt has been doing one hell of a number on me lately. The disarray that marathon training has caused in my life and the further my training keeps me away from cycling, the more the uncertainty grows inside my mind. I question everything about my ability to meet the goals I have set for myself. “Just finishing” is NOT enough for me, I want to beat Oprah. Oprah finished a marathon in 4:29:15 at a 10:16/mile pace. (Whoever thought SHE would be the mark that so many people aim for when stepping up to the start line??) Every time that I go out on a long run, I question my life decisions including, but not limited to, my decision to do this stupid marathon in the first place, whether I have what it takes to “just” finish, and whether I will be able to hit the mark that I have set for myself. Every time I fall into this uncertainty line of thinking, I have the same answer for myself… I just don’t know. It doesn’t matter how many people tell me I can, how much they remind me of previous obstacles I have overcome in my athletic endeavors, or how much other logic they try to dump on me because I keep going back to “I just don’t know.”
There is such a mental piece that goes with endurance sports that, as soon as that starts to wax and wane, everything else seems to so easily crumble down too. No matter how much I may know that I CAN do it, the exhaustion coupled with the lack of life balance strips my mental game and opens the door for uncertainty to strut right in. So many hours are spent out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but time to think and think and think some more… Thinking about life, about pain, about relationships, about wants, about needs, about desires, about past failures, about past successes, about the future, about anything and everything in between. Too much thinking. Entirely. Too. Much.
So many times I have wanted to quit, to give up, to stop running, to sit down, to not do this marathon, to change my name, to change my phone number, to disappear from all my bad ass athlete friends, to sit on a couch and eat ice cream for the rest of my life and never workout again…
I did this to myself.
And yet, I KEEP GOING, despite AND IN SPITE of the pain, the exhaustion, the disarray, and the uncertainty.
As much as I want to stop/quit/give up, I don’t know how to. The train has left the station and, for whatever godforsaken reason, it can’t be stopped. I keep going… one damn foot in front of the other, one run after the other, one minute after the next. I need my mental game back and that is so very hard for me to achieve without my best coping skill at my disposal, cycling. As much as I want to be on my bike, I can’t so I roll with the punches life is continuing to throw. I have to learn how to bob and weave in a new fashion…
Marathon training is forcing me to dig deeper than I have ever had to dig before to find my strength, to find my sense of determination. It is forcing me to grow and change. It is forcing me to leave my comfort zone. It is forcing me to put down the previous idea I had of myself and create a new self-image; a new stronger, more relentless me.
Some days the doubt becomes overwhelming and brings me to the brink of breaking. But I haven’t broken yet. I won’t break. I can’t break. I don’t know how to break.
I am ten weeks into my training with six more to go. I keep reminding myself, “I have survived this whole time, I can certainly survive the rest.” I have pushed my body to the brink before and I can do it again. My body will keep going as long as I keep pushing it.
Why do I do this to myself? Because this is me. Because this is who I am. Because I am not a quitter. I will not stop running, swimming, cycling. I will not sit down. I will not disappear on to a couch with a tub of ice cream (well, maybe I will for a little while because ice cream is yum). I will keep pushing. I will keep challenging myself. I will keep aiming for bigger and better goals. I will keep working to be just as big a badass as all the badasses I have surrounded myself with. I will keep moving. I will keep being. I will keep rolling with the punches. I will keep digging deep. I will keep finding that extra reserve of confidence no matter where it is hidden. I will keep changing. I will keep adapting.
I do this to myself because I can.
“Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.” ~Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
“It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.” – George Sheehan
I’ve been struggling with finding the right words to use to write about completing my biggest running accomplishment thus far… a half marathon. This post was written over several sittings and even after having finished my SECOND half marathon.
I’m not sure I ever could’ve pictured myself running 13.1 miles but I did. Thinking back, I’m not exactly sure how I even got to that point, to be honest.
I know that it began when I printed out a schedule for half marathon training and then just kinda started following it and running.
And then I ran some more and some more and some more…
And somewhere in there I stopped disliking running as much as I once had. I stopped dreading it… I stopped having to make bargains with myself to “just run a little further.”
It’s weird, looking back, how uneventful the process seems to have been yet how eventful it actually really was.
This year’s Miami Turkey Trot was my first 10k race and I was happy with how I did, 56:48. It was also the first race I got to do with my brother which made it that much better.
After the 10k, I just kinda kept running… And then randomly decided one Wednesday, in the middle of the work day, that I should leave early and try running the half marathon distance for the first time.
So I did… And I ended up running 14 miles… And it sucked and it was absolutely glorious all at the same time. That day showed me that I had what it took to run that distance so all I had left to do was to get it done on race day.
I had planned it all out, I had chosen my first half marathon based on where it was being held… In Miami, my hometown, the city that still owns my heart. It seemed only right that the place that held my heart should be the city that watched me achieve a huge step towards my bigger goal of becoming an Ironman.
But Miami, in all its glorious unpredictability, had some tricks up its sleeve for my first half marathon. Race day was freezing, especially for a born and raised Floridian. I woke up at 230am on race day to find that the temperature was 50 degrees and dropping coupled with insane wind. I still thought I would be fine in a tank top and running shorts because I was sure that my body would warm up when I started running, boy was I mistaken.
The race start temperature was in the low 40s and I had turned into an ice cube. Nothing I did while running managed to warm me up, yet I still ran. My hands burned from the cold, my feet were numb, my nose was bright red and a complete running faucet… and yet I ran.
I ran and I kept running and I kept running.
My headphones started REPEATEDLY warning me that they were about to die around mile 6 and then finally did die around mile 8 or 9. Now I was faced with only having my thoughts as a distraction for the toughest part of the race. Everything hurt. The joy that was the beginning of the race had faded long before my headphones did.
I wanted to stop. To stop being cold. To stop the pain. To stop running. To stop the madness.
Who’s damn idea was this anyways??
Oh yeah, mine. (insert dramatic eye roll here)
I reminded myself… “You want to be an Ironman. Toughen up. This is nothing. This will be a walk in the park compared to THAT race day.”
And so I ran.
I ran up that last bridge, mile 10, pushing through pain and doubt (the only mile I dropped over 10 minutes at 10:08).
I ran those last few miles with a hip that felt like it was going to give out at any minute. Despite the pain, despite the cold, despite the overwhelming exhaustion, my last 2 miles were two of my three fastest miles.
I was able to overcome my most powerful enemy, my own mind.
I did what many didn’t think I could do, what I didn’t think I could do once upon a time…
I crossed that finish line with my arms raised high, I felt like I was on top of the world. Every inch of my being wanted to breakdown and cry tears of joy. But I didn’t. I maintained my composure (mostly because I wasn’t sure I could stop and also because the lady next to me was crying and, boy, was it not very cute).
Truth be told, I was a damn Popsicle when I finished even having to go as far as to ask a volunteer to open my water because my fingers were so frozen and numb that they couldn’t bend. It took me a good 3 hours to finally warm up, but it was still one of the greatest moments of my life to date.
I am so proud of my time and what I accomplished that day. I finished my first half marathon in 2:08:23, a PR for me.
Since that day, I ran a 15k six days later in 1:22:49
and my second half marathon four weeks after my first finishing with a new PR of 2:04:09 (both in my current hometown of Gainesville). I can feel myself getting better and my time improvements mirror that feeling.
There are so many things that led up to my decision to set out on this journey that I am on and, although they were painful experiences, I wouldn’t change a thing. Those experiences molded me and shaped me into this new fierce version of myself that won’t give up, that won’t back down…
I have a feeling that this new version of me is going to come in handy when I venture to that Ironman 70.3 start line on April 10, 2016 and even more so in that full Ironman I’m planning to do in 2017.
The story is just getting good so stay tuned for what’s coming…
But… when fear sneaks in through the window that you forgot you left cracked open it has the ability to infiltrate every single corner of your mind.
I equate it to having a flea problem in your house… you can wash everything, spray your house, and treat your pets but somehow fleas always seem to appear here or there from time to time.
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate, but it is fear.” – Gandhi
Fear can paralyze you, it can make you believe that you are incapable of doing something that you are certainly capable of doing. Fear can negate days, months, years, or even a lifetime of hard work.
So, when fear sneaks in, what do we do? Where do we go? How do we overcome?
I battle these questions EVERY TIME I enter the pool.
I have an intense fear of drowning but even bigger than that is the intense fear I have of not being good at something, of failing at something.
I want to be an Ironman probably more that I could ever adequately express in words. I can’t even tell you why I want it so bad, I just know that I do. One might think this desire would far outweigh any fear that might enter my mind… But, alas, it does not.
Whenever I am getting ready to go swim my anxiety levels begin to rise… My heart rate starts to increase, my breathing becomes irregular, and my thoughts start to race. I start to make bargains with myself about how much I am going to swim. When I get in the pool, all my symptoms become that much worse. When I go underwater, the panic becomes palpable. I start to feel as if I am going to run out of breath, like I have forgotten how to do what I have to do. I find myself stopping after every lap to catch my breath, to give myself a pep talk, to convince myself to keep going.
Swimming is my Achilles heel.
But, sometimes, there is this strange thing that happens while I am swimming… Sometimes when I am swimming there is a strange sense of peace that comes over me. The panic falls away, I feel calm, I do what I have to do without overthinking it… It actually feels natural.
So, when fear sneaks in, what do I do? Where do I go? How do I overcome?
I keep going. I keep pushing. I go to that place within my heart, within my soul, where my confidence and drive live. The place where I know that I can conquer the world and anything that comes between me achieving my dreams. I overcome by pushing past the fear and continuing to get in the pool until swimming becomes second nature to me because…
“A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.”
I often talk to my clients about comfort being the enemy of change. I find myself reminding them that if they are comfortable in my office during therapy, they probably aren’t doing the hard work necessary to achieve the positive change they want.
It’s strange how the lessons we most often teach others are the ones we tend to forget when it comes to our own lives.
I wouldn’t say that I have been “comfortable” in my life by any means but I think it’s safe to say that I have found a place where the discomfort I feel has become routine and comfortable in its own right. I have definitely become complacent. I have found myself putting things off that I have dreamed of in order to keep living my “routine” life.
Life has a way of shaking things up, usually when you least expect it. I have found that when the universe decides to upend my life, I tend to make big decisions and big changes. Most people would probably steer clear of making big decisions during rough patches but I find that they bring me solace and a goal to work towards so that I don’t get swallowed up by whatever nonsense is going on.
Recently, I once again found myself at a crossroads in my life… Change or stay where it was “comfortable”
Most people that know me or have read my first couple blog posts know that my love of cycling was born from a disastrous break up and that the strength I had to persevere to the top of Mt. Mitchell came from the sudden death of someone very close to me. Now, at this tough juncture in my life, I have made yet another decision… To chase my Ironman dreams.
I found myself in bed for 24 hours on Labor Day, an emotional wreck. I could not even muster the strength to go ride which I knew was a very bad thing for me. The next day, I knew that I had to do something or the hole would just grow and end up swallowing me whole. I made a decision, a very scary decision for me…
I have dreamt of doing an Ironman from the first moment I learned of its existence. Back then I was not a cyclist, probably couldn’t have run around the block, and certainly wouldn’t be caught swimming with any type of “form” other than that which resembles how a dog would swim and, yet, I still vowed to one day cross that finish line and be announced as an Ironman. I made that promise to myself a long time ago when I had a much younger body…
I have since been living life while still holding that dream in the back of my head. Three years ago, I completed a sprint triathlon but came very close to drowning during it. I have an intense fear of drowning most of which I know is mental but is quite real to me nonetheless. My fear of drowning coupled with my complete disdain of running had made it very easy to avoid considering what it would take to be an Ironman finisher. Until September 8, 2015 that is…
I knew that I needed something big to move me, to motivate me, to lift me up…
I researched the Miami Half Ironman and reached out to a close friend who used to swim competitively as well as used to coach swimming. Every fiber in my body told me that it was time… I made the decision to actively begin training for the Miami Half Ironman in 2016.
Since I began actively training for this crazy big dream, I’ve become more comfortable swimming (I don’t panic as much) and I have become a better runner. I even registered myself for the Miami Half Marathon on January 24, 2016 to give me something to work towards in the meantime.
I can feel a change happening within me…
I can even honestly say that I have developed a love for running that I never would’ve thought would happen. I can’t say that I love swimming just yet but I do believe my biggest personal growth has come from becoming better at that discipline. It is quite an amazing thing to feel as if you are overcoming a fear, overcoming something that you never thought you would overcome, and actually feeling like you are kind of good at doing it.
My first love is and will always be cycling but I am learning that I have room in my life, and can make space for, other things too.
Even within my love of cycling there are areas of discomfort which I try to avoid such as riding in groups… I recently conquered this area of discomfort by stepping out of my comfort zone and venturing out to do a big ride without my coach. I finished my first century ride in which I didn’t have him (my friend, my lucky charm) by my side. I was terrified of not having him with me to coach me and lead me. I was able to conquer my fears and actually joined a few groups of strangers on the ride, I got dropped by the first group before ending up with the group that I stayed with to finish out the last 50 miles. I was even able to make a few friends on this journey and look forward to expanding my horizons even in the sport that I love so much.
Life really is full of twists and turns and sometimes you have no choice but to roll with the punches. But there are other times where change is necessary, you have to make yourself uncomfortable, and you have to punch life right back in the teeth.
Here’s to punching life in the teeth and becoming the Ironman that I know I am!!
“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.” –George Bernard Shaw
For the last two years of my life I have dealt with a crazy series of ups and downs in all facets of my life (relationships, family, health, work, etc). However, no matter what was going on in my life, the one constant that always brought me solace and peace was cycling. It didn’t matter what up or down I was going through, the road was my sanctuary and free from anything external. It was as if, for the most part, the emotions of my everyday life just had no place out on the rides with me. Cycling truly was my heaven on Earth, until recently that is…
For the last week I have been dealing with something in my personal life that made me feel as if the air was sucked out of me. I am not even 100% sure why this situation hit me so hard but it did and my heart feels like it is quite literally broken into tiny pieces. I have racked my brain to try and process what made this hit me the way it did and I haven’t come up with much of an answer. I kept thinking that, if I keep riding, at least that time would be free from the emotional pain that has lodged itself deep into my being. I was wrong; boy was I ever wrong… The pain and the heartache have followed me right on to the road and infiltrated my safe place in a big way.
It is such a disheartening feeling to wake up on ride days and not want to get up and ride… Cycling was the one thing out of everything in my life that I always woke up looking forward to doing. I still make myself get up (earlier than usual) and I have been making myself ride further even on weekdays hoping that something will click into place but it hasn’t. There is this terror inside of me that the joy that I felt on my bike is gone. I can’t bring myself to believe that it’s gone; actually I won’t allow myself to believe that. My whole 30 mile ride this morning was full of a blankness of feeling of some sort, not the good kind of peaceful blankness but a sort of confused and lost blankness.
Those who know me know that I don’t do well with not knowing things but, unfortunately, that is all that I am left with. I keep hoping that it was all a nightmare that I will soon wake from and that I will go back to feeling good and happy but I know that isn’t the case. I find myself praying a whole lot more these days too… There is a constant repetition of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” in my head. Logically I know that I have overcome so many bigger things and so much emotional pain to rise above but the emotions I feel now are fresh and the wounds are wide open and trying to tell myself logical things doesn’t help heal/close up those wounds any quicker. Apparently, not even riding can do that right now…
But still I ride… I ride in hopes that I will feel better or that I will feel anything other than lost and confused really. I ride continuing to hope that eventually clarity will strike or that eventually the pain will lift off my heart and once again allow me to be free, to be the me I had come to be. I ride to be one with the thing that had become my passion, my soul’s savior. Instinctively I know that the storm does not last forever and that eventually the rainbow will appear in the sky but, for right now, only clouds are visible in the distance. I may have lost my mojo for a moment but I know that it is not gone forever and that I will overcome and persevere as I have always done in life.
“Sight is a function of the eyes, vision a function of the heart… Vision sets you free from the limitations of what the eyes can see and allows you to enter into the liberty of what the heart can feel. Never let your eyes determine what your heart believes.”
~Excerpt “The Principles and Power of Vision” Myles Munroe
We set off on Sunday morning (May 17, 2015) for South Carolina at the early hour of 7am, my brain was a mess and I was sure that I had forgotten something vital to my upcoming ride. Finally, I let the thought go because repeatedly going over and over everything I had packed in my mind was useless and a pointless waste of good energy. My brain had so many other things to worry and fret over… I decided that sleep would be the best option and so that’s what I did for a very large portion of our 8 hour northbound adventure.
Upon arriving to the hotel, we saw gorgeous bikes everywhere we turned. Seeing all the beautiful bikes was a stark reminder that my bike would surely be the least fancy at the ride the next day. This is both a curse and a joyous reminder of my achievements. You see, while all the people around me would mount their beautiful (and super light) carbon bikes with amazing components I would be hopping on to my trusty aluminum (much heavier) bike with its not so fantastic components. If you don’t ride then this fact probably doesn’t mean much to you but what it means to me is that I would have to work infinitely harder to achieve the same goal as them, therefore making me that much more of a bad ass (or idiot, you choose).
The rest of Sunday was pretty uneventful; we spent some time at the pool, I ate a huge meal at Fuddruckers, and Steve (my coach) asked me 957 times if I was ready for Monday. Of course I replied no 956 times and yes once to make it stop. I also explained to him that we were going to have shots at the bar following our glorious completion of the ride to which he repeatedly reminded me of my propensity towards falling asleep after long rides and how this one was much longer than any I had previously done. I ignored him and proceeded to sing “shots, shots, shots, shots” (a tune you hopefully know and a fact you should keep in your mind for later because, hint, it’s important).
Before going to sleep we prepared everything we would need to be ready for the morning so we could wake up, eat, and ride out to the start line. This was an especially spiritual time for me because I had to figure out the best placement for a Valentine’s card that Jimmy had given me with roses the year before. This card had so many meanings for me; not only was my first century ride dedicated to his memory but it was certain to be my inspiration along my long journey to the top of the mountain. I had been planning this for a bit but I wasn’t really prepared for the emotions that washed over me. It was so hard to see his handwriting on something and not think of the promise that his life had held and the pain that his untimely death had left in its wake. Nonetheless, I kept myself together and placed it where it would not interfere with everything else that I needed for the ride.
Morning came after a very restless sleep and, just as we had planned; we woke up at 5am, ate, threw the last few things together and made our way towards the start line. Even as I sit here writing and recounting the day, I feel the same flutter of emotions within me. I am not sure if the emotion was doubt or fear or anxiety or excitement or what really. I can tell you that it felt as if my heart was floating to the top of my throat and that I was surely going to vomit. There aren’t many words to describe what it feels like to know that you are about to set out on a 103 mile journey for the very first time ever. I kept switching between looking down at Jimmy, looking up to God, and looking over at Steve; my mind was flying with thoughts. I tried to look around and take in everything going on around me but it was hard to do with all that was going on in my mind. As the time approached, Steve began to give me my last-minute instructions. “Be careful at the start because most crashes happen there, we need to move and get with a good group so that we can make everything on time, we are going to pass the first two stops and it will be ok, make sure you drink plenty of water, no flat tires…” There was probably more that he said but I didn’t hear it. All I could respond with was “I will follow you, just lead me where you want me to go…” The time counted down and we were off.
The start was indeed a mess but not as bad as I assumed it would be. I did see a guy that blew a tire right at the start and my heart sunk for him but I had to focus on my journey today and leave his behind. We moved in and out and around slower people and were able to join a nice large group. We were moving at a good pace and I felt good so I was able to settle in and stick close to Steve’s back tire. In the crowd, I heard a familiar voice and realized that it was a guy that I had ridden next to for a bit during my Assault on the Carolinas ride just a few weeks ago. We chatted for a bit but it was difficult for me to focus and make small talk so I moved away and dug in to my journey. I became comfortable in the group and we rode, I had no idea how fast we were going or where we were in the journey but I decided to trust the process. We passed the first rest stop at mile 23 as planned and continued on. I was feeling really good and when Steve made a move towards the front of the pack, I promptly followed suit.
Then, it happened… One of the things that I was dreading… I started to get dropped, no matter how hard I was pumping I was losing speed and then I lost the group. Steve noticed and dropped off too. My immediate reaction was to blame him because I had tried to follow him to the front and then I felt it and I knew… I shouted out to him to check my tire and sure enough, to our chagrin, it was flat. We were about to head into a downhill and it wasn’t blown so I decided that we should continue on. As soon as we came off the downhill (around mile 39), it was done and needed to be changed. Steve decided that he would do it because he was faster than me but, of course, given my strained relationship with the universe it wasn’t going to be that simple. We couldn’t wedge the tire off despite an extensive amount of cursing and ranting. When we finally got it off, Steve wanted to just throw a new tube in but I knew better and I checked the tire. Upon inspection, I found my arch nemesis, the eternal thorn in my side… a piece of radial wire. Seeing as though this is a common occurrence for me I have, on many occasions, proclaimed that I was going to put tweezers in my bike bag. But, despite all my talk, I had not. I yanked the wire out with my teeth as Steve looked on in horror. (You see, we had to move, we had already watched two more big groups pass us and we knew that we were losing precious time). I continued to check the tire and found yet another piece of wire, this one significantly smaller than the first and I was unable to pull it out quite as fast. We fought with it to push it through to get it close enough for me to yank out with my precious teeth. While struggling with the second piece, a SAG motorcycle came by and called for a mechanic. Prior to the mechanic arriving, I was able to get it out. We let the mechanic pump up the tire and they assured us that more groups were coming that we could join. We set off yet again and seeing my face, Steve assured me that we were ok, we would find another group, and that we had been making good time with our pace of 20mph until my tire blew.
We kept riding and continued past the rest stop at mile 43 but couldn’t seem to find another good, solid group of riders. It was evident at this point that the rest of the way would be up to us to complete without the benefit of others to draft off of. Around mile 44 there is a dangerous curve that Steve started telling me as we passed the last rest stop. It is one thing to have someone tell you but quite another to see all the crazy blinking, noisy signs and feel the terror when riding into it despite knowing that you are being careful and probably won’t crash. We continued on and so did the rolling hills. I still felt good and was pushing myself to move so we could still make all of the timing points that Steve had told me about. My mind wasn’t struggling, my body still felt good, and every time I looked down Jimmy was still with me. We stopped at the rest stop at mile 48 for a quick water fill up and potty break. We headed out again and were still making good time when we came upon road construction and were forced to stop by the road crew. This may not seem like a big deal but losing 7 minutes standing in the road is bad… It’s bad for the timing points you have set for yourself and it’s bad for your body which is now having the opportunity to remember that it should be sore. I could feel the beginning of cramps and tried my best to hydrate and also slam down Gatorade chew after Gatorade chew.
We finally were able to take off again and made it to the rest stop at mile 65 with little other adversity. My mind started to think about how incredibly easy the ride had been thus far and I knew there would be a catch at some point. As we continued on, I was reminded of the weather updates that we had been watching which the predicted 50-60% chance of thunderstorms. I looked around at the beautiful, yet hot, day and was thankful that the weatherman was wrong (or was he?). We rolled into the Marion stop at mile 74 at 11:39am (5:09:00 into the ride) about 20 minutes ahead of our planned schedule. Steve’s parents were there cheering for us and videotaping our arrival. I was pumped, super hyped up, and all smiles. I felt great and upon realizing that I had just set a new distance PR for myself, I was ready to go and finish out the rest of this ride. Steve grabbed a rain vest thing from his parents in case it started raining for which I made fun of him because the day was gorgeous and there wasn’t a rain cloud in sight. (Remember my precarious relationship with the universe? Yeah, you can see where this is going). We filled up, said bye to his parents, and took off again. I was truly feeling amazing and as if I could conquer the world.
As we set off, Steve kept asking if I wanted the truth about the rest of the ride to which I consistently answered no. (He still tells me anyways.) He told me that after the next rest stop, things were going to get much harder. We made a quick stop at the mile 82 rest stop and he again reminded me that the next 5 mile ascent was probably the hardest on the ride. As soon as we left the rest stop the rain began falling on us. The weather got bad very, very quickly as did the course we were on. The steepness was incredible and the amount that I had to pump my legs to equal the speed of a land tortoise crossing the road was nothing short of amazing in a very terrible way. My mind began to rip at the seams and my body started to cramp in places that I never realized could cramp. I wanted to cry or scream or both. I kept pumping, praying, and talking to every person that I have loved and lost in my life begging them to push me forward. I kept looking at Jimmy’s words taped to my bike and telling him that we were going to make it to the top no matter what the cost, we would make it. Steve clearly saw the pain and doubt across my face and he slowed to ride next to me. He asked me how I was doing and all I could do was muster an awful look in his direction. This is where the fun started… He asked if I was ready for “shots, shots, shots, shots” as he sang and bounced on his bike. I couldn’t not laugh, he had yanked me from the darkness in my mind and all I could do was laugh. Steve is not the sing songy type which just made the situation all the more entertaining. I think I told him once that I wanted to stop and he simply told me, no. So we didn’t, we kept pushing, riding, and we didn’t stop (neither did the rain) until we got to the rest stop at mile 87. I kept thinking that if I had just pushed through the toughest ascent then the rest of the ride would be a piece of cake… Wrong. As we arrived at the rest stop, cold and wet, I proclaimed that what we had just ridden was THE. WORST. FIVE. MILES. OF. MY. ENTIRE. LIFE.
We rolled in to the mile 87 rest stop at 1:40pm again ahead of the schedule that Steve had set for us. This was the key stop in the ride because it was slightly downhill from the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ride rules state that if you aren’t on the parkway by 3pm, you can’t continue in the ride. So, we were golden and would certainly have the opportunity to continue on. I looked down at Jimmy and quietly assured him (and myself) that we would definitely be finishing this journey. Steve let me rest a tiny bit longer at this stop and the rain let up when we got there as well. We talked to some of the other cyclists that were there about the terribly miserable previous 5 mile ascent and then about the apparently almost as awful 6 mile ascent in front of us. We clicked on our lights (we would encounter two tunnels on the parkway ahead of us) and set off again.
Despite how awful the previous 5 miles were, it was the next 6 miles that would test every facet of my heart, mind, and soul. The next 6 miles almost broke my psyche in ways that I didn’t know possible. My body hurt and was cramping everywhere, the thunder was deafening, the rain torrentially poured down on top of us, the lightning was blindingly bright, the wind was blowing, and the fog was rolling in. The rain literally looked like a river pouring down the road. We not only had to contend with working against the wind as we climbed the steep ascent but we also had to contend with the force of the water that was pushing against us as we continued to roll upwards. If there was ever a point in the ride where I wanted to quit, this was it. The rain was blinding as it pelted my eyes and all I wanted to do was stop pedaling. I was doing everything I could to not cry but I don’t think I was as successful as in the previous 5 miles. I again began to call on Jimmy, my grandparents, and everyone else that I believed was an angel by my side to help me. I begged. Begged for them to push me, begged for God to make the rain stop, begged my body to stop cramping, begged myself not to quit. Steve tried several times to ask how I was doing and drop in the “are you ready for shots, shots, shots” but it wasn’t quite as effective as before because I was angry and tired and freezing. I wanted it to stop, all of it. I asked Steve repeatedly if he knew how close we were to the next stop but he didn’t know which made me angrier because, to me, if I knew how far I had to go then I could will myself to get there. A couple passed us and as they rode by I asked them. “About 1.5 more miles to the next stop.” they said. I told myself that I could do that. An infinite amount of time later, another man was passing and I asked him too… 1 more mile he said. 1 more mile!! It had been forever since the couple passed us, I told myself. There was no way that there was still another mile to go and no way that I could keep going for another mile. My mind needed a break and I called out to Steve that I needed to stop. To my surprise he called back, ok. What?!?!?!?!? He is the one that is supposed to tell me no!! One would think that given permission, I would stop. Nope.
I started to think about the chapter of a book, Aspire: Discovering Your Purpose Through the Power of Words by Kevin Hall, that I had just read to the kids I work with on the Friday before the ride. The chapter was titled Sapere Vedere (meaning ‘knowing how to see’) and talked about the importance of visualization on our life’s path. Ever since reading them the chapter, I had begun to visualize my own century ride journey; what it would look like at the top and how it would feel to stand atop the highest peak east of the Mississippi just having ridden 103 miles to get there. At this very moment on our journey, when all I wanted was to pull over and make it all stop, I again began to visualize the end of this journey. I began to remind myself of how it would feel and what it would look like. I reminded myself of the promise that I made to Jimmy that we would make it to the top together. I was reminded of a quote I had seen that morning on Instagram, “breathe in confidence, breathe out doubt” and I began to repeat it to myself as I began to breathe in and out. Every time we turned a corner, I shouted out to Steve to ask if he could see the rest stop ahead. Many times, repeatedly, the answer was no. I kept trying to breathe in and out but soon I resorted to my more callous and less lady like coping skill of cursing aloud A LOT. I again reached a moment when my body wanted to shut down and I literally began to think that my body was going to quit on me if I didn’t stop. I again began to toy with the idea of stopping but at that precise moment we turned another corner and Steve threw up a thumb and shouted that he could see it. I wanted to weep at the sight of his thumb but I had no energy to do anything but push through the rest of the way to the stop. The last man that had passed us had been wrong about the distance ahead and, had I given in to the doubt that had covered my mind, I would’ve stopped only to start again and realize just how close we had really been to the next stop. I was less mad at the man and much more proud of my ability to push through the pain and misery that had engulfed my entire being. In Aspire, Kevin Hall writes “it’s been said that vision is what we see when we close our eyes. We have to see it before we can be it. ‘Dream lofty dreams,’ wrote James Allen. ‘And as you dream so shall you become. Your vision is the promise of what you shall one day be.’” My purpose, my dream, my vision was to complete this journey so that I could truly see myself as the cyclist that I know I am. I could see it, I could feel it, and, despite the all the adversity the weather was carrying with it, I knew I would become the dream I had envisioned.
We made it to the rest stop at mile 93, I was exhausted and miserable. I was the most miserable that I had ever been in my entire life and I really began to wonder what it was that drove me to do insane things like this ride. There are a few things that stuck out about this rest stop… One of the first things I encountered at this stop was an older volunteer under the tent who was holding a tiny dry towel in her hand. She had just wiped off the face of another female rider next to me and asked if I wanted my face dried off. I am sure that I looked at her like she was crazy because I kind of thought that she was. What was a tiny towel and a dry face going to do for me when my entire body was soaked to the bone and shivering from the cold? She kept insisting and I knew she was going to keep insisting so I gave in. The feeling was, in fact, wondrous. I don’t know what it was that made it so amazing, that my face was dry and seemingly warm or the charity that I felt when she wiped my face. I thanked her profusely and then found myself wishing that I could dry my whole body with the tiny towel so it could feel like my face. I began to find a semblance of laughter inside again which I knew was a very good thing.
Another thing that stuck out for me at this stop were amount of people that were quitting (there was a line of people waiting under a tent for SAG vehicles to take them the rest of the way to the top). I didn’t understand (I still don’t) how someone could be so close and give up. To this day, this is one of the things that resonates in my mind because I don’t give up, I don’t fail, especially when I am that close to what I want. I talked to a couple cyclists that were considering quitting because the weather was just too bad and I told them that they shouldn’t, I reminded them that we had all come this far and that the top was only a short distance away. I willed them to continue and I am not sure if I was willing them to continue or willing myself to. We also discussed the upcoming 2 mile downhill piece that I was completely dreading. This may be the only time in my life that you will ever hear me say that I did not want to go downhill. It wasn’t so much the thought of how dangerous the road was thanks to the weather or because going downhill only meant that there was that much more to climb (again), but it was more so because I was so cold that the thought of the wind hitting my body made me feel that much more chilled to the bone.
I had a couple cookies and then Steve began to hound me about leaving the rest stop. I began to whine and reminded him that before the ride he told me that after mile 87, we could rest longer and take our time. He continued to hound me about leaving and I continued to whine about staying which went on for several minutes. I knew that I wasn’t going to win the battle so we started to move towards our bikes and the exit of the rest stop when we heard a terrible crashing noise. I asked Steve what he thought it was and he looked at me with a puzzled glance. I heard someone say that it was probably thunder but I knew better because we had, after all, been consistently listening to the crashing sound of the thunder for several hours now. We tried to ignore it and as we were about to move, we heard someone say that they believed that there had been a rock slide up ahead. Steve wanted to leave despite this knowledge and I wanted to wait a minute to get confirmation. Finally I gave in because I began to worry that, if there had indeed been a rock slide, the ride might be stopped due to the severe weather conditions. Like I said before, I don’t fail and unlike the 20 or so people in line to catch a ride to the top, I wasn’t going out like that. We rode off before anyone could say anything and maybe 1000 feet from the exit of the rest stop, there it was. There were small boulders and rocks littering the road while a crew worked feverishly to clean it all up. We weaved through the rocks and continued on. It began to dawn on me that my whining had saved us from getting caught in the rock slide. We had missed it by 5 minutes and the thought, although scary, was the furthest thing from my mind. I couldn’t stop shivering and the rain was again pelting me in the face. My face was no longer warm and dry.
As we got closer to the downhill portion, all I could think about was how bad I wanted to rip off my gloves because of how cold my hands were. Despite wanting to, I had no time to because the downhill was upon us so I shouted to Steve that I was going to stop to take them off after the downhill but I’m not sure he heard me. The downhill was terrifying and not in a thrilling, living on the edge sort of way, it was just deathly terrifying. I couldn’t keep my eyes open because the rain was hitting my eyes so hard and my whole body was trembling from the cold so my bike was also shaking. I rode the brakes the whole way down and I kept thinking that this might really be what takes me out. When you start to have those thoughts, it’s hard not to feel guilty and selfish for wanting to do something like this in the first place. The thoughts didn’t last long because the cold was too overpowering to think about anything else. The descent was fast despite riding the brakes and as soon as we started to climb again, I ripped the gloves off with my teeth and shoved them in my back pocket. My hands were still cold but they felt infinitely better so I kept riding. I caught up to Steve and saw a not so happy look on his face. When I asked what was wrong, he said that we needed to stop because he thought there was something wrong with his bike. We pulled over at a beautiful overlook as the rain began to slow to a drizzle. While Steve looked over his bike, I took in some of the beautiful view (the steam coming off the mountains made them kind of look like chimneys). I asked if he figured out what was wrong with it and he said it didn’t look like there was anything wrong and that he thought that he must’ve been so cold and shaking so violently that the bike was shaking too and it just hadn’t felt right. We laughed and talked about the cold for a couple seconds, took some time to snap a couple pictures, and again rode off.
The time between our stop at the overlook and the final rest stop at mile 101 (there was another rest stop in between at mile 99) kind of blends together for me so I will do my best to describe them as accurately as possible. The sun came out at one point and I remember talking to Steve about my hopes that the sun would stay out for when we finished so that I would get to see the beautiful view from the top. Unfortunately, the sun didn’t stay out for more than a few minutes and the wind and rain continued on. I believe that the mile 99 rest stop had Coke which tasted heaven sent at that point. I believe it was also at mile 99 that we encountered another rider who looked about as spent as I did. He was an African-American gentleman (whom I later learned was from Augusta, Ga) that looked like he spends lots of time in the gym. He had an upper body that could rival that of a body builder. Despite his very muscular build, his face looked spent and we chatted about his thoughts about giving up. I again found myself talking about finishing the journey to convince both him and me that it was what we needed to do. I knew that it must be hell for someone so strong, upper body wise, to ride so very slow up a mountain. It is hard for me to balance myself when I ride that slowly and I am infinitely smaller than that guy. But he went on and so did we. I believe this was also the rest stop where one of the volunteers was a very cheery man with his dog cheering the riders on as they took off. It was actually quite humorous and uplifting to see how he cheered everyone before us off and then us when we left too.
About 1000ft or so after leaving the rest stop we encountered another man who I had exchanged deep sighs and miserable grunting noises with at previous stops sitting on the side of the road simply staring at his bike that was laying on its side. Cyclists are really good at asking if each other are ok when they are stopped but the reality is that most don’t actually stop to help each other (it’s the thought that counts I suppose). We shouted to him and asked if he was ok, he wasn’t. Apparently, as he was shifting something had gone terribly wrong and his rear derailleur bent in. This was the kind of issue that was a ride ending one… I couldn’t even imagine how he felt as he shouted back that there were only 4 miles left and that it couldn’t end this way. I couldn’t stop to help because, honestly, if I did then I may not have been able to will my legs to finish. Steve told me to go on as he stopped to try and help. The man even tried to convince people in the passing SAG that someone should lend him a bike to finish; even I knew that one wasn’t going to fly. Steve quickly caught up to me and told me that he hadn’t been able to help and that he wasn’t sure what the man planned to do. So, we rode on…
The 2 mile portion between the last two rest stops was also another very challenging part for me. There is another very steep climb that tested my body’s limits. The soreness was ever present and my muscles felt as if they were literally shredding under my skin. Everything hurt and things started to seize up. I remember that we were going so incredibly slow that I wasn’t sure we would ever make it to the next stop. I also remember that, because we were going so slowly, it was very hard to maintain balance and continue in a straight line so I was kind of riding in more of an ‘s’ type path. There was one point where tears were falling because I was hurting so bad that I looked over and realized that there was no barrier between me and the cliff straight down and I began to think that because I had so little control over going in a straight line that there was a good chance my arms would twitch and I would go right over the edge. What sticks out is how undisturbing the thought was at that very moment. I was so tired and in so much emotional/physical pain that it was almost a welcomed idea at that point. I thought about how it would at least be a glorious way to go. I was able to snap myself out of that thinking, keep pumping my legs, and keep repeating “breathe in confidence, breathe out doubt.” I kept reaching out to my angels and praying. Steve and I were in sort of a dance with our body builder looking friend who would ride for a while and then walk for a bit and then ride and so on and so forth. I kept thinking that he was doing it and so were we and that, no matter the cost; we would all finish this journey.
We reached the rest stop at mile 101 and I had to sit, actually I had to lie down. The volunteers were nice and very encouraging people that were willing to tend to our every need. They cheered for us as we came in and made sure we were cared for. One of the volunteers gave me ibuprofen and I proceeded to find a spot in the grass to lie down in. I was hurting and cramping and cold and wet and miserable and strangely happy and sad and lots of other emotions too. We had 2 more miles and we would finally reach the finish line. I remember taking off one shoe and one sock in a desperate attempt to decide if I should forego the soaked socks and hope that my well ventilated tri-shoes would dry my feet. I had the silly discussion with Steve and even our body builder looking friend whom had arrived at the stop. I decided, finally, to leave them on mostly because I lacked the strength to take the other off too. I also noticed that another older gentleman who I had talked to about not quitting at the rest stop at mile 93 rolled into the rest area. He had kept going too, unwilling to give up on his journey despite how hard it had become. Yet another older gentleman who I had chatted with at other stops earlier talked to me about the terrible weather conditions and all the other times he had completed the ride which had been so much easier. We talked about this being my first century and he looked at me with a very surprised look on his face stating, “well, you sure picked a great one to do as your first, this is by far the hardest century ride in the country.” (Oh my God, didn’t I know that by now!) We chatted about all the people that quit at mile 93 and how the weather had probably taken its toll on them. I responded with “I guess if this was easy than everybody would do it.”
The final 2 miles of my journey are hard for me to remember as well but I know that they were no piece of cake. I remember looking ahead and seeing the trucks that were transporting the bikes back down the mountain and getting super excited that the end was around the next bend only to have my hopes dashed when Steve told me that the end wasn’t there. I know that I dug deep at the end because I hurt, A LOT. I remember coming around the final curve and seeing the finish line and having a rush of emotions hit me at once. We had made it… Steve and I and Jimmy and everyone that had accompanied me along the way had made it to the end. I remember looking down at Jimmy and the tears welling up in my eyes as I crossed the finish line in 11:08:05 with strangers cheering for us, Steve’s dad videotaping us, and his mother cheering almost uncontrollably at the sight of us making it. I started to break down, I could no longer hold all my emotions in and I started crying. I tried to hold on and not let go of my sanity completely but I couldn’t hold it all in.
Immediately when you cross the finish line, the volunteers come to take your bike from you so that you won’t be the idiot that tries to ride back down the mountain. (They also shove a medal and ride patch in your face while they are trying to snatch your bike away, probably to distract you from what they are doing. Lol!) I kept telling the volunteers to hold on and they kept assuring me that I could take my time. I had to get the Valentine’s card off the bike because I needed Jimmy to come with me for the final part of the journey. They patiently waited as I fumbled around trying to pull the tape from around the card continuously telling me to take as long as I needed. I wondered why they didn’t help me get it off but I suppose that they could see what it said and knew that it was probably something that I needed to take care of. My fingers were ice cold and it took me seemingly forever to peel the tape away. I finally got it off and the tears began to flow a little harder. I gave Steve and his mother and father hugs to celebrate what we had just accomplished and we moved to the overlook where we would take pictures to signify what we had finished.
The fog, the rain, and the clouds ensured that the view from the top was much less than majestic for our pictures. Honestly, it didn’t even matter. We took our pictures together and separate, all smiles and full of pride. I had accomplished something that I wasn’t sure that I would ever do a year ago.
That feeling of accomplishment became bittersweet when I took the next set of pictures. I taped Jimmy’s card to the sign on the overlook and took pictures of it. This ride, after all, was dedicated to his memory and we had made it up this mountain together. The process came with a lot of prayer and reflection. I was acutely aware that he was not there in physical form and that hurt in a place of my soul that I can’t begin to describe. I forgot that I was cold and wet and I lingered at the overlook, unwilling or unable to walk away. I felt as if, when I walked away, it would all be over and that everything I worked for would end with that final change of clothing and that bus ride down the mountain. I knew that I couldn’t stay no matter how bad I wanted to so I got my warm, dry clothes and made my way towards the “changing room” (really it was a large port-o-potty). I began to change and simultaneously began to weep uncontrollably. I had fought so hard to finish and I used every bit of my being to will myself up to the top of the mountain. I wept because I was so happy and I wept because I was so incredibly sad. My mind was tired and that meant that it moved to thinking about what the ride had come to mean for me. I wept because I knew that if Jimmy were alive he would’ve made the trip to see me cross the finish line. I wept for his promising life that had been lost and the effect it had on people that I had grown to love and care for. I wept because I had worked so hard to get to that point and it had become so important to me that I didn’t want it to end because I was unsure of what I was going to work towards next that had the potential to give me the fire and drive that this goal had given me. But, as we all know, all good things must come to an end so it was time to stop crying and get on the bus towards a warm meal.
One might assume that this is where the story ends but… it’s not! A good story really ends with meeting new awesome people and celebrating your accomplishment!! We got on the bus for what would be a SUPER long ride back to the Marion stop. It felt like it took forever for us to start moving and I was getting sleepy. I knew I couldn’t fall asleep because I had talked a big game about having shots after the ride and if I fell asleep, it was over for me. Instead of allowing sleep to overtake me, I started to look around to see who was on the bus with us and I was overjoyed to see our body builder looking friend, the older man that had talked about quitting, and even the guy that had been sitting on the side of the road was there. They had all finished, none had given in and quit. Our body builder looking friend continued to alternate between riding and walking for the remainder of the ride and the man from the side of the road (who we learned later was Philipino) walked the entire final 4 miles until he crossed the finish line. Walking in cycling shoes is no easy feat so they are definitely winners in my book!! But, they weren’t the stars of our ride down the mountain, the fantastic crew from Indiana were. I mostly eavesdropped on their hilarious conversation but also engaged in some. I came to find out after the ride that they are part of a group in Indiana called Cure Chasers. They had me laughing most of the way down with their funny back and forth banter between each other and with their stories of the ride, other rides they had done, and their “normal” rides back home. The highlight of the bus ride has to go to my weary mind, however… There were two older (older than me anyways) men on the bus and they clearly were not doing so good and were clearly going to be sick. All of a sudden there was what seeming like a very loud crashing noise in the bus (ok, so it might not have been that loud but it sure seemed that way at the time) and we all kind of looked around wondering aloud what it might have been. I exclaimed that maybe it had been another rockslide but, nope… it happened again and then we realized that it was in fact one of the men throwing up into a trash bag. As stupid as my exclamation may have been, it brought with it many more laughs for the rest of the ride. I am thankful that, upon everyone opening the bus windows to release the throw up stench from the air, one of my new friends was gracious enough to give me his plastic blanket to keep me warm since I had chosen shorts for my dry clothes bag and had again begun trembling. Truth is, without them, I surely would’ve gotten lost in my thoughts and feelings and probably begun to cry again. They made my heart smile and laugh, something I will be forever grateful for.
We made it to Marion, ate a nice hot meal, and hopped in the car for the rest of the ride back to Spartanburg where we would pick up our bikes. I was able to stay awake for all but the last 15 minutes of the trip but quickly awakened when we got to Spartanburg. We retrieved our bikes after a little more adversity concerning my bike (of course) and made our way back to the hotel where I continued to remind Steve about our “shots, shots, shots!” He was taking entirely too long so I threw on my medal (yes, my medal) and made my way to the bar. Shortly thereafter, Steve joined me and we made sure to have our “shots, shots, shots!” We discussed potential rides in the future and took a drunken walk to Krispy Kreme for some late night donuts but apparently they aren’t 24 hours and promptly told us (when we WALKED up to the drive-thru) that we needed to be in a car to be served. Clearly, the not nice woman inside DID NOT see the medal around my neck and did not understand why we desperately needed donuts. Needless to say, we did not get any donuts but we did have a super fun time stumbling back to the hotel and inside the lobby. (I even made him carry me up a couple steps which I think almost caused him to have a heart attack. Lol.)
All in all, this was a truly humbling, amazing, awe inspiring experience. I would not trade any of the adversity that we faced for an easier ride. Not only did it make for a MUCH more interesting blog post but it also made for a more triumphant journey. This ride taught me that I can truly do anything and accomplish anything that I put my heart, mind, and soul to. It was the perfect way to honor an amazing man that had been lost and it gave me another opportunity to be close to him. This ride also renewed my faith in God. It is not cliché when someone says, “if he brings you to it, he’ll bring you through it.” It is the truth and I am a believer. Without my amazing coach/friend/cycling husband pushing me and my prayer, faith, willpower, and sheer stubbornness I would not have finished this ride. Only 529 out of 731 cyclists that were registered actually finished the ride and I am very proud to be able to say that I am among those finishers. I am not sure what the future brings as far as cycling adventures but I can say that I am fairly certain that, while intoxicated, I agreed to come back and ride the 2016 Assault on Mt. Mitchell (after all, I didn’t get to have pictures with that great view so I need to do it at least one more time to have that). Who knows, you might even find Steve and I up at the 160 mile 2016 RAIN ride in Indiana!! The future is bright and full of promise and dreams! My adventures always hold the promise of plenty of adversity so stay tuned for whatever comes next!!