Surviving the Bad Days

I planned my emotional breakdown in advance.

It would happen in the bathroom at home. Turn on a pounding tap, as if to run a bath. Sob into the white noise. Sal is none the wiser.  I’ve done it before.

I would have preferred to unleash the floodgates as we climbed the final mile of Thomspon, but the effect would have been counterproductive, what with the hyperventilating and snot explosion. My coach’s hand was on my back, lending me an extra 20 or so watts and I was barely pedaling. My legs had long-since signed off. My heart was flat and indifferent. My head was the only thing keeping me in the game.

“You have to finish.” was all it would say to me. It did not make me feel good or bad – it only made me feel like I still had further to go.

It’s not that the ride was hard – it wasn’t. And certainly the west-side of Thompson is a gentle climb. The ride in total would be 55 miles, which is equally un-impressive. It wasn’t that we were conquering magnificent landscape or epic conditions: I was just an out of shape girl on a team ride with tiny hammering types.

I was out of place and in, perhaps, a bit over my head. But they’d invited me – waited for me – and encouraged me.

So despite the fact that I never should have been there it was, in fact, the only place I should have been.

It was awful.

If you have ever been pushed up a hill then maybe you know. I should have been demoralized and possibly embarrassed, but I couldn’t convince myself to muster either emotion.  I just pedaled and cocked my head to the side in that way that I do when pain comes to the forefront and other things fade away.

It didn’t matter that they’d told me we were riding flat. Or that I’d expected Springwater. Or that I’d been led to more than I thought I was getting into.

You just show up and pedal your bike – and wherever the group goes, you follow. That’s how team rides work. I knew as much when I left the house. I knew as much when I got to Goose Hollow. Just pedal.

If fitness has a nadir then I’ve reached it. I’m as slow, maybe, as I’ve ever been.

That’s ok. Because it means I can only get faster.

I’m leaving soon and it isn’t just about the weather or the winter. I’m snow-birding but it’s more of an emotional sabbatical than a meteorological one. I need to hit the reset button and focus my head a little. I’m going to Arizona where the sky is bigger and bluer and things will maybe be slower. The computer will connect me to my work, but the pace of life will change no matter what.

Today was the last day that I could ride with the team – so I did. I knew I hadn’t trained enough and I knew I would get shelled, but I went anyway. Being the last person to pull up to a regroup spot is the best way to learn how to be a more heroic human. Face your shortcomings head on, take a deep breath, a swig of water, and keep going. It’s the tiniest bit tragic, but in the end it’s all that you can do.

So you just go do it.

When it’s over you go into your bathroom and turn on the pounding bathwater, but you no longer feel the need to fall apart. The urge to break into a million pieces has passed and turned into  a sort of fucked up pride. Because you went and rode to the edge of your ability – and you were still the slowest person on the road – but you kept pedaling all the way home because, goddamit, that’s what’s supposed to happen.

For every glorious attack there is an equal but opposite glorious grasping in the back of the pack.

It’s not the winning move but it’s the move of someone who will not fold. The flailing reaction of a resilient spirit.

You get pushed up a hill and want to die, but you don’t. You go home with the intention of sobbing, but you don’t.

You just keep pedaling. And everything gets better.

*

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16 comments

  1. Heidi, good on you for gutting it out.

    Today was my first road ride with my new team. I was excited to see where I fit in the pecking order. The rain wasn’t too bad and I felt pretty sparky especially on the early climbs. The ride was advertised as a flattish 3 hour ride. It turned out to be 4 hours. At about hour 3 into the ride I bonked. I was feeling like nails, attacking every climb, and generally having fun. I then felt a little hungry. Less than five minutes later, it was like someone pulled the pin on the grenade. My legs and arms felt cold. I could hardly turn over the pedals. I was praying for every red light. Dizzy on the bike, having trouble steering a straight line. Not good. I frantically wolfed down a Clif bar like it was my only hope of making it home (and it was). The worst was the concerned looks of my new team mates (which were great BTW). I must have looked like a ghost at some point. TOTAL BONK. The bar kicked in and I could pedal circles again. We stopped for bananas and Cokes. If it wasn’t for that stop, I don’t think I could have made it up Thompson.

    So don’t feel too bad I had a great/terrible ride too.

  2. Nice! Katie F’n Compton pushed me up a hill once. I know of what you speak.

  3. Oh boy, Someone’s hand on my back, just can’t stand it! Feels like a defeat. A psychological one. I told my coach never, never to do that to me unless he wants to kill my spirit completely…brake me into tiny pieces.
    Again, great post!
    Have a good time in Arizone Heidi.
    Lots of writing and riding!
    Mari-jo

  4. I don’t always hold it together so gracefully.

    Did I ever tell you about the time I completely fell apart after my first (and only) track class at Alpenrose? The year was 2000. I road to the track on my fixie after a day of messengering and proceeded to totally suck. Slowest girl out there. Could not keep up. I threw my very best indignation at it, but all the notions I had about my strength, about belonging on a bike rode off with the pack. I was fine (not weeping) while I was on the bike, but it was the kindness of a ride home in a warm car had me sobbing into my tabouleh by the time we hit the Ross Island.

  5. If you rode 55 miles, you are not in bad shape at all. Don’t be so dag gum hard on yourself. And don’t forget – It’s cool to be slow right now.

  6. Nice read. Have a great decompress in Arizona.

  7. You did great Heidi! We knew it wasn’t going to be easy – it isn’t always easy in cycling. It’s rarely easy, actually. And everyone on that ride has been in the same spot. I know I have been. These are the rides that build not only fitness, but character.

    (Mark and I were saying this ride would be good blog-inspiration for you)

    RC

  8. this is some of your best writing (that I’ve ever read).
    and you are absolutely right about there being an equal and opposite triumph at the back of the pack.
    even if you’re riding isn’t where you want it your writing is incredible. even powerful.
    strong work on and off the road.

  9. I’ve been pushed up a hill. Typing this, I realized that, just last year on a training ride, I got a nice push on a *downhill* from a teammate trying to get me back into the draft. It is humbling, but I’ve always thought of it as an act of love. Not pity or disrespect, but true supportiveness. If they didn’t give a shit, they’d just pass you and (maybe) wait at the top. Maybe next time you’ll be the pusher.

  10. Kevin Ward

    If I could put into words my feelings on cycling as of late, this has summed it up. It is at the very least a most humbling experience. Every ride I push on through, hoping to flush my legs of their slowness, rewire my brain of it’s weakness, and break myself into the submission of pain.
    Knowing I am not alone comforts me at the moment and inspires me. We have not met but, when we do, I hope it is off the front. Maybe you will write about that and we look at today with grace.

  11. You didn’t fall apart when you got home because you stuck it out and knew that you gave it your best effort. As pathetic as you thought you were during the ride, you were proud that you didn’t quit, and rightly so. Enjoy Arizona and being able to ride in shorts.

  12. Lovely writing. It was one nice understandable article for 75% and then became something else entirely as we contemplated the victory in defeat idea. Afterall, anyone can finish a climb on a good day. But who can finish a climb on their worst and what does that say? Keep up with the writing if only for those of us who have no choice but to trade the bike for x-country skis now.

  13. Hi Heidi,
    You’re amazing in so many ways. To be able to put into words so elegant, the feelings of a ride, is pure inspiration. I strive to keep pedaling, to look ahead, reading this gives me insight. Whether it is on the road or in life. I ask myself… what would Swifty do? Thanks for helping me see different perspectives in my Black and White world. To read your writing is a true gift.
    Thanks
    MD :)

  14. Geez, Mark. You almost got me cryin’ with that one. Nice work! :)

  15. Thanks, Heidi, for putting in to words what I feel sometimes– usually in the middle of a hill, at the end of a long ride. Great writing.

    Have fun in Arid-zona, I hope you find what you need there to come back to P-town and hit it again! :D

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