Time Trialing By Braille


I’ve never done a time trial before, but I like the concept.  Go out by yourself, as hard as you can.  You and the clock.  That’s it. 

There’s no messy peloton, no pulling or drafting or breaking away.  Just straight-up pain.  As much as you can take.

I’m nervous.  On the trainer before the race I open my legs with some time at tempo and a seriously painful short interval at LT.  Goddam, that hurts!  Everything hurts.  I sit on the trainer and wonder why I am doing this.  I want to get off and go home.  I’m not excited about it. 

Mental note to self: you have seriously got to work on your positive self-talk, sweetheart.

I worry about everything but mostly about how fast or slow I will be in relation to my own expectations and the expectations of others.  I can write up a mean race, but can I ride one?

I ground myself with my one carefully selected phrase: Find the joy.


It seems like a strange phrase to carry with you to a time trial, but it gets at the heart of one of my biggest challenges. Keeping my heart in the right place is as essential to my success as logging quality miles. If I don’t remember that I love it, then the endless miles will be mostly moot.

There are critics everywhere.  Critics and nemeses. 

I make these cycling escapades public in the hopes that people might find some entertainment or inspiration from them.  I ride and write for the love of both.  The point of this blog is that you don’t need to be fast for your efforts to matter.  They matter regardless.  Our own tiny battles inform us and make us better. Our challenges stretch us and demand that we grow.

I take these thoughts with me to the line and breathe slowly. I’ve heard it said that to time trial well you have to be very calm.  Tranquil even. 

I feel a kind of quiet peace as the man in the starting house holds my bike upright and I stand up on the pedals.  At ten seconds I start the cycling computer. Three, two, one.

Into the pain.

I’ve come into this endeavor with a very specific plan.  Go out relatively easy in the first minute, so as not to explode.  Then wind it up.  Get up to my target heart rate and pin it.  Hit it a little harder on the way back if I can muster.

The tailwind pushes me downhill and I turn a big gear.  Flying.

I am on my road-bike with aero-bars attached.  I have nick-named this bike "Nonna" because, truth be told, she’s aging a bit.  Nonna and I are flying out and I find my heart rate immediately and settle in.  It is hard to believe that you can settle in to LT, but I do.

Steve Brown, who started two minutes behind me, catches me ten minutes in.  Another, mental note to self: "damn, he’s fast."  He hollers as he goes by, wasting precious oxygen on me. God bless that man.

I get to the turnaround point faster than I expect.

When I round the cone, the wind hits me from the side so hard I shift my weight to keep the bike upright.

Ouch.  Party’s over, baby.

I get about four pedal strokes into my acceleration when the side wind kicks up again and comes screaming in through the side of my glasses.  I try to shut my eyes before the contacts come ripping off my eyeballs, but it’s too late.  The right contact is off in the wilderness somewhere and the left is sticking to the inside of my sunglasses, obstructing my line of sight.

Of course, the obstruction is kind of a non-issue at this point since I am legally blind and I wouldn’t really be able to see much past the front of my bike anyway.

Momentary panic.

Do I stop?  Do I keep going?

I don’t do anything without glasses or contacts on.  I literally can’t.  I can’t read road signs when driving, I can’t recognize people until I am four or five feet away from them.  My world is a blur.  Monet-style.  Soft.

I keep pedaling and assess. 

I’m going to have to get back somehow, right?

In self-defense classes, we teach people to switch their focus to the parts of a given situation that they actually have control over.  Instead of focusing on the fact that an attacker has control of your right arm, you focus on the fact that your left arm is free. It’s about focusing on strengths, not weaknesses. It puts you back in control of a situation.

In this case, I focus on the fact that I can see the big, white line on the shoulder of the road. All I have to do is follow that and I will be able to finish the race.  Who needs to be able to predict road surface?  Ha!  Clean lines are for the birds. 

I set my resolve and stare a few feet ahead at where the big, white line is taking me. 

Along the way it takes me over a few potholes, a few unidentified man-made objects, and up one long, ass-kicking hill into the headwind.

Suffer, suffer suffer, pedal, pedal, pedal.

The finish sneaks up on me as a result of my not being able to read the marker signs, but the OBRA tent at the finish line is the most beautiful big, black blur that I have ever seen in my life.

I stop the computer and coast, legs searing, eyes squinting. The computer tells me that I went slow.  I tell the computer to screw off.

I’m done and my TT cherry is popped.  That was the point, right?

The lessons learned are infinite. I see how the TT is an art.  The precision involved is mind-boggling.

I’ll be back.


*Photos courtesy of Traci D’Elia


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  1. Guy Smith

    That is a great story, and one that I can relate too, on account I can`t see either and could picture myself in your shoes at that moment, I mean its funny! cause I have had my situation of lost vision also!

  2. Wow…you’ve had all kinds of freak things happen to you at races this year. Great job on keeping going, that musta been freaky!

    I really like TTs…it’s all about getting in the zone. There’s nothing to hide in a TT, there’s no sitting in, its all you and the wind. The only thing I think about is staying in my heart rate zone and pedaling.

  3. Another amazing story – I’m as blind as you are, and can only hope that I’d have the same spunk (or lunacy) to continue on despite losing my contacts.

    I agree w/Kristin – lots of freak things, but that makes for great stories, and you have the skill to express it.

    Now I wanna try a TT myself, god help me.

  4. Indeed, it’s been a freaky start to the year! Probably one of the benefits to being a writer and having a blog is that every time I go out there I tell myself, “Well, whatever happens today, at least I’ll probably get a story out of it.”

    That’s the only thing that got me out of the car and onto my bike for the Timber Park ride a few weeks ago – and what f—ing story that turned out to be! Sheesh.

  5. You make me want to jump out of my comfort zone and try something I’ve never tried. That’s why I love reading this. Who knows, maybe I’ll climb a mountain or run a marathon or something. All I know is every time I read I’m ready to get off my butt and kick my own ass. Thanks!

  6. woo go Heidi!

    At least you were able to get your HR up to LT area during the race.. it wasn’t until I hit the hill that my HR popped into the zone lol :) Note to self, don’t burn your legs on a ride the day before!

  7. Now I understand why they call the TT the “race of truth”.

  8. Yeah, a great story is what you get when you don’t get what you thought you were gonna get! Way to finish strong. Yea for the blind chick!

  9. Good for you! Naturally I always admire and respect your accomplishments. But what I really love about you is your amazing attitude! There are absolutely moments when I need to shake off the bumps in the road, and re-focus on the parts of the situation that I have some control over. As always, well put!

    Your story also reminds me how much I LOVE my surgically enhanced eyesight :)

  10. “our own tiny battles inform us and make us better. . . ”

    Yes they do!

  11. So without your contacts you discovered the true meaning of “focus” in the TT context! A good TT is cathartic, almost cleansing, because you’re thinking about only one thing and everything else is unimportant and falls away. The art of a TT is listening to your self and learning something in each one. Sounds like you’re well on your way to being this kind of “artist” too!

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