I made the very questionable decision to sign up for the 2013 Tour of the Battenkill, arguably one of the toughest one-day road races in the country, with no racing and very little riding experience. There’s folly in that decision, I admit. On the other hand, I’ve taken it really seriously, having gotten a training schedule and a new road bike and turning my apartment upside down to accommodate a little bike shop in my dining room. I’m committed.
A couple of weeks into my training plan, I’m not in heavy-load mode quite yet. I thought that this weekend’s Vitamin G (G as in Gravel) team ride in Loudon Co.–a 50 miler with only moderate climbing but lots of dirt–would be an ideal introduction to gravel riding. I got my new SuperSix. New bomb-proof tires. Got my teammates. I was ready to kick it!
Here’s the thing: This was gonna be my first extended ride on gravel — ever. All I’ve ever done was a mile or two at a time. So while I got all the right gear to handle this, most likely this ride was still gonna suck for me. I drove to the ride start with JB who impressed upon me that the climbs weren’t easy, the descents were tricky and I should fully expect to freak out at some point on this ride. So just conserve as much energy as possible and try to keep up.
Here’s another thing: you know when you’re with someone who’s better than you–like way better—and their “zone 2” is your “zone 4?” Well, why not go on a ride with 5 someones better than you, all men, all Cat 3 or better, on gravel, when you’re not in any kind of shape yet and see if you can keep up AND conserve energy.
Less than 8 miles into the 40, and I’m riding along, at my already typical 50 feet back from the pack, thinking: I’ve made a terrible mistake.
Not just today in coming out for this ride, for which I’m painfully unfit. But also for signing up for this stupid race. For thinking that some superficial mountain biking skills would prepare me to ride 2-inch thick gravel on a 25mm tires. For thinking I could skate past dues-paying and get right to the rewards. I’m quitting. I’m quitting right now.
At about 15 miles into the 40, I realize I’m overdue to eat something, but I’m too sketchy on the gravel to take my hands off the handlebars. I’m going to bonk and then die.
At about 17 miles into the 40, JB drifts back to ask how I’m doing. I’m burning all my matches just trying to keep up. There’s no way I’m making it another 23 miles. My heart is going to explode, and I’m gonna die. What was I thinking coming out here!?
You know, you can do all the mantras and visualization you want, but you cannot entirely prepare yourself for meltdown. It’s like PMS (Men, just take my word for it). You know you’re having a “moment.” You know there’s no real reason you feel this way. And yet the intellectual awareness of it isn’t the magic pill to make it go away. You’re in the moment, totally aware of what’s happening, and yet still powerless to un-melt.
So what do you do? I don’t know really–I just kept pedaling and swearing. I wish I could say that I had a grand epiphany at that moment about how to forge through tough times, but the reality is that I frankly didn’t see a way out and didn’t want my teammates to slap me with a quitter stigma forever.
At about mile 32 of 40, Devon reminds us of the remaining 8 miles. Please, for the love, do not count the miles down.
At about mile 35 of 40, Jason tells me we’re approaching the last dirt climb. Jason asks if I want to do the climb or take a shortcut. Climb. I want to climb.
Why – you may ask – did I choose to do the harder option when I was already having, like, the worst day ever?
Because I went into that ride expecting to have to do it. Because I rode for 35.5 miles mentally preparing for that climb. Cut it out, and the ride is unfinished. Because I have rubber tiles and a bike stand where a dining table should be, and the largest investment of money since I bought my car rolling underneath me. I’ve committed and need to see this through, today and for the next 4 months.
I won’t say it was easy. It was a climb on a crap road with a little bit of water to suction your tires. You don’t know at the beginning that there are three sections; after each you’re dying for a reprieve. Tap your shifter and realize you have no gears left. Swear b/c the gears are jumping on your brand new, piece of #$%, mother@#$#@ bike! But realize that the race is only gonna be harder than this, so getting through it takes you one step closer to being ready.
While it was neither my best riding nor mental performance ever, I will remember is that as whiny and apt to quit as I thought I was, it was all just mental noise. I was never really at risk of quitting. The big goal I’ve set for myself to do this race and the smaller goal I set to do that ride saw me through the difficult moments.
This winter/spring of training is going to be hard. The bad rides will outnumber the good. I will whine. I will feel shitty. But quit? Nah, I don’t think so.