Wet and dirty cycling

Where is the line between insanity and toughness?

We had waited most of the morning before heading out to our workouts in the hopes that the weather conditions would improve. The internet weather site, after all, seemed to indicate it would be fine by 10 a.m. But alas, 10:30 came and it still was rainy and windy and well, miserable.

Still, I had a three hour bike ride scheduled and I did not want to spend three hours on my bike trainer. So I sucked it up and off I went.

Base camp was Mark’s house. From there I rode about a mile to the start of what would be my nine-mile out-and-back route for the day. Potentially boring and monotonous riding the same stretch of road for three hours? Certainly. But with the bad weather  being close to base camp was of paramount importance to me, especially since I would be riding on my own.

My philosophy for the ride had changed. I knew my long ride would be a solo adventure since most of my friends were racing the Keuka Lake Triathlon that day so when originally planning my long ride, I thought about making the three hours challenging with a few hills, but nothing too crazy. Once the weather showed itself to be less than desirable and my first mile on the bike was wet, cold and increasingly sloppy, the purpose of the ride was not to hammer a moderate pace and work on hills. It was to survive the three hours on the bike.

In that first hour I wondered what the line between toughness and insanity was. Was it just plain crazy for me to be out here, riding back and forth on this nine-mile stretch of road in the rain and wind? Or was it helping me get tougher, both physically on the bike and mentally? The course I chose was relatively flat but there were a few short, but steep, inclines. This became difficult (a) because my muscles were cold and tired and (b) because my deraileur wasn’t shifting quite properly.

And so as my attitude shifted away from crazy and miserable toward embracing and tough, I worked on shifting my gears and experimented with what made it easier to get up the inclines. I recalled something that Jacqueline Stanford, a staff member of Women’s Quest, former professional triathlete and really good cyclist, once said about the difference between the way some people ride.

“I’ve heard guys say, ‘I just rode up that hill in the hardest gear possible.’ I think that’s stupid. That’s why you have gears on your bike.”

There are times when challenging myself on the bike is a good thing. There are other times when just riding the bike is a challenge.

And so with each pass I got a bit more confident in how to gear, even with the slipping deraileur. Halfway through my workout, the rain had stopped and the wind died down, but my bike and I were already soaking wet while covered in dirt and gravel. I was tired from just trying to maintain myself on the bike.

I had about 30 minutes left in my workout when I noticed a red pickup truck following me. At first I thought the drive was being judicious in attempting to pass me. Then I wondered if the owner lived nearby was going to turn off behind me. Then the truck passed me and I recognized the 26.2 sticker on the back.

It was Mark.

He had already returned home from his run, jumped in his vehicle to see how I was complete with bottles of Gatorade and water with gels and Clif bars on hand if I needed them.

Best boyfriend ever.

The final 30 minutes flew by.

My distance and average pace were less than impressive. But the effort and strength were there. I kept going, despite being cold and wet and muddy and greasy and out of my comfort zone.

And I was happy.

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