Thursday, November 7, 2013

A tale of Two Fifties and a One Eighty…

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
                                                                                                          Charles Dickens
                                                                                                          A Tale of Two Cities 

About a month ago, I rode my first century ride.  A century ride is a bike ride of one hundred miles.  Why did I do this?  There were several reasons, but the main reason was to prove to myself that I could.  I’m almost always up for a challenge.  I like to push my body just to see what it can do.  Unfortunately, I did not get to execute my century ride in the traditional sense of the ride.  Let me explain…

Four friends were going to be doing their first Ironman race together the first weekend in November.  When they all signed up for the race last year, I told them that I’d be happy to train with them, but that I was not going to race an Ironman with them - EVER.  It would take up too much of my time, too much money, I didn’t want to train that hard, that it would be too much for my poor joints that were already thrashed from the number chemo did on then, etc.  Training, however, was a different story; I, unlike them, could say “no” if I didn’t want to do a workout or if family obligations were more important. 

These four friends – Gina, Stefanie, Blake and Jerry, are all part of our Crazy Joes group, but all very different people and athletes.  Gina looks like an athlete.  She is tall and thin and is a great runner.  Stef is short like me, and is a self-described former (key word) “fat band kid” and a strong cyclist.  Blake is a former football player and golfer turned triathlete.  Blake is my birthday buddy and like me, is stubborn!  Jerry is a former uber-good soccer player, who while he looks like a Marine, is really an Air Force Chief Master Sergeant.  Jerry berates himself, but is a good all-around athlete.  All are intelligent and well educated.  All are Ironman 70.3 finishers and have come to the triathlon table as adults.  And all are hungry for that title of “Ironman”. 

Poor Jerry(next to me on the end) did NOT feel well after
one too many beers the night before his race rehearsal
I’ve been going on group rides with these folks for a long while now and we all ride similar paces.  I enjoy their company immensely and know that each and every one of them has my back if I ever ran into trouble out on the road.  When they first started talking about doing longer and longer rides, I was hesitant.  I’d never ridden over sixty-four miles before.  I had no reason to ride more than that. 

Whenever we go to Joe’s races, people always assume that I too am an Ironman.  To me, I don’t’ think I look remotely like a traditional “Ironman”, but those of us in the sport know there is no “traditional” looking Ironman.  Age group Ironmen come in all shapes and sizes.  Besides, compared to all of my friends, many of whom are Ironmen, I don’t think I look as fit as they are.  And out on rides, I feel like I’m the one who is always lagging behind these days. 

That my friends and strangers think that I look like an Ironman got me thinking.  If I look like an Ironman, perhaps I should see if I could even do the distances of each disciple in an Ironman individually.  Running has always been my strength and that I’m not even fast at.  Swimming has always been by far my weakest leg of triathlons.  My biking is fair at best. 

I have already run two marathons, so I knew I could definitely do that distance again if I chose to train for it.  The swim has always been what scared the begeepers out of me at 70.3 distances and therefore, Ironman distances.  I’m claustrophobic in the water, particularly in the ocean, and I’m not a fast swimmer at all!  I am, however, strong when I want to be. 

The bike also has made me nervous but not because of my poor skills.  Instead, I’m nervous lest I should blow a tire or fall and injure myself.  If I was able to change the flat or dust myself off, would I be able to run a half-marathon, or in the case of an Ironman, a full marathon.  Doing each discipline’s Ironman distance individually seemed like a much safer route than what my friends were doing. 

Late this spring, I started upping my swimming distances.  I typically swim between 1600 and 2000 yards one to three times a week during the tri season.  Then one day I had a little more time and oomph and decided to swim 2400 yards.  If I had time, I continued to swim this distance once every couple of weeks.  2400 yards quickly became 2800 yards, and then one day I swam 3200 yards.  I had swum almost two miles.  Had I known that I only needed to swim another 400 yards to swim over two miles, I would have done it in a heartbeat. 

Pre-swim 2.25-mile selfie
As the summer wore on and my friends’ IM got closer, they started to do more open water swims.  As luck would have it, I could never go.  Finally, on a Friday in August, I went.  They had told me that one lap of their course was 1.5 miles.  Okay.  I knew that I could do that distance.  Two laps?  Uh, nope.  Gina and I struck out on our second lap and decided to only go part of the way.  We swam almost stroke for stroke.  This made me feel a whole lot better not just because I had a buddy in the water, but if Gina could swim the distance in the allotted time, then so could I. 

When we got back, I looked at my Garmin and saw that I only had to swim .10 of a mile to get to 2.25 miles.  So, being the goal-directed nut job that I am, I swam in circles to finish my first 2.25-mile swim, much to the delight and amusement of my friends.  I did it in 1:47.  I knew then that if I could swim 2.25 miles in under two hours, I could definitely swim another .15 miles in the remaining 43 minutes
allotted for an Ironman swim.

Run distance – check.  Swim distance – check.  On to the bike distance – ugh.  The thought of riding 100 miles in one sitting, so to speak was daunting to me.  That’s at least six hours on a bike, give or take.  Six hours.  In six hours I could probably clean all the floors in my house and maybe even the bathrooms.  Hm.  Perhaps six hours on a bike wasn’t sounding so bad after all. 

Again due to family obligations, I kept missing my chances to go out with my friends and complete a 100-mile bike ride.  Finally, I had an opportunity.  The only potential snag was that I was on-call that weekend.  If I didn’t get called in, I was golden, so I pumped up my tires, filled my water bottles up and got ready to rumble. 

I was going to be riding with Joe and Ironman wanna-be Jerry.  IMFL has a very flat bike course and the gang had been riding a relatively flat out and back fifty-mile route.  Joe was leading the way this time, however, taking us on a fifty-mile course that he uses for his Ironman training.  It is not flat; it is extremely hilly and has a vicious pack of dogs right at the base of a hill.  I have been using my power meter on the trainer all season, but not outside.  Joe thought it was high time to teach me how to use it.  On my last fifty-mile ride with the gang, I had started having a lot of discomfort from my saddle.  Well, well, well, it was going to be a very interesting ride.

I’d been called on Friday night so I had already gone in on Saturday morning to see two patients.  Since we only go in for new evals in the ICU on the weekends, I figured there’d be no way I’d have to go in again.  We were going to break our 100 miles up into two fifties with a short stop back at our house to refuel and restock water bottles.  Little did I know that the cycling and speech therapy gods were
transpiring against me.

The hills were alive w/the sound of baying dogs!
Midway through our first fifty, my text messaging chimed in.  I ignored it.  It rang in again and then my voicemail went at about mile forty.  Uh-oh.  I figured it even if it was work; I had until noon to address the texts/voicemail.  When we got back to the house and before we started our second fifty, I checked my phone.  It was not what I wanted to see/hear.  An order had been written on Friday night, but had not made it to our office printer and now the doctor was fit to be tied because the patient still hadn’t eaten on Sunday morning.  A computer glitch suddenly became my VERY big problem.  There went my hopes of completed my first 100-mile ride. 

A fair bit of unladylike cursing ensued as I got into the shower, cleaned up, and got ready for work.  The patient and nurses were glad to see me even if I didn’t reciprocate.  I did my evaluation, made my recommendations and headed out the door.  By the time I got back to the house, restocked my bike, changed and headed out for my second fifty, three hours had gone by, or one hundred and eighty minutes.  Jerry was long since done and Joe was on kid-duty so I was on my own.  While I had been gone, Joe had sweetly changed out my saddle for one of the many other ones we had laying around the garage.  Perhaps the second fifty wouldn’t be as uncomfortable as the first fifty.

Round #2
Not wanting to go the fifty-mile route Joe took us on, I decided to do a seventeen-mile route that I know like the back of my hand and then go from there, as it were.  Hills and vicious dogs by myself was definitely not what I’d call a fun way to spend three hours.  By that time of the day, the wind had picked up quite a bit and I’d be cutting it close to finish before the sun set, but I was determined. 

After the first twelve miles which included two hills and getting buzzed a few times by Sunday drivers (literally), I realized a few things:
  • The saddle that Joe had put on my bike was NOT going to work.  If anything, it was worse than the first.
  • I was perfectly content to not do anymore hill work
  • I was lonely and vulnerable, both of which breed self-doubt and weakness
  • I am more stubborn than weak.

And so, I changed tactics and went to ride on a nice, relatively quite four-mile loop close to the house.  I had only planned to ride the loop once or twice.  I rode it seven times.  Yes, seven.  Twenty-eight miles worth of the same road, where the only exciting thing that happened was on the fifth lap, when I had a copperhead snake slither across the road in front of me.  At that point, I think a small part of me was hoping that the copperhead wanted to play.  I would have been happy to chuck my saddle for it to fetch and then let it gnaw on my hand for a second.

The first few laps weren’t too bad except for my sore seat.  By the fourth lap, I’d start to whine at myself a bit.  Lap five was pretty bad, thus my desire to mingle with venomous snakes.  I distinctly remember asking some higher power to “make it stop” during those four miles.  If my legs hadn’t been so tired, I think that I’d have ridden standing up just to give my bum a rest.  On lap six, I used Diana Nyad’s mantra of “Find a way”.  Somehow, I did find a way – I kept moving forward, but those two laps were where I found my very dark place.  And then I hit lap seven.  I knew I was home free, but no, that’s not the song that was going through my head.  I think I was just so overjoyed at almost being finished; I started singing whatever random song had been in my head on the way home from work.  I think it was “Come and Get It”. 

For some unknown reasons in the cosmos, my Garmin and my Joule (power meter) don’t match mile for mile.  Since my Garmin had been keeping track of my cumulative mileage for the day, I went with its’ data.  Alas, that little piece of technology is the one that always shows less than the actual mileage.  So, when all was said and done, my Garmin said the almighty 100 miles, but in actuality, I’d ridden close to 102 miles.  Regardless, I was glad to be done. 
Ta-Da!  My first 100+ mile ride was in the books.

When I got home, I hobbled into the house and immediately got myself some cold water and climbed into the chilly pool to ease my worn out legs and bum.  Josie was napping and Joe and Jamie were at some scout function so I had Michelle take a commemorative photo.  I remember thinking; “There is NO way I would want to go run a marathon right now!” 

Run a marathon?  NO, THANK YOU!
I was proud of myself for sticking it out and doing the second fifty.  I like to challenge myself and I rarely do anything the “easy way”.  As we jokingly say in our house when I cook, I “Genify” recipes.  I guess I do the same thing with my fitness goals.  I wish I hadn’t had to break my first one hundred-mile ride up.  Perhaps it would have been easier to have complete without the big break between each fifty and with a friend by my side, but then I wouldn’t have found my dark place or been able to “Genify” my ride. 

Now I know that I can do one hundred miles on a bike and live to tell the tale.  Next time, it’ll be easier, but I’m going to go with friends, I’m going to get a better seat, and I’m not going to be on-call.

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