Friday, November 11, 2011

Channeling Cartman

I was channeling South Park’s Cartman today with this constant mental refrain: “Screw this ride, I’m going home!”

At 10 AM, the temperature was 41 degrees. Winds at 22 mph created a “real feel” temp of 35. As I tugged on my Gore Tex gloves, neck gaiter, ear warmers, and my fleece-lined base layer over my cycling pants I thought, “Shouldn’t I be snow skiing by now instead of cycling?”

The wind howled and rattled the garage doors as my husband and I loaded bottles of Infinit onto our bikes and set off for a four-hour, 64-mile ride that I was absolutely dreading.

The first 30 minutes weren’t so bad and I was thinking, happily, that when expectations are low, you are sometimes pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t as cold as I’d expected; in fact, I was working up a little sweat.

Then we turned west.

It was like running smack into a wall of ice.

My little bike and I could have been in the middle of gale force winds in the Arctic. At times, my bike nearly came to a standstill in the direct headwind. Worse, perhaps, were the winds that attacked from the side, knocking my bike out of the shoulder and toward either the ditch or the road. It was impossible to ride in the aero position and still maintain control of my bike. As a pilot, I’d learned the art of “crabbing into the wind” to remain on course. I never imagined I’d have to apply this skill to cycling. The crosswinds were strong enough to keep light aircraft on the ground, yet there I was, out there on my feather of a bike, trying to cycle in a straight line.

Each stroke was a struggle. My pace was down almost 3 mph. My feet were numb. Instead of swirling around me in a festive, snow globe fashion, the leaves appeared to attack, like a flock of angry yellow and brown birds. And that’s when Cartman began his defiant shouting in my head: “Screw this ride. I’m going home!”

I have been in triathlon mode for almost 9 months and in Iron Man-specific training for almost five and I have not skipped or skimped a single workout. So today, I felt like a rebel, righteous and determined that I did not need this ride to be successful in the Iron Man. Sure, Cozumel will be windy. But it will also be 80 degrees. And flat. The last several rides have actually felt more like mental training than physical training. The first time I hit 80 miles on my bike, I felt confident I could complete the 112-mile ride at the Iron Man. The second time, I figured the training was not to determine if I could actually cycle for 112 miles, but to ensure that I would cycle them well. Every ride after that just felt like torture. Enter: “The mental game.”

Last weekend when I spent 5.5 hours on my bike and rode 90 miles, I went through all the emotions: Confidence, determination, fatigue, frustration, anger, despair. There were moments when I wanted to quit, get off my bike, perhaps even throw my bike or kick it, sit down, cry, call for someone to come and pick me up. I hated that ride, hated the sport of triathlon. I just Did. Not. Want. To. Ride. Any. More! That’s when I realized that this training program, one that requires me to ride 80+ miles week after week, was designed to push me mentally as well as physically. And I did, in fact, finish that ride and felt triumphant afterward and especially happy thinking that the worst was over.

And then came today, the day I discovered that riding 90 miles in chilly conditions is not nearly as difficult as attempting to ride 64-miles in near-freezing conditions and 20 mph winds.

So that was it. Before the half-way point I’d decided I’d reroute and point my bike towards home. The roaring wind, ebbing and flowing through the trees like the ocean surf crashing onto the shore, seemed to mock me, claiming victory. But I didn’t care. I was frozen. I was done.

Instead of 4 hours, I rode 3.5. Instead of 64 miles, I covered 49.

And I’m okay with that. I am home.

Ready or not, Cozumel, here I come!

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