After a season of flat tires and mechanical issues, yesterday I was finally able to complete the entire training ride I had mapped out for myself when I started. This whole year I've felt really strong on the bike, and even the last couple of weeks I've felt particularly ready to go for this weekend.
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With as strong as I have been feeling lately, it's been a while since I rode myself to the breaking point, that point that happens in rides where every bone in your body wants to throw your bike into the woods and just forget that you ever started on this crazy hobby. Yesterday, in the heat and on the hills, I found the breaking point.
It started with a goofy moment. After a really strong start to the ride, I took a break at Trax Farm to check in on Strava and make sure I was keeping the pace I needed to be. As I got back on the bike to go, climbing up a little hill to get to a major intersection, I couldn't unclip my pedals. I was to the point of thinking "lean to the right, there's grass over there," so certain was I that I was going down. Right as I was about to hit the deck though my pedal finally unclipped, but put my knee in a weird position. I heard the tell-tale pop. My knee would be bothering me the rest of the ride, and I wasn't even half way through yet.
Add to that the next section of the ride included some of the bigger monster hills in town, and I was in for a suffer fest. As I came around the corner into the familiar confines of South Park, I was still 10 miles short of my goal for the day and feeling miserable.
As I was pedaling the flat road, approaching an intersection that would allow me to choose between a left hand turn and an early return home, or a right hand turn and more climbing, I kept telling myself again and again "Keep going." Once wouldn't do it. This had to be a mantra. Even on flat roads, even as I was starting to feel better, "keep going. Keep going. Keep going." I made that right and started climbing again. "Keep going. Keep going." I pushed myself a little bit harder on the flats, to keep my pedals spinning. "Keep going. Keep going." I allowed myself a little break on the descent back down the hill, but pushed through some of the little kicker hills that were on my way back to the main park. "Keep going. Keep going."
I found my way back to the parking lot where my rides usually start, and was faced with another choice. My knee was still throbbing. I could easily have just climbed the last hill, and made my way back to my house. I would even have accomplished all the miles I had set out to do that day. But there it was. The voice in my head that had managed to bring me this far. "Keep going." Almost without thinking, I threw my leg over the bike again and added 6 more miles to my ride. More brutal hills. More unforgiving flat sections. "Keep going."
Some people might not understand that level of pushing. I was hurting when I pulled into my driveway. I could have stopped myself a while ago, given myself a pass, and maintained some mental sanity I suppose. But I tell you nothing feels better than having not only met, but exceeded my goal. I might have been limping a little bit, but my soul was flying. The protein shake at the end of the ride felt deserved. The evening dip in our (thank God we bought this house!) jacuzzi tub was like the spoils of war. I had stared weakness and laziness in the face and slay the demons.
This Saturday, I will have another similar choice. The 62 mile loop will be contained within the 100 mile loop. In other words, when I hit mile 62, I will be back at the finish line with the option of putting the bike back on the car, or pushing the pedals around again to finish the day. I can only hope that my brain is well trained enough to whisper quietly to myself "Keep going."
But this is bigger than bikes. To those of you who are struggling, to those of you who are working harder than you can imagine, to those of you who are dealing with illness or stress or anxiety, just remember to keep going. Take the next step, even if it's only a small one. Some of the biggest victories in the world are just the decision to keep moving. To throw your leg over the bike again. To pick up the phone and make that call. To drag yourself to work. Wherever you find yourself, whatever resistance is in your way, just remember...