I should have known I was in trouble when I went to my local bike shop for a tune up. I told Bob that I was going to ride the Seven Lakes Ride, a 65 mile charity ride for cancer patients in Eastern Connecticut. It started and ended in Stafford Springs. Very hilly Stafford Springs. The ride meandered through hilly Ashford, Willington, and then proceeded into Massachusetts and then back to Stafford Springs. Bob said “You know there are some killer hills out there”. I said yep, but I checked the route and cue sheets and nothing looked too bad. Bob chuckled.
I should have thought more about the people I was riding with and realized they were far more serious and capable than I was. The day of the ride was hot and humid. I drove out to the start point at the Stafford High School and noticed that all the riders had some type of serious cycling jersey or full on local team kit. I figured they needed a break from all the racing and 65 miles in the country on a charity ride would be a nice change for them. I did realize that I was way out of my league but I thought that the other lesser experienced riders would be sticking to the 25 mile ride today or starting later. We all started off at 8:00 am and I actually kept up with some of the slower riders in the beginning.
I should have also known I was in trouble when the first five miles of the ride had five major hills. I was huffing and puffing way earlier than I normally do on my training rides. I thought it must be the heat and humidity. I was keeping up with the back of the pack. Heck, I even passed a few riders on long downhill stretches. The beauty of hauling all this extra weight up hill is that it pulls me downhill. I was hitting 35 to 40 miles per hour on the descents.
I finally realized I was in trouble when people were passing me asking if I were okay. I had to get off and walk a couple of hills by mile 15. One hill in particular was miserable and I couldn’t catch my breath. Even walking up the hill was a struggle. I ate another protein bar and thought I might be bonking. Normally that means that you bonked a while ago. Bonking is when you ride through you stored energy and you don’t eat enough to keep up with what you are expending. You get a little light headed and disconnected. It’s almost like feeling drunk, but only the bad parts. I ate my bar and jumped back on the bike feeling better, right up until the next hill. I had to get off to walk again, but by now it was feeling routine. But then I couldn’t walk. Both of my quads locked up in some of the worse cramps I have ever had. For ten minutes I stood on the side of the road trying to get my legs to unlock. It looked like I was flexing my muscles for all I was worth but I was just standing there. They spasmed until I could finally bend both legs enough to walk. Even then I looked like a pirate with two peg legs stumbling up the hill.
I carried on riding the flats and downhill sections and walking the hills until I got to the first rest area. I went through two more rounds of cramps in those 8 miles. Each time the pain was blinding. I was so relieved to finally get to the rest area and sit in the shade. The Rider Support Wagon offered to give me a ride back to the starting area. I agreed. I had fought them off when they offered twice on course, but I was out of energy to fight at this point. Then someone mentioned it was only ten miles back to the school. There wasn’t enough room for the riders that needed a lift so I volunteered to ride back. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but I had an idea in my head.
I was brutally disappointed in myself. I wanted to keep going, but it wasn’t wise to risk serious injury on this ride and miss some of the others I had planned. At the same time, it was making me sick to think that I was giving up. I decided that I could salvage some dignity by riding back. I was quitting early, but I would get myself back. My 65 miles would be cut to 35 but it was better than coming back to the school on the Support Wagon. I am still mad at myself for quitting, but it did make it a little better to ride back.
The final ten miles were as bad as the ten I struggled through to get to the rest stop. I had to walk up the hills and I had to stop twice as I suffered through cramps. I got a little lost and I struggled to eat my last protein bars to keep from bonking. It was humid enough that I thought I was going to be sick, but I made it.
When I made the choice to go in early I was mad at myself, and I still am angry. I feel like I should have done more, even though I know I couldn’t have. One more round of cramps would have seen me lying on the side of the road instead of standing there. At the same time, as I rode I thought about my options. I could pretend that my failure never happened. It takes me so long to write about a ride most people would forget that I tried it. I could just scale back the rest of the season so I didn’t fail again. Neither of those two options really made me happy and they really aren’t who I want to be. I decided that all I could do is train harder and be more prepared. I needed to tell everyone I failed so I would never forget how it felt to fall short like that. I need to train harder to avoid that feeling again. I need to find more hilly rides so I learn how to climb better. Most importantly I need to make sure that I give my best effort each time and live with the results, even when I don’t like them like today. Take the failure, learn from it and move on.
I also think it is time to set a new goal. Perhaps a century ride? Maybe a larger success with make me feel better about this failure? What do you think?