Mile 39 of 48: Waking Up My Inner Endurance Junkie
It is mile 39. Three miles ago I rolled by the car and wanted to stop. On any other day I would have stopped. 36 miles is plenty. But today I’ve set a goal and the goal is not 36 miles, it’s three hours.
So I keep going.
I can feel my glutes aching as I push the pedals over. The back side of Sauvie Island smells like cow shit which most people probably find disgusting.
It reminds me of my grandmother.
My grandmother would laugh if she were here and knew that I thought about her when I smelled manure. (I take a moment to think about how miraculous it is that my grandmother never looked at a single computer screen. Ever. If she had, she would have taken one glance, squinted through her drugstore glasses and said, "That thing is horse shit!" Then she would have gone off to check on a pressure-cooker that was about to explode.)
I am riding alone today. Sal is somewhere on this same road, but further ahead. For all intents and purposes, I’m on my own.
I like it that way.
In these weeks I am remembering all the ways that it feels to be an endurance athlete. I have been focused on strength and speed and agility for the past several years and I forgot what it is to be 39 miles in with 9 to go and all you want to do is make it stop.
But in some strange way, you really, really, really like the pain.
I’m not doing this because it’s the best way to burn fat (it’s not), I’m not doing this because I like "cardio" – I’m doing it because I’m crazy.
Because, somewhere, buried beneath these hours and all this pain, is a truth that only I can uncover. Somewhere around mile 39 there is a part of my spirit that wakes up and takes over where muscles might fail.
There’s a science to all this shit, to be sure. And you can bet your ass that I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that I understand as much of it as possible.
But there is also a spirituality and a religion. We are not cycling nerds because we like the taste of Gu. We’re cycling nerds because the essence of this thing enchants us, because it speaks to us, because, on some days, it feels like it is coming straight from the core of us.
I am getting better on the bike. My fitness is building. Things are coming around.
Long miles in my running shoes are taking me distances I haven’t seen in years. My lungs and legs are waking up. My heart in my chest is telling me that I am right on track. I am right on pace.
At mile 39 I grit my teeth and settle in to the pain, searching for that next flash of insanity that will help me hold this pace for the final nine miles.
I think of my grandmother.
"This is horseshit." I say out loud. And I stand up on my pedals and head into the next level of suffering.