Surviving the Bad Days
I planned my emotional breakdown in advance.
It would happen in the bathroom at home. Turn on a pounding tap, as if to run a bath. Sob into the white noise. Sal is none the wiser. I’ve done it before.
I would have preferred to unleash the floodgates as we climbed the final mile of Thomspon, but the effect would have been counterproductive, what with the hyperventilating and snot explosion. My coach’s hand was on my back, lending me an extra 20 or so watts and I was barely pedaling. My legs had long-since signed off. My heart was flat and indifferent. My head was the only thing keeping me in the game.
“You have to finish.” was all it would say to me. It did not make me feel good or bad – it only made me feel like I still had further to go.
It’s not that the ride was hard – it wasn’t. And certainly the west-side of Thompson is a gentle climb. The ride in total would be 55 miles, which is equally un-impressive. It wasn’t that we were conquering magnificent landscape or epic conditions: I was just an out of shape girl on a team ride with tiny hammering types.
I was out of place and in, perhaps, a bit over my head. But they’d invited me – waited for me – and encouraged me.
So despite the fact that I never should have been there it was, in fact, the only place I should have been.
It was awful.
If you have ever been pushed up a hill then maybe you know. I should have been demoralized and possibly embarrassed, but I couldn’t convince myself to muster either emotion. I just pedaled and cocked my head to the side in that way that I do when pain comes to the forefront and other things fade away.
It didn’t matter that they’d told me we were riding flat. Or that I’d expected Springwater. Or that I’d been led to more than I thought I was getting into.
You just show up and pedal your bike – and wherever the group goes, you follow. That’s how team rides work. I knew as much when I left the house. I knew as much when I got to Goose Hollow. Just pedal.
If fitness has a nadir then I’ve reached it. I’m as slow, maybe, as I’ve ever been.
That’s ok. Because it means I can only get faster.
I’m leaving soon and it isn’t just about the weather or the winter. I’m snow-birding but it’s more of an emotional sabbatical than a meteorological one. I need to hit the reset button and focus my head a little. I’m going to Arizona where the sky is bigger and bluer and things will maybe be slower. The computer will connect me to my work, but the pace of life will change no matter what.
Today was the last day that I could ride with the team – so I did. I knew I hadn’t trained enough and I knew I would get shelled, but I went anyway. Being the last person to pull up to a regroup spot is the best way to learn how to be a more heroic human. Face your shortcomings head on, take a deep breath, a swig of water, and keep going. It’s the tiniest bit tragic, but in the end it’s all that you can do.
So you just go do it.
When it’s over you go into your bathroom and turn on the pounding bathwater, but you no longer feel the need to fall apart. The urge to break into a million pieces has passed and turned into a sort of fucked up pride. Because you went and rode to the edge of your ability – and you were still the slowest person on the road – but you kept pedaling all the way home because, goddamit, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
For every glorious attack there is an equal but opposite glorious grasping in the back of the pack.
It’s not the winning move but it’s the move of someone who will not fold. The flailing reaction of a resilient spirit.
You get pushed up a hill and want to die, but you don’t. You go home with the intention of sobbing, but you don’t.
You just keep pedaling. And everything gets better.