Fighting the Headwinds
This weekend the Team drove over to Springfield, OH to race the 12-hr Calvin’s Challenge. Sadly, the Simpson’s were nowhere to be found.
All 4 ladies suited up for a day of duo work on the course–with Anne-Marie and Patty pairing up against the Bulldog (Stacie) and me (Ry-o). I think we all came into the weekend a little strung out. Work obligations, travel, poor sleep… a common list among many overachievers. On paper, the flat course suggested little “Challenge” in “Calvin’s Challenge,” but Patty and I knew all-to-well from last year- the wind would be public Enemy Number One.
Call me a prophet. We were right on.
The Weather Channel called for mild/warm temps with winds holding steady around 20-ish mph, with gusts in the 30+ mph range. Most of us were test riding some new wheels with deep rims (read: large surface area for wind strikes). However, all were in agreement that test riding the wheels in the “worst case scenario” would help us be more prepared for the Big Show in June–the vast majority of Race Across America is in the Plains, after all.
The race course started out with a 50-mile loop which needed to be completed twice before we could move over to the 7-mile course. We were able to split the 50-miler between the teammates, giving each of us 2x 25-mile loops, plus as many 7-mile loops as we could muster in the 12-hr time period. Stacie and Patty set off to the starting line while Anne-Marie and I hit the “Crew Route,” a 15-mile drive to the half-way point of the big loop.
I think my brain was more than a little foggy before we started. I had been traveling so much for work, and each destination seemed to lead to less sleep and recovery than the last. I was only home long enough to pack up my bike gear for the race–and I felt more mentally fatigued than usual. But, when Stacie’s wheels crossed mine, I was off on the course, head down, pedaling hard, already fighting the wind. I went a few miles and came to a weird bend in the road. There was an option to go straight or to curve left and stay on my original road. I saw no course markings either way.
Instead of stopping and checking the race route on my phone, I kept on keeping on. My foggy brain convinced me that “I must have missed some instructions in the pre-race meeting to continue on this state road.” The Route 323 continued to zig-zag, and I saw many intersecting roads that looked residential. I kept a log in my head of the names of the roads I’d passed “just in case.” I felt less and less sure that I was on the right path, but I was too stubborn to stop. Plus, I was catching a pretty decent tailwind for once… and I didn’t want to waste time being pessimistic and double-checking the directions.
At some point, maybe 10 miles away from the rider exchange point, I saw a man in an SUV with his 4-ways blinking. I waved to him and he waved back. Therefore, he must be race support, checking for other riders with mechanical problems. “There is your sign! Ride on!” And so I did…
And… about 18 miles into my ride, I came to a giant intersection with another state road. It was undeniable at this point- I was completely off route. No signs, no course marshal. I opened up my phone and realized I was 33 miles from the High School where Stacie was waiting for me.
My about-face to return to the course greeted me with a severe headwind. The tailwind’s evil sister was much more cruel than her sister was pleasant. So sinister. So unforgiving.
I wasn’t even as upset that I made the mistake as I was that my mistake was now wasting my teammate’s time. To make matters worse, my pace was cut almost in half by the wind. I trudged along for awhile then affirmed out loud (to no one) that “I am no above hitching a ride!”
And so, I started to try to flag down passing trucks. There weren’t many, as we were in a really rural part of Ohio. The first gal that stopped wasn’t going in my direction very far. The red truck, though.. it saw the desperation in my waving arms. The driver thought I was critically wounded. Mentally, maybe. She stopped, then rolled down the passenger window as she leaned over her young daughter to see how bad it was.
“I’m doing a race out here, and it seems I missed the first turn. I’m 16 miles off course. Are you driving this way? Can I throw my bike into your truck?”
She graciously agreed to do so, and her daughter scooted to the middle seat when I jumped in. Just a couple of Guardian Angels. It seemed that I wasn’t the only person my driver was saving–she was also involved in setting up a center for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. She never drove that truck, she said. It was her husbands, but she was using it to pick up flowers today.
I thought that my day was completely saved. She spared me about 10 miles of headwinds, and I jumped out to pedal back to the route and finish my lap.
Stacie greeted me with a smile and none of the condemnation I thought I deserved, then she was off to fight her own headwinds.
On my second lap, I watched the road symbols like a hawk, but there was one strange intersection. I remembered flagging it on my first lap. I took a turn, then questioned myself, so I stopped riding and started back toward the intersection. When I saw another guy make the turn, I thought, “Oh, I must have been right!” So, I put my head down and fought some furious headwinds for about 2.25 miles. Then, another unmarked intersection. Blasted.
My spirit fell so low. How could I have managed to do it again? Even after my diligence? Even after STOPPING and double-checking. I texted Stacie to let her know I’d be late, once again. Even though that headwind turned into a powerful tailwind on my second return back to the course, I just couldn’t shake my angst. Maybe this was a sign of my inability to operate under physical and emotional stress. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this team.
When I got back to the transition zone at the high school, my head was down and I thought I was done. Stacie offered to do a double of the 7-mile laps before I even had a chance to ask. I pouted a little and made some Negative Nancy comments about how dumb I was. Patty listened and tried to comfort me as she waited for Anne-Marie to return from her lap. After Patty left, Anne-Marie gave me some dark chocolate and some more encouragement. It wasn’t that bad. We were working out kinks. It seemed that the biggest kinks were mental–recovering from unmet expectations is sometimes way harder than physical pain.
Once I got back on the bike and started the shorter loop I magically started to have fun again. The wind was the same–either trying to send me flying off the road, hitting me straight in the face, or propelling me forward. The goal was the same–just finish the lap, finish the race. The only thing that changed was that I allowed myself to not care, or at least stop dwelling on the fact that I had messed up. If my teammates weren’t upset, what was the use in punishing myself any more than the winds already had?
The lesson of the day was pretty loud and clear. I wasn’t glad to sink into the self-despair that I had found myself in, but it was good to know that I had people to pull me back out. I think I can start strength training my mental game in the weeks to come so that I am better prepared for June–prepared to have a little flexibility in my expectations for myself, prepared to be gentle to others (knowing that it helped me), and prepared to keep the big picture in mind… finishing.
And in honor of World PH Day (Sometimes its a Zebra).