Rad Am Ring 2017 and the realities of ultra racing
This past weekend I raced my bike with 24 other members of Team PHenomenal Hope. We raced 5 teams of 4 and three solo racers, and had a blast. And at the end of it all we put our jersey on the podium of the women’s solo race, which was pretty cool. I say we and not I because it really was a team effort in this race. Allow me to explain.
The photo of me lying on the table shows an incredible 10 minutes of deep sleep after about 19 hours of racing. Then – “Where am I?” – Thomas and Hap got me up and put me back on the bike at this crucial moment.
It reflects the realities of this race, which was the hardest race I’ve done. The course was difficult, I was jet lagged and not where I wanted to be in my fitness and there was so much climbing (1804 feet of climbing on each lap).
At the end of the day this race was not just about me, or about us, but about the patients for whom we ride.
The first 125 miles were great. That’s my usual comfort zone. And then I slowed a bit, took a few more food breaks and at around 12-1AM I was going at it with the race leader and for 2 laps we were ripping each other’s legs off. She found a fast wheel to jump on and I missed that chance and then I ran out of gas. She was unbelievably strong!
At 3:30 AM I started spacing and mentally started to get complacent. In fact, I started to think about giving up. Quads were shot. I wasn’t focused and on night descents a lapse in concentration could have proved dangerous. I decided to pedal back to the camp at the end of the loop, eat something – anything – with some sugar, and laid down on the concrete in front of our camp and then willed some glycogen back into my quads.
My teamie Sarah Matthews comes out for her lap and sees me there and says matter-of-factly: “Well, you’re NOT just going to lay on the concrete. You’re either going to go into the tent and warm up – and likely give up – or you’re getting back on your bike. The sun will be up within the hour and you’ll be better.”
So, I did get back on the bike. And for another 2 laps rallied. Then at 7 AM with approximately 5h to go I was ready to quit. My seat hurt, my hands were somewhat numb, and mentally I was again indifferent to RAR, and even the big races left on my calendar.
I rode until I had nothing left.
I had a wheel in from my teammate Sean, which started me feeling better, but still I felt heavy, not fit, and had plenty of complacent self talk (just be a doctor for awhile – you don’t have to race – why try to do this all anyway), so pulled off at camp, either to stop or solve this situation (leaning more towards the former).
This time Thomas, our physio, was back. He said you’re not giving up. You need to eat, have a bit of coffee, a rest and massage and get back on your bike. You came a long way from the United States to give in now. Katrin and Hap were right there too, and they all came up with a strategy to get me on for 2 more laps, Hap leading for me in the very last lap of the race. On the final lap every hill took me down to 5 km/h (3 mph) and it was so slow. On the big hill I contemplated walking at the steep section, like many other riders I saw doing, but didn’t give in. And at the end (1h20m instead of the 1h05m laps for the first part of the race) Hap knew I was done. Every sarcomere from my quads spent. I rode until I had nothing left.
I learned that when I think I’m done, I truly can go farther. You listen to your body, make adjustments, and draw on your support and you can push forward. That is the essence of ultra.
Even more so, I’ll tell you this: To get through this challenge – like life’s challenges – it is essential to have a strong team. Without my teammates, my friends, I would have stopped at 15 laps and likely even given up ultra for awhile. That’s the dark place of indifference that they pulled me out of. And definitely we would not have made the podium. That’s what team is about – helping you get through the dark times and realize the best version of yourself.
At Rad Am Ring, we each overcame something. Some form of discomfort – mental and or physical. Everyone. And we likely did so not only because of intrinsic fortitude or stubbornness, but because of who we raced with and who we race for. And to me think that’s what makes this team truly special.
At the end of the day this race was not just about me, or about us, but about the patients for whom we ride, and we all kept our focus on that.
Thank you, Team PH. It is my goal to be the teammate to my team that you are to me.
And thank you to our presenting sponsor, Actelion, our Rad Am Ring event sponsor, Bayer, as well as Gilead, Panache, and our sponsors and supporters, who help make this team possible every single day. Also a special shout out to my local bike shop, Big Ring Cycles in Golden, who helped me pack up the bike for this undertaking and also provided my Skratch nutrition for the race.
Finally, thank you to the people who have supported my fundraising for Team PHenomenal Hope and our PHenomenal Impact fund. Your generous donations mean so much to me as we launch ahead and work towards funding our first research grant. With your help, we’re getting closer, which means hopefully we’ll continue to get closer to actually beating this disease and winning the real race against PH.
Join me in this race: If you haven’t yet donated and would like to support me in the bigger PH race, please consider making a donation to my page: teamph.org/patty – just click the “support Patricia” button. Any amount helps! Thank you.