I want to tell you about a bike race I did last month. I know someone might stumble upon this running blog and think, “what’s this got to do with running?!”. I promise if you read to the end I’ll bring you there, we’re just taking a slight detour…
I signed up for this cycling race because it was near my home and had a longer course. I needed to get those 165 km in my legs for Ironman Zurich training.
The race started in the town of Imola, on the same race track where Ayrton Senna lost his life. I noticed there weren’t a lot of cyclists, maybe 600 at the start. Since they also offered a shorter 120km distance, that meant that we split at some point of the race and even fewer cyclist would take the long route. But it didn’t matter. I was on a mission to ride and finish my longest-ever cycling distance.
Everyone looked super sleek and fit except for this one guy in front of me. The first thing that tipped me off was his backpack. Maybe he had food or a tire kit in it? Who knows… it looked awfully big for a long race. Also, he had hairy legs. Most of the experienced guys wax or shave. They say that’s because if they happen to crash and get road rash it’s easier to clean… yeah, right!
So we took off and I decided to draft off Backpack Guy. He had a crazy spin technique but he went about my speed. We were already dead last 1 mile into the race. Since I was behind him I was the last rider. This would be my position for the next seven hours.
Mentally I embraced that and decided it didn’t matter at all. I was just training; who cares if I came in last?
The sweep car followed close behind us which was simultaneously comforting and annoying. At 30km the race split into the long and the middle distances. Backpack Man veered to the middle distance route and my heart sank just a little.
I stopped my bike to talk to the sweep car. “I’m taking the long route. I know I’m last… is that okay?”
They radioed back to headquarters and after some mumbled talk they said that I could take the long route but they would not be following me. I was on my own.
I thought about it for 30 seconds. I knew that if I didn’t take the long road it would be even harder for me ride this long again. It was going to be a long day riding solo, but I didn’t want to let myself down. So I said goodbye and turned left up the hill onto the long course.
Oh, I didn’t show you the course yet…
It had loads of hills. I love hills so I didn’t think it’d be a problem. One of the things I love about racing, whether it’s triathlons, running or cycling, is the time I have to be in my head. Just me and my thoughts during the race. I also had my iPhone so I listened to music while I went up and down those hills.
Apparently the race director thought that since there was only one person left out on the course there was no more need for food or drink. I had plenty of food with me but my water would run out eventually. I had some money in case I needed to stop and buy anything.
I won’t pretend this was easy. It was a really hard course for me. I tried to concentrate on soaking in the views. I was now in Tuscany, a wild area are called the Mugello. The roads were smooth with very little traffic so I felt safe even though I was alone.
Somewhere after my fourth hour a car started following me. After a few miles of tailgating they pulled up next to me and identified themselves as part of the race organisation. They wanted me to know that I was last (thank you!) and that they were pulling up the road signs. Did I know where to go?
No, I did not. I’m in the middle of freaking Tuscany and have no idea!
They also told me that the chip mats would be pulled up and not only would I not have an official time, I wouldn’t be included in the finishers list.
Okay, whatever… I jotted notes on my iPhone on where to go: turn left at next town, go up hill to top, turn right when I see a park. I took their phone number in case something went wrong, then they wished me luck and took off leaving me in the dust.
I still felt confident I was going to finish but now I had the extra stress of not being sure I was on the right road. On the other hand, what could really go wrong? I just had to keep pedalling forward.
Going up the third col I ran out of water and then miraculously came upon an Ultra trail run. They had a water station in the middle of the pass and they kindly let me fill my bottles with fresh water and eat a piece of cake.
Energy wise I felt great but my hamstrings were hurting. The total race elevation was 2348 metres and I really felt it on that fifth and last col.
The last hill seemed steeper then the others; like it would never end. My muscles were screaming. I stopped for a minute in the middle of nowhere and suddenly I was bawling like a baby. Deep, gulping, I-want-my-mommy crying.
It took a good ten minutes to get the tears under control. I got back on my bike and rode around the corner and there was the last timing chip mat with the tech guy sitting on his car hood.
“Hey, there you are! I was waiting for you.”
He told me that the organisation had told him to pull everything up but that he always waited for the last person.
I thanked him and rode the final 25km back to Imola, back to the race track.
. . . . .
Every since that crazy solo race, my training and my way of interpreting all my workouts – be it running, swimming or biking – has completely changed. I learned that I can be completely pushed out of my comfort zone and make myself finish no matter what was thrown at me. It was just a matter of moving forward and not letting up. A break for a good cry can be therapeutic, but then you get back in the saddle and go. With kindness just around the corner.