Tough lessons learned from 150KM of cycling

Jennifer faced her toughest athletic challenge last weekend — and learned a lot about herself in the process.

Remember when I blogged about finding the courage to compete in a triathlon? My biggest worry was being fast enough to be a contender amongst all the other triathletes on race day. So, instead, I signed up and rode in the Minden 150, a local charity ride benefiting the Share the Road Coalition and Minden Hills’ recreation programs. I’d had such a good time at last year’s century ride in Kawartha Lakes that I was looking forward to another century ride, even if I was under-trained. 
Staged in Minden, Ontario, the ride takes cyclists through picturesque Minden Hills and Haliburton Highlands. I looked at the course profile (an interactive map that shows how hilly a bike route is) and figured it couldn’t be that tough. However, 20 minutes into the ride I was passed by every single cyclist and wanted to throw my bike in a bog and quit. I wanted to quit a lot. In fact, after that first 12K I was checking the map to see where the closest turnaround was when a veteran Minden 150 rider came up behind me and I dropped a string of curse words to describe the route and how I was feeling. I was in a bad spot, but this stranger let me draft and due to his kindness and encouragement, I finished — but not without more big mental and physical battles on the course. It is relentlessly hilly, with maybe 30K of the 150K course being flat. The rest of it is soul-sucking, leg-zapping hills. And whoever says hills are good for you are fibber foxes. Hills suck. There is one 20K stretch that even ride veterans are afraid of. And if it wasn’t for the rider that helped me along, reminding me to drink a lot of water and eat as much as my stomach could handle, I’m sure that I’d have hurt even more.
Here’s the thing: I’d never hurt like that before. I’ve never had to dig so deep and then crack and then come back for more. Athletes call it the “pain cave” or “hitting the wall.” It’s dark and scary; it’s the space inside your head that tells you that you can’t. At 130K I was in tears, figuring that I was the worst cyclist in the world. I was a loser for sucking another cyclist’s wheel for six hours. I’m a trail runner and had no right to be out on that course, completely under-trained. What snapped me out of this were two little girls out riding their bikes for fun. As I was trying to get up another hill, one girl asked if I was in the Olympics. Olympics? But that’s what it must have looked like to her. I looked strong, fast, cool and maybe inspirational. Besides, if I had quit, how does that reinforce that message that I send to my children about failure?
I think deep down that’s why I love trail running and even super-ridiculous century rides like this. A sprint tri doesn’t break me or force me to really look at myself and my weaknesses and my strengths. My pal and blind runner Rhonda and I talked about just that (as she took on her own 24H ultra running challenge — we were both worried what would happen when we hit the “pain cave” and realized that we didn’t like ourselves very much). What I might have lacked in physical strength on that ride I made up for with guts. I’m a stronger, braver person. Guts win any day.
What is the toughest challenge you took on? What did you learn?

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