Monday, December 5, 2011

Stupid Little Rock

When I crossed the finish line in Mesquite and wheeled around under the Convention Center entrance and removed my windproof full-fingered gloves, the little rock that had been stuck down in my glove and tormenting the middle finger of my left hand for the last 27 miles fell out and got lost on the ground around my feet. I was going to save that little rock. I do stupid things like that. I save little meaningless mementos. Things that only mean something significant to me. I put them on the shelves of my hot sauce collection that hangs in my office and I wanted to save that little rock. I had grown quite attached to it over the last hour or so.

"Congratulations to all the super tough and determined riders who came out to play in 2011 - and braved the crazy cold and windy weather!"

That's what it said on the Tri-States Gran Fondo website a couple of days after the ride was over. Good. I wasn't the only one who thought it was crazy cold and windy. I do ride year-round and I don't recall ever being colder than I was descending the 16 miles of the front side of Utah Hill heading toward the finish in Mesquite. I looked online and checked out the results and there were a lot more people who did not finish than I thought there would be. And there were a lot of people who rode "some other distance" - so many that they created a new timing category to list them all.

I personally can't imagine not finishing an event, whether it is timed or not. I'm not sure, because I've never been presented with the opportunity, but I think I would rather die trying than to not finish. I cannot imagine a discomfort so great or pain so debilitating that it could make me stop and make a decision to not finish. I may not be first, or fast or have the nicest stuff, and I've even finished last once on the City Creek Bike Sprint, but I cannot quit. I can't imagine quitting. I don't know how.

I can't imagine the shame and embarrassment of calling my wife to load up the kids to come get me in Ivins, or some other random quitting place because I could not finish. I can't even fathom getting back to Mesquite and having to admit to my wife and kids that daddy rode "some other distance" because I did not have what it takes to ride "the" distance. I can't even imagine that. How do people live with themselves?

My family sat there for over two hours in the windy cold waiting for me to show up and cross the finish line so they could ring their little cowbells and cheer daddy across the finish line. Fortunately for those riders that crossed the finish line before me during that two hour span, everyone got the same rousing cheers and crazy cowbell ringing from my kids that I have grown accustomed to as well. I guess I had timed it wrong in my mind before this timed event that wasn't a race and I had told my wife to meet me there way too early. My bad.

I did finish and I wasn't last. And of the riders that left checkpoint number two before me as I was changing my flat and finished, they all finished about 12 minutes before me. Those last 27 miles were some of the hardest I have ridden though. The wind was extremely strong and blowing straight at me for most of those miles and while I don't think it's accurate to say that it did warm up a little bit, I do think it's accurate to say it got a little bit less freezing cold once I got out of the Beaver Dam Mountains and into Beaver Dam. Those first 8 or so miles of the 16 it took to get there were some of the coldest and hardest Beaver Dam miles I have ever ridden. I hammered in the big ring all the way back, even for the 11 miles of ramps and rollers into the finish. I gave it everything I could give it.

I didn't beat the sunset. It was still light enough to see and be seen, but barely, and there weren't that many people hanging around at the finish when I got there. Excluding my family there were maybe less than 20 people. My wife took a picture or two with her windows phone, and it's funny, but the one of me crossing the finish line looks like exactly how I felt while doing it. After I dropped the little rock out of my glove, my wife walks over and asks: "You OK? Do you need to check your blood?" and, of course, I did need to check my blood.

I didn't feel like I had anything left. I felt great about my effort to make it to the finish. I had not held back. I had given it everything I could give it. I stood and hammered when I needed to stand and hammer. I sat and spun when I needed to sit and spin. I had a perfect bend in my elbows and they were tucked just right. I was low and aero all the way in. My pedal strokes were smooth and round the entire distance. Every watt of power I could muster was mustered and even when going downhill I was pegged and on the rivet. I had nothing left to give this timed event that wasn't a race.

I had watched the sun set all the way in and it was a beautiful sunset, very colorful through the clouds as it set, first yellow then orange and then a deep orange and red. The sun was pushing me like nothing else can. Time as measured by the sun has a way of doing that for me. And that stupid little rock in the finger of my glove, putting pressure on the middle finger tip of my left hand, scratching on my fingernail, annoying the crap out of me for 27 hard fought miles, kept me mentally focused like a laser beam on the task at hand. Every time I felt it, or noticed it, which was almost the entire time it took to cover the distance to the finish, it prodded me to drill down mentally to what I was putting into my effort and not just the watts but the quality of those watts.

I don't think I would have made it back before dark without that little rock to mold and focus my mind on extracting the very best of every last ounce of effort my body was putting into the bike as we worked hard toward the finish. That little rock coached me back. That little rock helped me focus on the quality of that effort as well as the quantity. That little rock made me take my mind off the pain that was burning in my quads and glutes. That little rock made me forget about my fatigue and how my energy was depleting as we rode. That little rock made me forget about the burning in my lungs or how high my pulse might be.

That little rock made me not notice that my wrists both hurt, that my hip hurt, that my side hurt and that my neck hurt. That little rock made me think and focus on other things. Important things. Things that make you keep going and make you keep going better. That little rock made me remove my focus from things that detract, things that slow me down, things that might make others want to quit.

That stupid little rock had done a Beaver Dam good job and I had dropped and lost it. So I sat down and checked my blood glucose as my daughter brought me a sandwich and my son brought me a drink. I couldn't hear the little beep because all I could hear was the cold wind blowing. My heart was still pounding in my ears and throat as I sat at a table. I was seeing spots as it was getting darker. I looked down, through the spots, and saw my blood glucose reading. 62 mg/dL. Yes that stupid little rock had done its job.


  1. Found your blog the other day and have been reading bits here and there. This is the best post so far! I got back on the bike 1.5 years ago at almost 50 (which of course I am now) since my teenage years. The best thing is cycling is just as much if not maybe more fun now that I'm old enough to really enjoy it.

    Then sometime along the way I got this silly idea want to go racing. Sadly we don't have many around here but I keep an eye peeled for a event much like this timed event that wasn't a race.

    Nice job on a well done effort. And to have the wife and kids there at the end had to be the best part.


  2. You know, having the wife and kids there is the best part. When youre riding under a timer, its not always possible to be proud of yourself, more often than not, you are embarrassed. But, no matter what, your family is proud of you and they act like you've just won the Tour de France. My kids are young enough that no matter how many riders come in before me, they always think that I won the race. Kids are great like that.

  3. I just signed up for and rode a 105 mile ride. I do centuries often enough. On this particular day, however, the temperature rose to over 102 F. The ride had a few different lengths, and the 80 mile point was at the ride start. The rest was an extension. I stopped at 80 simply because I could not go further. My body wouldn't let me. If I had waited for maybe another hour I may have been able to slowly, agonizingly crawl the last 25 miles to finish what I started. Instead I was sane and remained alive and healthy. Imagine that! There are circumstances where stopping is perfectly legitimate and I won't let your tough guy attitude make me feel like i failed in some way. Two people were taken away in ambulances. I was not one of them. Their failure was NOT stopping.