That Endurance Thing

I have no illusions about my athletic ability, I’m just an older guy who loves riding his bike, and it’s at least partially my wife’s battle with cancer that motivates me to pedal into exhaustion.

I don’t swim, don’t run and I am only in halfway decent shape because I love to get on my bike, no triathlete am I. So when I get out in a big group ride with people who are seriously fit, I know my place.

My place is to be glad they let me ride along.

In the words of David Alan Coe: “I’ll hang around as long as you will let me, I never minded standing in the rain.”

Saturday I rode in my 2nd century ride of the month, something new for me. I’d ridden 280 miles from Ft. Myers to Key West a few weeks ago; so a hundred would be easy, right?

Nah, a hundred miles is a long way, I’m not even going to pretend it was no big deal, for me a hundred miles is a really big deal. In fact, when the word got around that the organizer had laid out an only 95 mile course by mistake, no riders complained on this day (or rode an extra 5 miles). I went out with some big kids, not the really fast a-holes who were going to do the 100 miles in 4 hours (I hate them) but with a group that was averaging around 21 mph. I had visions of finishing in 5 hours, which would be my fastest time in a century by far. For 2 hours or so I rode under this delusion, I was finally a strong rider who could keep up with those younger and skinnier riders!

Did I tell you the wind was at my back? Yea, I try to leave that out when I can get away with it, but for this story I have to tell you: around the 45 mile mark I fell off the group, letting them go after some young guy led them up to 24 MPH, too fast for Grandpa and I figured I’d finish on my own at a decent pace. Then we turned towards the wind and I had no choice but to settled in for a siege.  I’m tall and probably weigh 30 pounds more than I should so I slow down considerably when headed into even a slight wind, in the next few hours I would sometimes struggle to get to 14 miles an hour!

Around the 75 mile mark I had this thought: “I’m exhausted, I’m cramping and there would be no shame if I bummed a ride in from here in the support vehicle. I’m an idiot; what the hell am I trying to do? By now all the 30 Mile riders had declared victory and gone home bragging, the guys who chose the 75 mile ride were having a beer, the 4 hour guys were now running a marathon or preparing to swim the English Channel, and even my erstwhile friends in my nice little group were clapping each other on the back and getting their pictures on Facebook in the church parking lot. What was I doing out here? I will only end up at an empty parking lot that will feel a lot like sadness and failure.”

And that feeling, my friends, is why I sign up for hundred mile rides. I know I’m probably going to be one of the last ones in. And, even though I just rode a bike for 6 hours and about a hundred miles, I know I will still feel a little bit like a failure. But I pushed through that despair and hopelessness and finished because that’s what I signed up for.

I finished because I said I would. No other reason.

My wife, Teresa, has been battling breast cancer for several years and is now taking a daily dose of chemotherapy that knocks her down: it knocks her down hard. She has intestinal issues, she gets tired, and her skin is literally peeling off her feet and hands. She hit her 75 mile mark a while ago, it would have been perfectly understandable if she gave up on her journey, no one would have blamed her.

She has never exhibited anything but strength, courage and downright stubbornness on her whole ride. Through the cumulative effects of surgery, radiation and chemo she has never asked for anything but more hope.

Hope is powerful.

So when I start to whine about the wind, the cramps in my legs, my sore back or any other discomfort, it isn’t hard to just put my head down and pedal on. I remember that cycling is an endurance sport and I should just get on with the enduring.

So, in a way, I ride for Teresa, at least to show her that on some level I get what she’s doing: she’s getting on with the enduring. If she can do that, endure this disease that has turned her own cells against her, I can ride through a little wind. Knowing that I intentionally stretch my own limits is a good (if not completely rational) feeling and knowing that my choices are still much easier than her’s is all the motivation I need.




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