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Entries in competitive spirit (1)


"The Worst Ride Ever" or "What I Learned About Fun" 

Ok, I'm goal oriented. Not a little. A lot. I look ahead and achieve. It's served me well in many respects; I'm able to get shit done. But when combined with my sense of competitive spirit, it can get over the top and perhaps needs tempering.

I rode the MS150 this weekend with some friends. We were four, all veterans with the exception of moi. This was my first ride of this length (150 miles in two days). My longest ride to date had been about 60 miles in one day, 100 miles in two days. I should probably mention that my training for this event was only my running. I hadn't been on the bicycle, really, this season. It was great to get away for the weekend, go camping, and ride the trails. I love watching for wildlife and I was fortunate enough to see a grey fox (in a hotel parking lot in Duluth, of all places!) and, on the second morning, a pair of cranes flying very low. I rode slow (as much because of the wind as my desire to behold) and I really made a point to look at the view. I didn't want to just plow through and miss the experience of the gorgeous surroundings. I'm not without an appreciation of process, to be sure.

Race days are times to celebrate what you've done, test for where you're at and push a little more out of yourself as you pull from the energy of the pack. I have a rule for myself: I never stop (ie: walk) during a race (most of my races are running races). I'll slow down when I need to, but I must keep running. I always say, "I'm not stopping unless they take me off on a stretcher." I really want to get through. ; ).  The MS150 is a ride, not a race (it's not timed), but my stipulation remains--move on to the end.

The first day of the ride was difficult. I didn't have much with which to compare it; I was tired, but not overly. On the second day I was cycling. along. very. slowly. I had left at 5am, long before the rest of my team, because I knew I was slower and they'd catch up with me. The wind was tremendous. 30mph tremendous. The temperature would reach 92* later in the afternoon. I saw busload after busload of riders SAGging--getting a van ride to the next rest area or dropping out altogether. I was alarmed. These riders had the fancy, expensive bikes, they wore the fancy uniforms, they must have trained. If they were dropping out, how would I fare??

At the second rest stop I discovered the blessings of body butter (aka: "hoo-ha ride glide", "butt chamois" were the two brands I tried) and I found that life was worth living again. Thank you, chemistry.

My friends caught up with me at the (about) half-way point at the lunch rest stop. I lamented the fallen bicyclists, but also judged them. What the hell was happening to them to make them drop out?? My friend patiently listed a number of physical ailments that can befall a cyclist. But they should be able to anticipate them, prevent them, right? And then she said it: "And maybe they just decided it wasn't fun anymore." She said it like it was a valid excuse, but I knew that the finish line was waiting at the end. I think her comment fanned a flame of panic in me because I countered with, "I'm only dropping out in a body bag." Dramatic? Yes, well....

On we went. Midway through the second-to-the-last leg of the ride, my team stopped for a prearranged rest. A conversation took place out of range of my hearing and next I knew the decision had been made to SAG. O.M.G. Fifteen miles from the end! Fif. teen. miles. They pointed out that at the rate we were managing that's another two to three hours of riding (with stops). And they weren't having fun anymore. I definitely was tired and I most certainly was not going to do this alone. It was really hard work by now and I needed the team. They were right, it wasn't fun anymore. It was do-able, but at a cost.

I don't know, I feel like this is where I am expected to wrap it all up with a quip about how I changed my thinking and became a new person, but that wouldn't be genuine. I like that feeling of accomplishment. It pushes me on. It gets me through. It's important. Alas, 135 miles in two days against 30mph winds is an accomplishment. I overheard several long-time veterans of the ride say that this was "the worst ride ever" because of the winds and heat. I guess 135 miles is enough.

My friend's comment struck me, though. Fun hasn't been so salient to me for my sports. While I'm running or cycling I consciously monitor my physical well being--how am I feeling, how am I breathing, what muscles do I feel, etc.--and I do monitor my general mood and motivation. But there's another level of emotional responsiveness available to me when I have a running partner that I don't practice when I run alone (and most of the bicycling I've done has been alone). With a partner, if I get bored, I change the conversation or make jokes to keep it interesting; there's more playfulness.

When I am alone, I can get too introspective and zen-zoned. The challenge for me is to be more playful. Then I can add the question, "Am I having fun?" to my lexicon of emotional responsiveness. I'm not sure how to implement this, really, without someone else with whom to interact, but it will prove an interesting exercise.

By the way, the decision was right. One member of our team became a little ill after we stopped and had a bumpy van ride. Barring the predisposition to carsickness, she could have been far worse off had we continued on.