“You look miserable.” “I think you have more integrity than this.” Those two quotes rang through my head. A reminder. Surely not a gentle one, but a loving one. Tough love. Those words came about during a conversation with my best friend the night before I left for Oklahoma. She was right. It wasn’t about one thing in particular. Just a mood I had been in for a couple of weeks. There is a lot of stress happening in my life. Pretty normal stress stuff.
Too much work.
Never enough time.
The list goes on. But that list is ever present in life. I had gotten to the point where I let so many of these things get away from me that I forgot how to do them in a way that worked. Last year was just as trying. I did a freakin’ great job last year. I am so proud of 2015…to a point. You are probably wondering how this rambling fits into my Landrun race report. My mental health is just as important as my physical health. The frostbite from Tuscobia was really tough. This would put my mental health at a pretty low point. I made Landrun my carrot. I was waiting for this race. I knew it would be a wake up call. A slap in the face. I was afraid to get back on my bike. Not because my toes hurt. They are going to hurt for a long time. That was a great excuse though. The real reason was my lack of training. Sure fast is not everything, but for me, fast is fun. Being healthy is happy. Being strong is a big part of that.
I left Thursday night with plans to sleep in my truck, a little red Ford Ranger. I was not excited to sleep in the truck. Nearly 5 hours into my trip I decided to pull over somewhere. Lo and behold I was next to the Salsa demo van which was housing Brian Hanson. This trip was off to a magical start. That was the first good sign. Finishing my drive the next morning I pulled up to the Stillwater Quality Inn searching for Bailey and Allison who would be my roommates (and later saviors) for the weekend. After gathering snacks at Walmart I waited patiently for Ben Casteneda (long lost friend/he ran away to Colorado..who does that?) to arrive. I warned him that I was a very sad sight. Mostly smelly thanks to the truck sleeps and lack of shower. Either way he still gave me a hug. Second good sign. My friends love me no matter how smelly I am.
We retrieved a room key from Bailey and Allison so Ben and I could properly shower before seeing anyone else. Trust me. Heading down to District Bicycles you could feel the energy. It was electric. After a group ride, a ride meeting, many hugs, some dinner, and last minute goods procuring I was ready for bed. This was my third time heading down to Stillwater for Landrun. It seems to be getting bigger and better each year. After some bike/gear organizing lights were out by 11..I think.
Saturday morning. After downing some breakfast, watching Bailey and Allison leave earlier than I, and staring at my bike for an extra 30 minutes I decided it was time to ride over to the start. The start was jam packed with people. The best people. All of the Kuat guys. Allie from Arkansas, she is probably my sister and we both know it. Nickel. John. Tim and Kristi. Jim. Lelan and Christina. Mike. Glenn. Brian. Crystal. Bobby. Jason. That list is endless and it grows every time I go to a bike event. Third good sign. Being surrounded by the best.
We were off with the shot of a canon. It was seriously loud. The first 10 miles went by quickly. The course was the same as last year. Bringing back a flood of memories….something about mud? I knew there would be sticky sections this year, but I was anticipating a little less walking. Rounding the first right hand onto the first muddy road I was happy to be with Allie from Arkansas. We tried to ride as much as we could and quickly realized that walking would be the best. So walking it would be. We were somewhere around mile 20 and I was already feeling strange. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with Allie. Heading into this race I knew I would be behind. I just had to embrace the ride and keep on.
After a bit of riding, we were back to walking. Walking, but also climbing, down the bank of a creek. I was lucky to be next to Jason Boucher. Plus Miker! He was at the bottom of the creek. He warned me to be not tempted to ride. The walking would continue. After climbing out of the creek via some stairs we were greeted with a windy path leading to gravel. Sweet precious gravel. No more mud. I always keep the idea in the back of my mind that we may cross a nasty sticky road again, but for now I was ecstatic to be out of this mud.
Getting back on the bike I hit a wall. A mental wall. It was 30 miles into the race. This was not a good sign. The wall was in the form of a little voice. Asking questions.
“Why are you out here?”
“You aren’t ready for this.”
I knew I wasn’t going to quit, but that little voice was forcing me to stop. I rode the next 20 miles frustrated. Smiling only when I found some of those happy faces I mentioned from the start of the ride. I couldn’t ride as strong as I wanted to. I wasn’t stopping because I was physically tired. I was stopping because I was crying. Crying because of fear, anger, confusion.
Every time I would stop every person passing me would ask if I was OK. Short answer, “Yes.” Long answer, “No.” If I would have said “no” I know that person would have stopped and waited with me. I didn’t want that. I had to be honest with myself. This was bad. I knew that. No one else was going to force me to finish this ride. It was because I wanted to. No matter how much I hated those moments. I had to embrace the suck and keep pushing the pedals.
Rolling into the halfway point I was happy to find Brian Hanson. He was one of those happy faces I needed. We laughed about his sun-burnt head and just enjoyed each other’s company. That brought me back to reality for a bit. This wasn’t bad. I was not riding nearly as strongly as I would have liked, but I was still strong. Just in a different way. I had been answering those tough questions and I was still on my bike pedaling. I was fighting those demons that try to push me off my bike. During every race there is good and bad. This was a new kind of each.
The first 50 miles what I remember was mostly bad. The last 50 were mostly good memories. Simple right? The frustrated tears became emotionally overwhelmed tears. Lump in the throat. Emotions that brought out little shouts of happiness and relief. Almost like a cleansing. The last 50 miles were a blur. Not quite a flow state, but a mental state of blindness. Not really seeing or understanding, just pedaling. The demons had quieted. My brain was content to let my legs push on.
I dragged myself to that finish line. It was the longest gravel century I have ever completed. Something like 11 hours. The miles were not important. The mud did not matter. The gravel was there for sure. My bike was fine, I take good care of that machine, she always performs. The weather was weather. My clothing was comfortable. Nutrition was OK. People always wonder about those details, and I don’t blame them. I pour over them. I have spent years fine-tuning my gravel rig. That is the easy part.
The part that you can’t see or measure is what really counts. Getting to the point where you know that pushing yourself is a good thing. Looking for that limit, finding it, and smashing it. Fighting it. It hurts. It is supposed to hurt. How would I have ever know that the last 50 miles were a good idea. I learned the new definitions of “good” and “bad”. All of those good signs leading up to the race held strong. I had lost my debit card during the race. Bailey and Allison basically set me up with cash to get me home. I wrote a check to them. They saved my butt. Ben, Allison, and Bailey bought me snack and meals. They held me up that weekend. When I should have fallen apart.
I know I hard on myself and I really wasn’t falling apart. But this weekend was what I needed. No matter how much stress I put myself through. The miserable that I was feeling previous to this race wasn’t that bad. Wallowing in sad only makes it seems worse. Pushing through that sad, getting mad, fighting that pain. That makes it good. Makes me strong. Those 100 red, gravelly, muddy miles. Good memories. My happy place. I am always working to find that place and I think I am getting pretty good at finding it.