The last several weeks have had me far more stressed out about my upcoming 100-mile ride than I should be. I wish I could be calm and collected and just "know" that I can do it, but the more riding I do, the less capable I feel, which can be quite disconcerting to someone who just keeps telling people she is going to do this ride - and before the end of summer. I want to feel confident, but the more 30-40 mile rides I complete, I realize just how far 100 miles is going to be, and searching out flatter routes in this area is challenging and adding to my fears.
The death of someone close is always thought-provoking for me. I wasn't particularly close to this friend, but Sam basically grew into adulthood with him - meeting in the army and forging a friendship that would last... well... through his lifetime. They had their times of being close and distant, but they always remained in contact. The passing of someone known reiterates to me that I can never take life for granted. We don't know when our last moment may be on this earth, and our time here is very precious and fleeting.
The day I decided to attempt my "longer" training ride it was hot. Much more than I would prefer (though it is typical for this time of year). I packed up water and a snack, headed out to see where the road would take me, and how far I could get in the time I had to spare. I knew it wouldn't be a fast ride, but I wasn't concerned about any of that: miles were all that mattered. Most of the ride was lonely, and I had a lot of time to think. Sometimes that's a good thing, but on this particular day I would have preferred some company. It didn't take long before I started questioning the "why" of the century ride. Who am I trying to impress and what am I trying to prove? Is there a reason for any of this? What does 100 miles prove exactly? Doesn't regular riding seem more important than some arbitrary number?
I was comfortable on the bike, but it was a very slow ride. Every mile seemed to take an eternity, and I had little climbing to accomplish so I couldn't even claim fatigue from the stress of hills. I started to question my body and its capabilities. I began to wonder if I shouldn't just head home and live to ride another day. I just wanted to cross the 40-mile marker and couldn't seem to get there. "This fat body just won't let me do it!" I started telling myself. "Why would I think I am capable of anything more?" The tears started falling when I realized that I was allowing myself to fail; that I was offering excuses in an attempt to permit myself to give up. At 34 miles, I was done. Mentally and physically, I'd had all I could handle. The glaring sun and heat had beat me down, my water was gone, and although I wasn't actually hungry, my body was telling me that it wanted food... real food. My brain was telling me to stop and try again another day, so I headed home.
As I got back on the bike, my body was displeased. Again, I was perfectly comfortable, but I was tired and the mid-90-degree temperatures (even with the rare cloud cover) were not helping. I was riding slower than I had been even before I stopped to refill, but I was determined to get beyond the threshold of that 40-mile mark. Why was every pedal stroke such an effort? I simply couldn't understand why my body was so fatigued after such a relatively short distance. Then, just as I was feeling hopeless, I looked down and saw this:
The mind is a powerful thing. I am convinced that I can talk myself into or out of almost anything. Sometimes the mind is willing and the body refuses to cooperate; other times the flesh is ready, but the head is weak. Finding the times when the two necessary parts overlap into a state of cooperation seems to be challenging, particularly when riding distances alone. But, knowing the way I felt on this ride, and seeing that I was capable of going beyond what I'd hoped to do that day despite the obstacles, helps me understand that I really can accomplish this ride. It may not be fast, and all of the stars may not align to have a perfect day, but it is doable... and I will finish what I have started.
Why will I ride 100 miles? I will do it because I want to prove to myself that I can...Not because someone is making me, or because I think it will impress anyone (far better people have done far more, certainly). I will do it because I don't know when my last day could be on this earth. I will do it to prove to every person who ever said, "You can't (or shouldn't) do that," that they were wrong. I will do it because I am strong, and capable, and willing to put in the time and effort to accomplish this goal. In the end, that's all the reason I need.