Monday, August 31, 2015

To Venus or not to Venus (de Miles, that is)

In the weeks leading up to the Venus de Miles ride, I was swearing up and down that I was absolutely not going to do the ride. I say this every year and still end up riding, but things have been different this year. I genuinely just couldn't see myself completing it.

Friends, acquaintances and family kept asking about my participating, and I continued to reply with the same, somewhat canned response. I haven't ridden enough this year to do VdM. I didn't want to do VdM. My injuries are such that it would take me far too long to complete the distance I would want to do.

A week before the ride, I was making the exact same statements. Sam was laughing at me stating that he knew I'd be riding it, regardless of what I was saying, but I continued to reassure him that I wasn't going to do the event this year. At this point, I was pretty sure I had him convinced because I myself was certain that I wasn't riding.

I had absolutely no plans to do Venus de Miles. I've ridden every year for the last 6 years and there was no reason in my mind to do it again this year. The ride gets larger and women seem to get crankier with each year that passes, so I just didn't want to put myself through it. I'm in no way in physical shape to complete this ride anyway - short or long distance.

Then, two days before the ride, I started questioning the decision. I went on a ride to clear my head and to really ask myself some questions. 1) Why would I want to do the ride or conversely, why was I avoiding the ride? 2) If I did participate, what distance would I be willing to attempt? and finally 3) What bike would I ride for something happening in less than 48 hours?
*Image found here
As I rode, I questioned everything. I knew I didn't need to ride Venus, but at the same time, I've also been whining about not having any events this year. My body is not conditioned to do anything more than about 15 miles though, and my bikes are a headache all their own at the moment. Even the bike I was riding was clicking and crackling and making all sorts of noises it shouldn't be making. Why would I want to put myself through this?

I continued to debate even after I finished my ride. I went home and read, pondered and tried to come up with a reason to do VdM - or not. Either way, I just wanted a real, definite decision and with little time left to make that last minute decision, I had to choose quickly.

There were honestly more reasons not to ride than there were to complete it. I looked at the shortest distance (which is only a tad over 30mi/48km) and thought that if I stretched, on a good day, perhaps this one would be doable. While my head wanted desperately to ride, at minimum, the metric century, I thought it foolish to attempt such a thing.

Still, not one bike was really screaming at me to be the one to complete this ride. While any of the bikes could handle any of the distances, I wasn't sure my body felt the same. It's amazing what lack of training does to a body.

I had been waiting for a new set of handlebars to try on one of the bikes and for some reason there had been delay in the shipment. When I looked at the expected arrival date, they were scheduled to land the day of the ride. The problem was, the bike best suited to get me more easily and quickly through the ride was the one waiting for these handlebars.

In truth, the handlebars I'd been using were causing a significant amount of hand pain even on short distance rides, so I wasn't sure I'd make it through without a lot of discomfort. Besides, I still wasn't certain that I even wanted to do VdM, so perhaps I should just let it go.

As I continued to debate back and forth, I made a deal with myself. If the handlebars arrived as scheduled the day of the ride, I would choose to forego it this year. If by some shipping miracle they arrived before, I'd go ahead with the shortest distance ride.

I was happy with that decision because I knew it pretty well took me out of any possibility of riding VdM this year. I breathed a sigh of relief and went on with life.

But, as the bike gods would have it, things wouldn't be that easy. The handlebars arrived the day before VdM, causing me to internally roll eyes at myself for making such a deal. Of course the bars arrived early - why wouldn't they?

It's not as though anyone was aware of the deal I'd made though. If I wanted to back out, no one would be the wiser. I thought on this possibility for a bit, but then decided that there must be a reason I was supposed to ride.
*from Venus de Miles
Reluctantly, I signed myself up to ride. Less than 24 hours before the start, mind you.

I did not tell a soul, not even Sam.

Unlike past years when I've felt physically prepared/comfortable with whatever distance I'd selected to travel, this year I was actually concerned that I wouldn't be able to ride the really rather short distance. Self-doubt is a huge potential pitfall to a person who hasn't covered typical riding distances.

Part of me was aware that the length of the ride really wasn't long and that I had in fact covered this distance earlier in the year (though it has been many months now). The other part of me kept screaming FOOL - You are a fool! Why would you do this?!

I'm pretty sure the latter voice was the one winning out, but I tried to keep my composure.

As is tradition for my VdM rides, I would be on a bike that is not only relatively new to the fold, but was also undergoing last minute changes that I wouldn't be able to thoroughly test prior to the ride.

Figures, I thought to myself. It wouldn't be VdM if there wasn't some kind of concern about the bike.

The night before the ride, I barely slept. If I had 3 hours of actual sleep, I'd call that generous. I just couldn't fall asleep and then woke up just a couple of hours later, unable to drift off again. I was exhausted, but just couldn't seem to get back to sleep. By the time 6a rolled around, I gave up and just got out of bed.

I was trying to act casually and pretend that it was just any other day. I fed the dogs, ate some oatmeal, and started to prepare water bottles.

Sam and I have had a tradition on Saturday mornings since my back therapy/recovery began a couple of months ago. Prior to the back issues, we would get up early and ride to kickboxing together, but because I've been unable to attend class (doc's orders), I ride Sam part of the way and then split off to do a ride on my own while he's in class.

I don't get to ride for long because class is less than an hour, but it's enough time for me to feel that I'm doing something, rather than vegging out on a sofa becoming a giant lump of mush. Afterward, we meet up at the end of class and head home.

I was doing my best to make this VdM ride as low-key as possible. Nothing in me wanted this ride to be a big deal, so I still hadn't let Sam know what was happening. Instead, I told him that I was going to go on a longer ride and that he shouldn't wait for me after class. I told him I'd meet up at home at some point, and he seemed to be accepting of my desire to ride a bit longer than usual without questions.

In the meantime, I knew that I would have about an hour to wait for start time. Initially, I'd thought I would do a short warm up ride, but I was well aware that with my lack of training this year, too long of a warm up would probably take me out of this ride before the end. So, instead I headed over to the start line.

When I arrived, the last of the metric century route riders were just taking off. I went to pick up my bib number and decided to get into the corral because I could place myself toward the front of the line, rather than getting stuck behind a bunch of people who inevitably have problems at the start.

As I stood there, I realized that in some ways it was a little sad not to have Sam there with me. It's sort of a tradition for him to ride me to the start and he usually shows up at some point along the route to make sure I'm okay. On this particular day though, I was kind of glad to know that I was just going on a ride and that it wasn't an "event."
The start line seemed a little down too. There were a handful of women standing in front of me, but most of the organizers and event crew had wandered away, likely because the next wave at the start line wouldn't be for another 50 minutes or so.

As I stood for a few minutes, I kept thinking about how long I had until the start and then suddenly it occurred to me, why not just leave now and get a head start? Now, I realize that this isn't exactly what the organizers want. They want everyone to wait for their wave to begin, mostly, I'm sure, because course marshals and rest stops aren't yet set up; however, I knew exactly where I was going and I knew I wouldn't require any rest stop aid. In the blink of an eye, I made the decision to just roll out on my own.

Part of my reasoning for wanting to leave before everything got started was that I know that the first several miles are climbing and I just didn't want to be surrounded by people as I huffed and puffed my way up what most would cover with ease.

The initial ascent is a mild grade and wasn't so bad, but just when riders think they're through it, the climbing gets worse. Granted, had I done any real climbing at all this year, I probably wouldn't have had so much anxiety about this portion of the route, but knowing that my back is not in the condition to power through much and the fact that even on my longest rides I hadn't climbed more than a total of a few hundred feet, I was concerned.

While riding up one of the less-steep portions of the start, I thought perhaps I should just turn around and head home. I was feeling quite weak between lack of sleep and no training, and I knew that steeper grades were in store for this ride. Because I hadn't really answered my own questions about why I was doing this ride, the simplest solution seemed to be to turn around. But, I didn't.

My path headed up continued as I talked myself through very short sections. Just get to that signal up there, I'd say in my head, or make it to the top of that next little peak. As the route turned, I continued to climb. Looking down at the Garmin, the grade also continued to get steeper and I started to think that I may have to get off and walk the bike. I was determined though to keep pedaling.

It was early in the ride and I was already fatiguing. See, this is why you shouldn't have signed up, I couldn't help but tell myself. I was trying to spin, but even spinning felt like a grind up the small hills. I tried to look at the positives, such as the fact that it was still cool-ish out and if I'd been at the start line waiting, I wouldn't have even begun yet.

Next came the gnats. To me, there is nothing worse than these annoying little insects buzzing about my nose and mouth when I can barely breathe as it is. I yelled, aloud, to the flying creatures and asked them to please just let me be, but it was as though they didn't understand a word coming out of my mouth and continued to fly about my face and head. I tried getting more stern with my request, but nothing seemed to help.

Eventually, they let me be, though unfortunately it wasn't until the top of the worst of the climbing.

As I reached the peak of this portion of the route, I reminded myself that I was through the steepest of the ride. It didn't seem to be of much comfort though because I knew I'd be turning and climbing (although not as steep) yet again.

While I was trying to enjoy a small amount of downhill reprieve, a man out riding the local roads came flying past me. I was riding the brakes because I know there's a traffic signal at the bottom of the descent and was shocked to see someone barreling down, seemingly prepared to rip right through the light.

The rider did stop at the signal, thankfully. I caught him just as the light was turning green and couldn't help but ask, "Doesn't it terrify you to come tearing down that hill?" to which he simply replied, "Well, I guess after 20 years of riding, it doesn't really faze me." Fair enough, I thought. He asked about the route and where he could avoid event riders and I attempted to help, although I wasn't entirely sure I was certain where each of the routes were headed.

A long stretch of the next portion is kind of a blur to me. You know that feeling when you haven't slept and you feel as though you aren't entirely in your body? That was pretty much where I was for a good chunk of this ride. I was grateful to be heading into more flat land territory (or at least flat-ish land) and I was starting to see more event riders now.

I cannot express how nice it was to see some people again. Other than the man who had passed me on the down hill, I had spotted only a small handful of riders, spaced out periodically through the route.

Now we were actually riding through town with cars, walkers, joggers and city cyclists on their way to whatever they had planned for the day. It was a bit surreal to have gone from lone roads to quite populated streets. Even though I know the area well, it was as though I had fallen asleep and suddenly woke up, surrounded by people.

In reality, my body was not doing well. It didn't help that participants were doing things like passing without a word or passing on the right (even worse, I thought). I was shaking my head and muttering to myself, wondering why it is so difficult for people to let another cyclist know when they are approaching/passing. But, I knew I just had to let it go.

One of the things I like least about this particular ride is that many of the women seem to view it as a race. When I first started riding VdM several years ago, the pull to me was that it was supposed to be a time of sisterhood bonding, a time for chatting as we ride, meeting new people, and riding at a pace that allows for extended conversation. Instead, more often than not, participants come by as though they are going to "win" VdM.

There is no time tracking for this ride, so it makes little sense to me. There are no winners or losers, and the only ones who won't finish are those who give up along the way, have a mechanical that can't be dealt with on the road, or who aren't at the finish by 4:30p (which allows 10 hours for the century, 8.5 hours for the metric century, and 7.5 hours for the 30 miler).

In my mind, this event started (and continues to be) a way to raise funds for a good cause and is supposed to be enjoyable. I seem to be in the minority with this thinking though and I sometimes struggle to understand what others are trying to accomplish on the course.

While I understand that people have different paces and will ride faster or slower (which is great!), I really have grown to dislike all that takes place during this ride. Between rude cyclists, bad behavior on the roads, and those who whip by as though their only purpose is to beat everyone else to the end, I just don't find it enjoyable any longer.

There were a few women along the way who were friendly and we had brief conversations. I appreciate them very much, especially on this particular event day because I was struggling to get through even the easiest portions of the route. I think their few words along the way are what helped see me to the end.

When I got home, Sam was waiting at the back door for me. I was a little surprised that he was there waiting, but I'm sure he was concerned about how long I'd been gone, particularly as he knows my rides have been very short lately.

Then in an instant he saw my bib number. "Ah," he started, "Somehow, I knew something was up." I just smiled while he held open the door so I could walk the bike inside.

This year was an interesting mix of emotions and physicality for me. I don't think I've ridden a VdM in the past that had my body feeling so ill-prepared.  Mentally, I struggled much more than I have at any event in the past. I felt soft, broken, incapable even. I was grateful to finish and even more so that I hadn't been foolish enough to attempt a longer distance, but I had also made some realizations by the end - both positive and negative.

I believe I have finally realized that after many years of the same behavior on the roads, it's time for me to bid farewell to this event. I think it's great that so many women continue to ride and participate, but I don't think this is the right choice for me. If I want to ride a race, then I need to find one that is actually a race, and if I just want to ride, then I'll ride.

A renewed appreciation for transportation riding has also made itself known. I realized how much I love just traveling around our city to complete errands, get groceries, visit friends, and so on. While that has never gone away for me, I was reminded that I am at home on a bike just tooling about our city - or even traveling to neighbor cities. I appreciate feeling the wind in my face and watching the seasons - or even the day - change.

Getting my body healed is extremely important. I don't like knowing that what is normally a short distance for me to ride is going to break me. Even as I sit typing today my body is feeling the ramifications of this event. I need to get strong again, and I need to not fear being able to complete even the shortest climbs. But, it's going to take time - and patience with self is not my strongest virtue.

I am grateful to have a partner in life who may think it odd that I wouldn't share that I was participating in this event, but who also understands that sometimes I just don't need or want the fanfare that can come along with formal declarations of intent.

There is a part of me that is disappointed that I didn't (and likely won't) get to participate in a short touring ride this year. I think that these are the sort of long distance endeavors that I would like to complete in the future though. I have a feeling that being able to just go and see places I don't see every day would be a great possibility for me.

Ultimately, I am happy that I was able to ride Venus de Miles, and I'm glad that I was able to cover the distance without any catastrophic issues. I think more than anything I am grateful for the time to be alone with my thoughts and to sort some things out. VdM may not be in my future plans, but it's been an interesting partner each of the last six years, allowing me to learn something about myself each time I have ridden. For that, I am quite thankful.


  1. So many things to say to this....

    Firstly - congratulations! Not so much for completing the ride (but yes, congrats on that too!) but for the insights you gained and the self-awareness you continue to develop.

    Secondly - I so relate to the constant dialogue with myself: no, I can't; well, maybe; just get to that signpost; I should just go home; no, wait; on second thought.

    Thirdly - and this one really excites me...

    Correct usage and spelling of "fazed"!!!!!

    YAY!!! YOU ROCK!!!

    You have no idea how bugged I get, each time I see "phased" in this context, even by -- especially by -- extremely literate people. Phew. :p

    1. {giggling} I am sure that on more than one occasion I have used "phased" instead of "fazed," (as well as other words that end up being misused typically) despite knowing the difference. I hate when I realize the mistake after the fact because I'm convinced people think I am a complete moron when really it's just my haste and lack of going back to check everything. :O)

      The self-dialogue is often what gets me through tough spots, and I think this ride was no exception. Sometimes it is just what is needed to get to the end. Taking things in little pieces is not my specialty, but I think that is why it's good practice.

      Thanks for the congrats, too!

  2. I'm so glad that you did the ride and that you realized that you are done with it. I love the way your writing takes us with you through all your wandering thoughts in each blog post. I'm never sure where we're going to end up, but the journey is delightful!

    I've never done an organized ride. I keep meaning to sign up for one, but never do. Somehow it doesn't feel right for me. I do want to do a century ride, but I think I'll just do it on my own. I like to take my time, get lost in thought, pull over to look at whatever is of interest, and take my time if stopping for a cup of tea sounds good. I don't want to have to think about finishing a course in a predetermined amount of time.

    Now, advice you didn't ask for:
    Enjoy whatever rides you do take.
    Rest and recover.
    Get strong.
    Be patient with yourself.

    Oh, wait, that's the advice you gave yourself. Well, you really should listen to yourself!

    1. I think that I have slowly grown to realize that an organized ride doesn't need to define what, how far, or when I ride. I'm not saying that I won't ever do another riding event, but I think I need to find one that works better for me, should the desire arise. I also agree with you that I enjoy the ride so much more when I'm not trapped by a particular timeline.

      I appreciate your thoughts (and in a much more succinct version than what I expressed). Those wandering thoughts of mine sometimes get me in trouble! :O)

      I look forward to hearing about your first century, when you decide it's time. I hope you make it something enjoyable and that you do stop to smell the roses and have a cup of tea - or whatever strikes your fancy in the moment.

  3. This was pretty weird, but not? I had a feeling something was going on that morning... However, for the last 2-3 years of this event, I have had this "it does not know what it want's to be" feeling. It's a casual ride-fundraiser, but people treat it as a "race", even though it has only one "race" prerequisite, and that's a bib number. No timing, no checkpoints. There's just not enough joy in it, where people truly take their time, bs, hang out, and just ride..... Lately it has me wondering what "road cycling" is, looping around for hours? At any rate, I was shocked and pleased at the same time that G.E. participated in this even, and so easily.. "hey, I'm done..". hehe.

    1. I don't know how easily it was done. It's frustrating to feel as though I'm working backward instead of moving forward, but I'll get there - at some point. :O)

  4. Kinda sorry to hear about the roadie ladyz being just as lame and obnoxious as roadie boyz...

    Good on you though for finding your way into some enjoyment/value of the day.

    How about: offer up your own informal riding group, post a notice on craigslist, once a month say, 20 - 30 miles, possibly women only, social, non-competitive, at least one gathering stop en route for chatting and getting to know. There is a demand for this kind of riding activity, but few putting out the leadership to make it happen. You could nurture others to discover the pleasures of cycling, and share the camaraderie of other like-minded souls.

    1. Well, they aren't/weren't all obnoxious, so at least it's nice to know that some can be civil and human to others. I think that some of the riders get into "race mode" and they forget manners on the road. I understand being motivated by speed, but I suppose I've never viewed this particular ride as such an event.

      I have tried to organize rides locally in the past that were slower speeds, more casual, just for fun type of meet ups. My perception is that there are simply more people locally interested in going fast than in pedaling a short ride to enjoy the scenery and each others company (or it goes the other way and those who show up are capable of covering about 5 miles maximum - which is okay too, but is probably better suited to a different group, or asking those who turn up for a longer distance to cut the ride short). I will likely try again at some point, but for now, I think I need to stick to my own recovery and not concern myself with the where, how, or who I'm with on rides. It can be tough to get people to lead or organize any sort of ride - and understandably so as it requires a commitment of time.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts. :O)


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