First off, I could not do the full 25 miles. Instead, I did 17. (Well, 17.2 or something.) Half of me is very disappointed that I couldn't do 25 miles, and the other half is thrilled that I could do more than 15 miles. See, the REAL first ride - which was to be March 4 but was canceled due to snow - is 15 miles. That's how the outdoor training starts out, at 15 miles. So even though it was supposed to be 25 miles according to the calendar, really you're supposed to start at 15. And I did 17.
So okay, it was FREEEEEEZING. Sunny and clear, but the wind was cold and vicious. For all of you not in the Chicagoland area or if you're just generally unaware of how vicious wind can be, I'm talking about the kinds of gusts that cause garbage cans to go flying and push small sedans sideways on the highway. I was adequately bundled, but that wind near killed me. I spent the full 17 miles cursing it. But I figured if I could bike in that and come out alive, a few mountains would seem entirely conquerable. I got on the bike and was promptly left behind by the entire group. I rather expected this, since my starting is still so very wobbly and awkward, and then I had to fumble with gears until I had a clue what my bike was doing. But Coach Anne stayed with me.
AN ASIDE: Coach Anne is my hero. She is patient and kind and full of encouragement and tough as nails and just an all-around bad-ass sweetheart, that's all there is to it. I would never, ever have gone 17 miles without her at my back, urging me on. I don't even know that I'd have gone 7 miles or much more than 7 minutes. It wasn't me who rode 17 miles yesterday - it was Anne and me. There would've been no Me in it if there weren't an Us.
There were the merest bit of hills on the ride. Okay, calling anything on that ride a "hill" is generous in the extreme, as they were really just slight inclines. I learned how to pedal on the downhills (after shifting gears to add more resistance - is that upshifting or downshifting? I don't understand gears, sorry) instead of coasting. Coasting uses your energy, but pedaling increases it and allows it to carry you up the next hill. It's a super-duper double-awesome feeling, when you go up a hill like that and barely even notice it in your legs. And it's a horrible death-march feeling when you don't have that momentum to help you up a hill. Sadly, I felt the death-march way more than I felt the super double-awesomeness.
So I really learned how to use the gears well, and how to handle (baby) hills. And I also really learned how to just keep pedaling, no matter how slow and laborious and seemingly endless and freaking TORTUOUS it is. Coach Anne tells me I have a great pedal stroke, by which she means (I think, if I understood it right) that it's nice and even and smooth instead of herky-jerky or a bunch of energetic pedalling followed by coasting. That pedalpedal-cooooooast, pedalpedalpedal-cooooooast pattern is apparently very common, eats up energy, is bad for long long rides, and is a hard habit to break. So YAY I don't have any terrible habits! (Um, in biking, that is. Yet.) What was hard for me was the lack of recovery period, and I suspect that's why people coast more than they should. I'm fine going all-out, but I want 3 minutes of all-out to be followed by a minute of rest and recovery. This is not, however, the way that endurance training works.
Here is where I confess to you that I genuinely came within a millimeter of calling this whole thing off yesterday. It wasn't just thinking I couldn't do it or wanting to quit or whatever. It was a real Moment, like when you know you've made a wrong choice and just want to stop the whole thing. It was when I was thinking we must be coming up to the mid-way point soon, probably within another mile or two, so I told myself to hold on despite the exhaustion/pain. Then Anne broke in and announced that we'd just reached the four-mile point. Four. That was all. I'd been wanting to give up for ages upon ages, and we'd only gone four stinking miles. I about fell off my bike. Then about one or two miles after that - after a really awful steep incline that felt like an epic struggle of biblical proportions - I thought: I don't like this. I don't want to do it. I'm just going to have to tell them that I'm not doing it, that's all. To understand the import of this moment, you have to understand that I have a general life policy of only doing things that I want to do. It's a strict policy, and exceptions are only made in cases where the hated thing is temporary and a very necessary step toward the thing I DO want. So say there's some task at my job I despise, okay - I don't want to do it but I will, because I want to get paid. Very simple math on that. But in this case, I found myself in a situation of not liking something, not being good at it, the only consequences of not doing it are - well, nothing. Mild but passing disappointment, that's about it. So why not just turn around, go home, and never talk to any of these people ever again? It seemed a good and proper thing to do.
But Anne was there, and it just seemed too terribly impolite. Here she'd taken time out of her day and everything, and was deprived of her full mileage because she'd stayed to help me, and was so patiently helping me do the most remedial bit of riding. And I just wasn't raised to answer a good faith commitment like that with a shrug and a "So long, sucker." So I plowed on. At 8.5 miles, we stopped to look at the map and Anne asked me what I thought of going on or back, reminding me that we'd be riding into the wind on the way back. And at 8.5 miles, somehow I didn't want to quit anymore. But I did want to acknowledge the reality of what my body was capable of. We turned back, and that's how it turned into 17 miles instead of 25.
It was pretty clearly the right decision, since it was at about mile 12 that I really began thinking I might not make it back. I got a leg cramp at one point, but it was a strange thing - a quick stab and then gone, no lingering pain. I guess it was due to muscle fatigue instead of any actual injury? I had to walk the bike up he last half of a hill, because I ran into a curb and then couldn't get started on an incline, so that rather sucked. And around mile 15 is when my arms and wrists and shoulders began to hurt as bad as my legs. And all the while, that damn wind kept plowing into our faces. When Anne said "Look up there, that stop sign is where we turn to go to our parking lot where we started out," I nearly cried with relief. I had stopped hoping for the ride to end long ago, resigned to indefinite full-body misery. That's really the only way, you know, just stop hoping for the finish line and plod along without thinking too much. But then the finish line was there and I swear I could hear chorus of angels singing down at me from the clouds. No joke.
Some teammates were already there, waiting, and they clapped for me and hugged me, and were just generally wonderful. This is the first time in forever I've actually felt that applause was warranted for anything I've done, so it was validating rather than embarrassing to get it. I then slipped into a zombie-like state of near-coma that lasted until about 6pm last night. I was really hungry, but just a granola bar was enough - it was the first time in my life that digestion seemed like something to be avoided for a while. Not because it would make me sick, but because digesting was too much work, therefore I didn't want food. Given my love for food and eating, it was rather a surreal feeling.
Seriously, you guys. I have no idea how Anne kept me on that bike. None. I just wanted to get off the whole time. Every minute of it. She's some kind of jedi coach-master or something, I mean she didn't even say anything like "you can't quit now" or anything like that. It's just like she expected me to keep going so I did. What? How does that WORK, even? It's freaking CRAZY.
Two physical notes:
1. I was breathing really hard at points, but I never felt entirely out of breath, or that my lungs were burning and my heart wasn't painfully beating a million miles an hour or anything. This must be the result of focusing on cardio these last couple of years. Anne asked me at one point how my breath was, could I speak a complete sentence? I proceeded to speak a few of them, because my lungs were working hard but not overtaxed. Anne tells me this is great, since it can be a huge obstacle in endurance training, training your lungs to handle it. So it appears my lungs and heart are already up to speed. YAY.
2. I have much muscle-work ahead. For the vast majority of the ride time, it was my legs that were exhausted. They got all wobbly after just a few miles, and were like rubber at the end. It could be that they were just taken by surprise - like all my muscle tissue was shouting "you want us to do WHAT? we've never done this! we have to consult the manual!" I imagine a version of Scotty, down in the engine room, insisting we just don't have the power, Cap'n. But now I've done it once, the muscles are better prepared next time I throw this sort of thing at them. And of course I'll be weight-training the hell out of them.
I am shocked - SHOCKED, I tell you - that here I am, next day after that grueling experience, and I don't have a single sore muscle. Not one. I expected to be incapable of moving today, but I am perfectly fine. It seems downright miraculous. This is great because aside from needing to do laundry and actually buying food and whatnot, Pepe needs a looking-at. Something's wrong with his front brake, it's rubbing against the front tire. So I'm off to the bike shop in a bit. And if he's seaworthy, so to speak, I plan to ride to work tomorrow. THAT'S RIGHT I SAID THE BIKE COMMUTE IS ON, PEOPLE. It's my hope that daily riding the 8-ish miles to work will help to make 10 miles an easy every-day distance, and so anything more than 10 is less of a struggle. So I'll let you know how that goes.
Next week, the mileage is - I don't know, probably 30 miles? And if I can't do 30 or very close to it, it will not be for lack of preparation this week.
It was close, but I'm not quitting. I mean, I rode 17 miles and I hated every last one of them and truly believed every single mile that I couldn't possibly go one more. But I DID. Isn't that amazing? It's incredible, what your body is capable of if you just force yourself to keep going. And of course, it really helps to have a load of cheerleaders like you all, and a great supportive team and the world's most fabulous coach.
Also it helps to promise yourself a calzone and a beer at the end of the ride. Even if you wait like 6 hours to eat it. :-D