Do you remember when you first started? When it was all new and you had to embrace the distinct feeling of extreme excitement and at the same time total fear? Do you remember thinking about the finish line but wondering how you would ever get from point A to point B? That's a little bit of how I felt on Wednesday before we tackled our huge training block.
Who we are, and what we do, is a combination of so many things. From people, to places to experiences, we become this mismatch of memories that shape and change us into the people that we are (good and bad). I have to say, the past four days were definitely something that shaped me in a way I cannot describe. I don’t mean to make it more dramatic than it was, but to be quite honest, I was profoundly affected, and dang it... I’m not ashamed of that!
The majority of it was due to everything from reconnecting with a old friend (Beth) who has a heart of gold, but that can turn around and impress me to the utmost with her ability to mentally bear down and make her body do things that most, quite simply, cannot. The other aspect was meeting someone completely new (Barb), but that honestly, I felt like I had known for a thousand years. Like an old friend I grew up with, if times were tough, I’m not lying when I say I would drive out to the middle of nowhere and pick up if she called me tomorrow in need, share some of my deepest secrets with and generally laugh until I almost cried and yelled out in stomach pain!I had no expectations for the Wednesday through Sunday trip, except that I knew it would be hard, and it would probably be fun. I thought I was a planner, these two ladies took it to an entirely new level!! Beth would get “the voice” that always started with “Sooooo…” and we knew it was time to get our game faces on. What would follow was anything from discussing when we would be getting up (yep, the crack of dawn was the answer on most days), to what we would be wearing (long sleeve jersey? What temp do you think it will be at the top? What about gloves?), to what we would be eating at mile 65 of our final really, really, really, long ride. Each discussion was marked with an attention to detail, but yet the knowledge that the most important thing would always be true, we would have a plan, we and we would stick it to it, together.
There’s something about doing something that is completely unknown to all of you, like climbing Mt. Lemmon, while knowing that none of you has A. done it before, and B. will give up at any point no matter how hard it gets. You may not be together for the whole thing.. in fact, the chances are you will not.. but regardless, you will all be pumping legs of lead, fighting off the demons telling you that 8000 ft of climbing isn’t something that you’ve prepared for yet this season so you should definitely stop, to braving the temperature change from 65 to 35 as the ride wears on and the wind cuts you to the bone. I couldn’t see Beth, or Barb, but I knew they were both there, doing the same thing as I was doing, facing the same things, and most importantly, that at the top we would be together again, friends, athletes, and on some days this year, even competitors. For now though, we were just three women, believing in the power of friendship and our ability to conquer anything if we put our mind to it.
Thursday was the easiest day, with a swim at the University of Arizona Masters swim, trips to Trisports, building bikes while jamming to Pandora, and getting ready for what we was to come.
Friday began the real punishment with a 6:00am masters practice again, and then the Mt. Lemmon climb that at times seemed to never, ever end. Saturday started with Beth and I, side by side, running hill repeats and the familiarity that only comes with someone you’ve run beside a thousand times before and somehow even in the hardest of times, still it brings you comfort to hear their breath and observe their cadence. After a quick turnaround, Saturday brought some of the most extreme winds I have felt since my ride in Kona in 2008 (not as bad, but very close!) and 75 miles of riding in a short sleeved jersey (aka sheer joy in February!) and some kick-butt Mexican food served by a guy named, you guessed it, Chewy. There was also another gentleman that Barb so affection ally nicknamed “stash” the moment she saw him due to his, well, perfect Mexican, rolled up sleeves, sculpted mustache! I referred to that night as “the last supper” because I thought I knew what was in store, but honestly, if I had actually known, I might have just hid out in the condo all day sipping hot chocolate and watching TV. After a chilling forecast of 40 degrees at our 7am start time, and then the possibility of rain all day, we dressed (what we thought) was conservatively warm. Um... yeah.. not so much.
As we made our way toward Mt. Lemmon again, I was surprised that after 145 miles from the previous two days, my legs felt surprisingly good! Maybe all was not lost! Plus, it was overcast, but we seemed to be dressed appropriately and despite my lack of sleep (probably due to dreams of losing Barb and Beth in the desert and never seeing them again), I seemed to be feeling warm enough. At about an hour into the six hour ride I started to be using every bit I had to hang on, and things were, in a word, rough. We continued on. Cary, from my previous life as a Mark Allen Teamer, joined us and hung for a few miles before deciding to go her own way. I thought about joining her, but I decided that this weekend was about facing fears.. and mine certainly were severely evident over the next five hours. We rode out of Tucson to Oracle, and finally started descending for what seemed like 20 miles to Mammoth. I came out of my funk to finally relieve Beth of pulling for a few miles. We turned around at 3 hrs exactly. My better judgment told me this could be trouble, but I kept my mouth shut. “Everything would be fine,” I thought to myself…You’ll make it!. We tempted ourselves with a stop at the Circle K 40 mins back and then pressed on as the cold wind picked up and dropped the temps even more. The climbing never seemed to end.. we didn’t speak.. Beth just pulled us, relentlessly toward the top of a series of hills that had no promise of making any of us feel much better. Finally I had enough strength to surge to the front and help her, she needed me, and we all needed each other to be our best that day, even in the worst of moments. As the wind blew sideways and sent tears streaking out of my eyes, I just kept pumping... my legs screamed for a moment of rest, and I pressed them further than I thought possible. Our lowest moment was probably at the top when we pulled into a market for shelter that had no bathroom, no running water, and realized that with the headwind and hill we were already at mile 87 with at least 38 to go.. we had slowed down so significantly, that it would be well over a six hour ride.
Finally, something.. somewhere, convinced us to leave that store even after talk of someone hitch hiking back to get the car or calling Cary to pick us up. We would have to do this, and we would have to do it together…or not at all.
Barb stepped up and cut a path through that cold wind like a warrior on a mission. She never let up. I felt like we were racing and I held onto Beth’s wheel like I had never drafted so hard in my life. How she pulled those last 20-30 miles, I have no idea, but all that mattered was that she did. Honestly, if she hadn’t, I may still be sitting at that broken down market! When we finally saw signs for Tucson saying 15 miles, I started to believe we might actually make it home.
With five miles to go I started feeling dizzy and weak. It was so cold I’d really let my fluid intake slack and the thought of another gel made me want to hurl.. well, profusely. Barb noticed I fell off the pack and was at least 300 ft behind barely hanging on for dear life. By the time she pulled next to me, I was having trouble speaking a coherent sentence. Immediately, she assessed that things were bad, and rightfully so, they were. She made the call to stay with me as I just hung on and soft pedaled to the tune of 10-13mph until we reached the neighborhood. She talked to me about what we would eat, and how good things would be when we got back, how this was her longest ride ever, and how she knew she could do the ironman now. The lull of her voice helped bring me back to reality and stay focused enough to keep the bike upright until we made the final turn to the condo. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that bad, but without some help, I know I would have just stopped the bike along the road in a parking lot and sat there for an indefinite amount of time.
This blog is an entirely too long way of staying that what it is... is hard to explain. It’s the intangibles, it’s the love of the sport, the friends that we meet, the people that believe in us, the experiences that push us to the limits, the strength we see in others, and even that we find in ourselves that keeps me loving the things I see and do, day in and day out. I’m so thankful I got to experience this past four day training block in Tucson. I’m convinced the best part I took from it was seeing the beauty of strong women that have both known each other forever or even just met; never give up on each other, even in their own darkest moments. It moves me so much that even sitting here, it’s hard to not smile a little, brings a misty tear to my eyes, and fills my heart with joy.
In your times of weakness, may you always have your Faith, and your friends, to strengthen you. Beth and Barb, thank you so much for this weekend (also a HUGE thanks to Jen for letting us use her condo and making this whole trip possible! We love you!)So much is locked in the Tucson vault, and I promise I will never forget how you helped me through “my dark place.”