Three years ago, I completed my first century ride, the Swedish Days ride that's a couple hours drive north of us. Hubby and I drove up the evening before and spent the night so I could get some decent sleep before having to get up early the next morning. We planned to ride together for the first 25 miles or so, at which time Hubby would return to the start and wait on me to finish the 100 miles. After Hubby turned back, I rode on alone, being sure to follow the cue sheet and arrows on the roads, as well as making sure to stop at the rest areas to eat and drink. The final rest area was about 15 or 20 miles from the finish, and after eating some fruit and a cookie, I started off to complete the ride. Nine miles out, I turned to go east, the final leg of the 100 miles, and found myself facing a nasty headwind. I slogged on, determined I was going to finish. I finally reached the parking lot where Hubby was waiting, and as I neared the truck, I was overcome with emotion, something that had never happened to me before. I suddenly found it very difficult to breathe, and all I wanted to do was cry. I had trained for weeks to complete 100 miles on my bike, and I knew I could do 50 or 60 miles with no problem. 100 miles, though, was a completely different story. It took all I had physically and mentally.
Since that first century ride, I've completed several more, one where I managed to maintain a 17 mph speed despite some gnarly hills (at the end, in the parking lot, another cyclist complimented me on my cycling, saying I rocked because I rode alone, and even though his group passed me, I always caught them at the rest stops), and one where the hills were known to make even the best have to dismount and walk their bike to the top (I didn't--I love hills). I even did a metric century on my mountain bike, a ride that was 90% gravel roads and hilly, hilly, hilly. I finished that ride feeling absolutely worn out, but so incredibly happy at having accomplished such a difficult task. After each of these rides, I didn't have the same reaction I had after the first century ride. Rather, I felt strong, capable, and accomplished.
Yesterday, I felt that same sense of strength, ability, and accomplishment as I completed a second consecutive day of 100+ miles. Friday, I rode 105 miles. Yesterday, I rode 102 miles. The toughest mileage happened during day 2, around mile 90, when it began to sink in just how tired I was. My wrists hurt, making me want to constantly change hand position on the bars. My triceps ached from being in the same position for 5 hours. My thighs were burning and thankful for each pause in pedaling (my cadence really suffered at this point since I was coasting so much). I knew I had another 45 minutes to go, and I knew I had to get out of my own head if I was going to finish the ride in a happy state of mind. That's when a line from my favorite movie--Michael--popped into my head: "Listen to the earth." Michael (John Travolta) says this as he's sitting on a farming implement in a field, with Sparky the dog sitting next to him. I figured the line popped into my head for a reason, so I turned my attention to what was around me rather than what was going on with me.
I heard the leaves whispering in the breeze blowing out of the south. I heard a robin sing what my mom called their "rain is coming" song (and she was right--last evening we received a light, steady rain). I heard the warning shrill of the red-winged black bird as I neared its nest. I heard the panicked chirp of a chipmunk as it darted into the tall grass at the edge of the road. I heard the rustle of the corn growing tall under the July sun (much taller than the old "knee-high by the 4th of July" saying I heard as a kid). Before I knew it, I was at the edge of town, just a couple of miles from home. At this point, my Garmin beeped, telling me I'd reached the 100 mile mark. Nothing could take the smile from my face. Even as I pulled into the driveway and unclipped from the pedals, I was still smiling. With the help of what is all around me, I finished a task I've been wanting to do but wasn't sure I could.