I love riding bikes.
I believe bike riding includes the ultimate balance in sport: aggression, stamina, and fun. However, there is another side of hard biking, devastation and breakdown. That is the elusive balance of cycling we aim to achieve, the ability to push hard, but not empty the tank. The pursuit to achieve that balance is both the challenge and reward; it’s fun, satisfying, and heartbreaking every single day.
Once on the bike during a triathlon, it is possible to pedal hard and ugly to make tremendous gains after a poor swim and to set up a decent position going into the run, but it will hurt.
I have always believed that my bike legs can conquer any hill, or windy straight-a-away without blowing up, because riding is the one chance during racing and training where I can follow my instincts, and allow my primal fury to take the lead. However, over the past few months I have felt slightly unsure about my pedal pushers.
I am starting to grow gills from all of my time in the pool, and my running legs are back to their usual overly excited antics, but my bike legs still haven’t shown up for the party.
I think that is what makes triathlon so special, just when one discipline is coming along nicely, another one is still fumbling with their shoes just trying to make the bus to get to school on time before the bell rings.
In the Spring of 1990, my brother Peter wrote an essay to explain why he should be picked to ride in the most prestigious event at El Roble Junior High School, the annual 24-hour Bike Marathon. Naturally, his essay got him a ticket to ride. The event started on a Thursday at 12P and ended that following Friday at 12P. The students rode in hour long shifts around the school’s dirt track throughout those 24 hours, taking turns to ride, rest, eat, sleep, and then repeat.
Peter rode brilliantly.
He ratcheted up 124.25 miles and hundreds dollars to fundraise for the Red Cross. He also inspired a certain the 5th grader who came to cheer him on after her soccer practice that Thursday night.
I couldn’t write and submit my essay fast enough when it was my turn to apply for the Bike Marathon in the Spring of 1993.
I made it.
I spent the first few Saturdays of that year riding with fellow 8th grade stud cyclists prepping for the Bike Marathon; those rides were fun, but tough. I also rode endless loops around my neighborhood to train, and then my special morning in May arrived.
It was time to ride.
I set two goals going into the Bike Marathon:
1.) Ride over 125 miles to beat Peter’s mileage count.
2.) Finish as the top female rider.
Each rider was assigned a volunteer to count their laps. I was set up with my friend Deborah Cratty. Every time I rode by her I shouted out my name, I think, (honestly, I can’t remember what I said, it was twenty-five years ago), but every time I passed her we made eye contact and she recorded my laps. The first few shifts I was cruising along safely ahead of the other girls, but there was one rider, Christina Walters, who was creeping up on my wheel as the sun was starting to set.
Then Peter showed up.
Peter was a big time Junior in high school at the time, but thankfully pried himself away from his homework to cheer on his little sister for her Bike Marathon debut.
“Go, T!! Pedal HARDER! You’ve GOT this!” Peter yelled out this mantra while running back and forth across the infield for that entire hour-long shift.
I had never pushed my legs that hard for that long in my life. I grinded into the corners with precision, and pedaled out of them along the straight-a-ways with brute strength, and glowing pride; I couldn’t let Peter or myself down. I gave that hour absolutely everything I had.
Deborah counted over sixty laps in that hour, by far my highest tally so far.
I widened the gap between Christina safely during that shift, and inched it out even further as we rode through the night and into the next morning. I ended up riding 128 miles over 24 hours, (a healthy dose more than my big bro), and took the win for the young ladies.
I credit both Peter’s frantic cheering, and my instincts to go beyond my perceived limits for accomplishing both of my goals for the Bike Marathon; a thrilling, yet exhausting taste of what it takes to be a serious cyclist.
Last Saturday while riding Simone high above the San Fernando Valley, I finally sensed a familiar feeling surging through my legs, and smiled.
My bike legs were back.
Since I found my bike legs, I thought this song, "Find Me" from Sigma was a fitting musical accompaniment for this week. I love this song.