At the start of the Ottawa Pumpkin Pie ride we gathered outside the YMCA for a last minute discussion about distance. We had choices of 20, 26, 66 and 100+. “We’ll go to 40 and see how we feel,” it was agreed.
The skies were grey and the wind was low and insistent. As we stood there I felt that strange little bit of headache you get when there’s a trace of flu or cold still in your system. I had a craving for a cold Coke, or something. Despite some nice oatmeal and a rich banana on the ride down, there was a strange hunger in the pit of my stomach.
Emphasis on the word pit. For that would be the theme for the day. I know, pumpkins don’t have pits, they have seeds. But from the get-go my stomach felt as if all that stuff from the insides of a pumpkin was roiling around down there. Not a fun feeling. And you probably know the feeling too, like there’s a combination of goo that might or might not come up, our out.
But you know, sometimes you gotta suck it up and just go. So we did. And I did. And for 23 miles we sliced through the wind and enjoyed some tailwinds for about 12 miles to arrive at the first aid station.
There was food, including a Sloppy Joe sandwich, some grapes, cookies and a bit of blue Powerade. Yet we all got chilled standing around, and when the ride started again it was hard to warm the body up.
As the pace picked back up to 19mph my legs still felt okay. That part of it was not a strain. But like I told Sue back at the aid station when she asked how I was doing, “My stomach is giving me fits.”
It had been that way all week. Every run this week was an awkward balance between feeling okay and feeling less than okay. Nothing better. It had started with a zinc battle against a tingling ‘cold coming on’ feeling in my nose on Monday night, and lasted all week. Nothing came of it except this half-tired all the time feeling. It was as if whatever bug did not set in also refused to go away. So I slept a little extra, or tried.
By Friday I skipped a run to try to recharge my battery. By Saturday’s 30-minute run with Sue I thought it was getting better.
But not really.
So the bike trip across the flat landscape got a little more difficult as we rolled along. Every increase in pace against the wind set my stomach churning. The legs were okay for the a while, but the tension took its toll. Sue hung back a couple times, but I told them all to go ahead. I know my body well enough to know that I’d make it back fine.
With a group ride like that I hate, hate, hate to impact the pace and the mood of the day. Everyone was pedaling along fine but me. Ugh. I’m the middle child, and I hate to cause anyone inconvenience.
It was hard to keep my mood up on the surface where it should be. I got angry with myself. Then I was angry with Sue for asking if I could stay on her wheel. It always occurs to me that life and cycling are much the same. Sometimes you don’t want to have to hold anyone’s wheel. But you know, it becomes a test of personal character to do so in the best way you now how.
So I drank and ate a little, hoping to feel better. But the Accelerade in my bottles, while ideal for energy, makes me burp. That was no fun. The idea of barfing that Sloppy Joe was no fun at all, and seemed imminent. So I pedaled along in this flux state, sometimes alone, sometimes with Sue patiently pulling me through the wind.
Well, we’re even in some ways. We’ve pulled each other a few times and through a few things this year. Life is indeed like cycling. Her bike was wrecked before her Ironman and that was a stressful deal, to say the least. During her Ironman, her stomach was pretty upset after getting thoroughly dunked during the swim, which by all accounts was insanely aggressive in Madison. Don’t people have any consideration for the hard work put in by others in preparation for that race? Is it really necessary, and does anyone really gain anything but a few seconds by clobbering other swimmers? Questions for the ages.
There’s little you can do but make the best of such situations. Her stomach was upset by all the water she’d take in, and the ride was compromised along with it, and her ability to take in nutrition too perhaps. All that preparation and it often comes down to stupid stuff out of your control.
And yet, I was so admiring of her response while coming in from the run on the last mile of the Ironman. “Well, it wasn’t the day I wanted,” she called to me with a smile. “But I’m going to be an Ironman!”
If only we all had iron guts when we need them.
But it’s part of the deal when you’re an endurance athlete. You have to dine on the slice of pie you’re given on any given day. Sometimes you feel great, and ride or run the whole way without a problem. Other times you’re the one left gnawing on a gnarly piece of crusty dreams.
So I was grateful that the last five miles of the Pumpkin Pie Ride turned into a tailwind stretch. By then I’d forced down some nutrition and was feeling better. Probably on top of feeling lousy in the stomach I was missing nutrition the last half of the ride. It’s pretty easy to lose that balance.If it was the flu of some sort, I’d fought it off in large part.
Sue classily rode in the last few miles with me and all was good. We gathered together as a group and snapped a selfie showing our smiling faces. No one told me that I suck as a rider. Not that anyone would. Because we’ve all been there. We all must dine on our slice of the pie, for better or for worse, on any given day.
It reminds me of what my brother told me before a 20-year high school reunion. “You’ll like this one a lot better,” he chuckled. “By now everyone’s had their ass kicked in one way or another.”
So enjoy your slice of the pie when it tastes good and goes down easy. And when you’re forced to dine on humble pie of any flavor, know that tomorrow is another day. And what a slice it will be.