I know there were plenty of people out there who rode more miles than we did this weekend. The social media feed of any triathlete usually fills quite quickly with the efforts posted by others about their training and racing. “Century in under five hours,” the feed goes. “Would have been quicker without the wind…”
And you think to yourself, “Oh, fuck you.” So you put down the phone. And sigh. “Oh my God, I’m fine with my 65 miles.”
Because let’s be real. None of what other people do really matters to you. Not in terms of how it helps your training. Sure, it matters to them. It’s fine and fun to give them kudos and wish them well. Maybe tease a little if the friendship is close enough. “That’s all?” you might ask? “Just 150 miles in two days?”
But what matters to you is what you do. Never forget that. It will keep you sane.
And in that light, it was a good weekend for us. Sue and I traveled to Madison for a combination Birthday Getaway while Sue did the Madison Open Water Swim (MOWS) on Saturday morning. Then we were headed to a cycling trip on the Ironman course.
We stayed at the Doubletree in downtown Madison. Every employee from the friendly maintenance man in the elevator with his toolkit to the gal that spotted us with bikes and put them in storage was awesome. The staff took initiative as individuals, proving there really is an “i” in “team.” They deserve credit for that. The welcoming atmosphere really makes a difference.
Rocket Bicycle Studio
The same can be said for Rocket Bicycle Studio out in Verona where we parked before heading out for the ride. Jessica Laufenberg and her partner Peter run a great bike shop, and on Saturdays they wind up fixing all sorts of mechanical and bike/personal problems brought to them by the staff. From nutrition counseling all the way to replacing cleats and tweaking derailleurs, the pair give heart and soul to their customers. And I’m serious. This is the ‘lite’ description of their services on their website:
Be taken care of.
Ride something different.
Learn about you and your bike.
It’s the difference you’ll enjoy.
Perhaps I’m the opposite of jaded these days. Because I appreciate when people make you feel welcome and take an interest in your needs. Service to others is a noble ideal. You know, sometimes it’s the merest tweak on a bike or the adjustment of a cleat that can save a hard bike ride in the hills from becoming a miserable slog. On the Madison course, there are people doing three loops of that forty mile loop some weekends. With a ride that long, things need to be right or some undue suffering may occur.
The Barlow Factor
We rode the course in company with some other folks and came to a decision point where the new Ironman course splits onto a new section called Barlow Road which climbs a series of big goddamned hills. Or maybe it’s one big hill in three parts. No matter. It’s hard.
Now the Ironman course formerly known for separate climbs known as Three Bitches has added the Big Bastard, a multi-level climb that hits 18% at some points. It’s a hard climb even on a road bike. I made it all the way up on my Specialized Venge. However, the geometry of my bike versus a tri-bike is quite different. On a tri-bike it can be impossible for some to climb the Barlow hill.
We talked with one guy while getting food and drinks at the gas station in Mt. Horeb that admitted, “I’ve ridden up Barlow and I’ve walked it with my bike. The difference is only 47 seconds.” It’s a steep hill, in other words, with diminishing returns in riding versus walking for people in the middle of 112 miles in an Ironman. So call that the Barlow Factor.
The last time we rode Barlow was the Horribly Hilly ride two years ago. There are quite a few nasty hills on that route, including the last long-ass climb up the park road into Blue Mound State Park that concludes the ride. I think that was 2000 feet of climbing, if I recall. I stood on the pedals for quite a long way toward the end.
So we rode and rode in the hills, and it got hot and windy. And given that our schedule was delayed getting out on the course after the MOWS event, we were running out of time to get back home on Saturday night. So we bagged the day’s riding after a single loop of 40 miles and had a quick dinner with Sue’s sister July and her friend Trudi at Gray’s Tied House in Verona. Good food.
Then Sunday morning we rose again to ride 65 miles in the flatlands of Illinois. Sue’s fifty-plus friends insisted that she stop at 52 miles in celebration of her 52nd birthday and hoist her bike over her head for doing a Birthday Ride. On the day, we averaged about 18.5 despite some fatigue in our legs from the hills the previous day, and that completed the Weekend of the Century. 105 miles. And it was good.
105 miles of riding is still….105 miles no matter how you look at it. The ability to ride that far is proof that over time the unimaginable becomes practical, even desirable. The whirr of tires on tarmac sinks into your soul. The soreness from the day before flows out of your legs and the efficiency of muscles cleansed and open for oxygen becomes your reality. You feel like you could ride for a hundred years. And that’s what matters. What you do. Not someone else.
So the moral of this tale is to be willing to serve others, but also to celebrate what you do. That’s a gift to self. And there’s nothing wrong with that.