Not biking the Iceman: Why taking a break got me going again

 

I didn’t ride the Iceman this year. Or last year. In fact, I swore I was retiring from my so-called secret-weapon training. Ask all my friends, I was adamant that I needed to quit racing altogether. I made them promise to not let me do it. It was no fun anymore, it took up all my time, I couldn’t take the anxiety, I hated race-day jitters, I always had a mid-race crisis where I hated my bike and them too.

But standing at the finish line of the Iceman this year, I saw racing with more clarity than I have in the 8 years I’ve been doing (or dreading) it:

 

A community. To be a part of it, on the inside, tucked into the sweaty jerseys and helmet head pictures, only comes with riding it. The spouses and friends and sponsors are all essential, but still one step removed from the true experience. There’s nothing like feeling the chill settle in after the race and knowing your body is ready to be done, you’ve pushed it, you’ve earned a hot shower, a drink, a rest.

This year, I felt the separation, thin, between done and doing. I realized that not doing it one year hadn’t cost me much. But two years off and I was distancing myself from what I was, had become, what felt good and right and hard and worth it.

Can I let that go? I don’t think I’m ready to. It’s too much of what I loved about my life. It brought me new friends, new challenges, endless miles up damn hills, headaches, bonking and sometimes, always, satisfaction in getting it done. In many ways, biking saved me from grief, from losing my mom and my mind too. It put me on a path to doing better, trying harder. After two years off, I felt the old slip coming, back to bad habits that take me down, not build me up.

Some of my best times include that year when I biked like a madwoman, all the time while the kids were in school, and ran around with mad men, laughing and bitching and moaning and sore and sweaty and… again, satisfied. Of course many things had to take a backseat to that, time was in short supply. I couldn’t do it forever and still get other things done, like my writing. But that year was a good one, great friends made and time and a willingness found, for the first time since losing my mother, to go out at night with friends and laugh again.

 

A new perspective. By taking a break from racing, I see that the race is not as big as I’ve made it out to be. The nerves and anxiety are still there, but smaller now, acknowledged but not all-consuming. I’ve discovered it’s ok, it’s more than ok, it’s good to feel small in a race, to fold into the crowd and ride for yourself. The feeling of finding your pace, of working a hill, shifting tight, pulling away with enough at the top of the hill to get back up to speed, not bonking, bonking and coming back.

It was something to see that sea of bikes at the end of the Iceman. I wished my bike was in there again. Hey, I wanted to say, I’m with these people. I see it bigger now, from afar, that it’s a coming together on the same day for a bunch of people who like these same crazy things. Few of them are true racers, but 100% of them love their bikes and their friends they ride with. I don’t love a single hill in a single race, but I can say some of the funniest times of my life have been spent, unexpectedly, in the hot, humid, wet cab of a truck with a group of people who just did something as dumb as ride through 3 hours of rain with me.

Seeing them cross the finish line last Saturday, I wondered, what if I hadn’t met these, my new friends? My bike brought me to this place in my life where I would meet them. And without planning to, I’d biked and changed alongside them every mile. All the stories, the victories and losses, not to mention the therapy on the trail.

They are part of my story now, a good part. Maybe other things are coming, too, delivered by my bike. Miles logged in solitude and in companionship. I needed a break, a few years off. But that time gave me the perspective I needed to see what I had, what I loved, what I missed. I know now that there’s more to come, maybe even a good race or two.