I’ve been riding my bike for fifteen hours. The light projecting off the head lamp on my helmet is an important guide as I take one pedal stroke after another. The smell of the desert around me is sweet and fresh, it calms my nervous energy and renews me with every breath. I focus on the sounds and smells around me as I move through this fragile desert environment. I am suddenly filled with gratitude and peace, then my attention is brought back to the uncomfortable feeling that arises from the skin on my rear end. An inevitable pain, I knew this sensation would show its ugly face, but I am not deterred. I will continue. I will endure. I am a psychopath, and I am racing 24 Hours of Old Pueblo, yet again.
I decided to tackle 24 Hours of Old Pueblo for a third year. The past two years resulted in serious injuries for me. I believe that it was all bad luck on my part. This race is extremely well organized, fun and well worth the trip to Tucson, AZ. But, as I stood at the start line preparing myself, I was nervous.
People always remark on how much I’m smiling while racing. The smile, I assure everyone, is genuine. I just love riding, and I’m in my element while racing. This year at 24 Hours was tough, but I learned a lot. Compared to all the races I participated in this season, I felt a little off my game. Despite this, I was still smiling because I was so happy to be there and happy to know I had folks cheering for me. Sometimes what enables a racer to finish a tough race is the community they surround themselves with. And for me, this kept me pedaling through to the end.
I knew I felt bad the first lap. I didn’t need to tell this to anyone; my pit crew, and everyone else for that matter, could tell I was not my normal chipper self. If racing were a poker game, I would be everyone’s choice to play against. I have no poker face, and even with a large smile, people can see through me like a window pane. The fourth lap, about 60 miles into the race, stood as the pivotal moment. I knew I would not win the race, and I really wanted to win this one. I struggled with feelings of embarrassment and shame. I couldn’t help but to remember all the well wishes folks had kindly given me before the race. I started to focus on the encouragement, and at some point the shame dissipated. I had nothing to be ashamed of. No one always feels their best during a race. I knew at that moment that it was because of my community, because of all the work and sacrifice my husband, my coaches and the folks at the Amy D. Foundation had made, that I needed to finish the race. It didn’t matter what place I finished. What mattered was that I rode my best. I knew I would have been really upset at myself if I quit, so I pushed on, taking one lap at a time. As the hours ticked away, one lap bled into the next. One pedal stroke followed another and the race crept by.
Over the duration of 20 hours, the gap between myself and fourth place was becoming dangerously thin. I had to keep up the pace, or settle for fourth. After finishing my 14th lap, my pit crew began to worry about me. In their words, I appeared gaunt and incoherent. They told me later that they were actually scared for me, and they wanted to pull me from the race. Little did they know, I was aware of their feelings while I set out on lap 15. I knew that I would get fourth place if I stopped at 15. I also knew that I would be unhappy with the result. So, I silently vowed to appear a little more chipper when I came into the pit.
I rolled in with a smile on my face, my shoulders pulled back, my legs less wobbly. They immediately told me that I could call it at fifteen laps; that I was going to get caught anyway. My response was one of chipper positivity, and to drive my point home, I threw in a few obscenities. I assured them that it was time to finish strong. Both had this look on their faces as if to say, “Wow, she’s really perked up!” I knew I had them fooled, stuffed some food in my face, jumped on the bike and pedaled away with my shoulders pulled back. Once I got out of sight, my shoulders slumped back down and I returned to the “just take one pedal stroke at a time” mantra. I would finish this beast of a race. In the end, it was my amazing support crew and my own cursed stubbornness, which kept me in third place. I rode 16 laps, about 262 miles, and I am more proud of this effort and result than any other this year.
Next up, the Cactus Cup outside of Phoenix, Arizona. I am excited for this one, as I will most likely be toeing the line with ladies who are extremely talented and have far more experience than me. I can’t wait to see how much I will learn!
Cheers to a successful 24 Hours of Old Pueblo, and to a bright future of doing what I love. :0)