I was about 32 miles into a 62-mile bike trip in Northern Michigan when I noticed I didn’t feel right.
My head felt disconnected from my body, and my legs were hurting more than they should have. But I’m riding hard for the fitness I have, I reasoned, and it’s hilly.
So I pressed on. For the next 15 miles, everything got worse. My legs were cramping, and I felt empty.
“This lake is too fucking big,” I muttered to myself as I made my way around the popular Higgins Lake. Residents, smiling, took walks on the quiet roads lined with cottages along the lake shore. I alone appeared to be miserable, and I was alone.
But HOW? How was I this bad today? I’ve ridden 100 miles before and it wasn’t this hard. My body was betraying me, it seemed. Everything hurt. Everything was too much.
At about 47 miles, I whispered to myself “Please let there be an aid station.” I looked up, and there was that glorious blue tent with its watermelon slices and wonderful volunteers.
I got off my bike and dropped to the ground, utterly and completely miserable. How would I finish this ride?
This was my third appearance at the Black Bear ride, once a bike tour and now a Gran Fondo in Grayling.
The first 22 miles were beautiful. The temperature wasn’t quite 70 degrees, the wind was quiet and I was in Northern Michigan. The course treated us to spectacular views of Higgins Lake and forest dunes after difficult climbs. The smell of pine trees in warm sunshine pervaded the route. It doesn’t get much better than that.
At mile 18, a 70-year-old man passed me and said, “I’m feelin’ it!” So was I. For the next four miles, I rolled. I rode easily at 20 miles per hour, singing songs from Gordan Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway” to Florence + The Machine’s “Cosmic Love” (a favorite of mine on the bike). The sun was shining, and I overcame my typical pre-race doubts about doing the event to feel pure joy at being out there pushing myself.
Then it got difficult. At the second aid station, I tried to eat a PB&J, but wasn’t able to finish it. I pressed on and eventually found myself on the ground at the final aid station. I staggered up to refuel, and a fellow cyclist noticed how bad I looked.
She offered salt tablets and a pack of Clif Shot Blocs, two items I should have had with me. At least, I should have had the shot blocs. But it hadn’t been hot and I wasn’t drinking enough of the Gatorade I had with me, and I hadn’t been able to touch the Clif and Lara bars in my jersey.
The volunteers offered a bottle of water and a chair in the shade. One salt tablet, four shot blocs and one bottle of water later, I felt human again. My body was coming around.
My body hadn’t betrayed me, after all. I had betrayed it with poor fueling. That’s familiar. I’ve done it before.
This was my first bonk on the bike, which is a different experience than on the run. I didn’t recognize it until I almost collapsed.
With the help of a generous woman, I rallied and pushed myself for the final 15 miles. I followed two men out of the aid station (after many thanks to the volunteers), and after four miles, took off again. I rode alone for the final miles, waving to the military police parked along the road near Camp Grayling and whooping it up on the final stretch back to the Hanson Hills Recreation Area (and more swearing, but this time I was excited and relieved).
I rolled through the finish line at 20 miles per hour, also incidentally tricking some of the spectators and riders into thinking I’d done the 100-mile ride. There’s no way I can ride 100 miles in 4.5 hours, but I appreciate whoever thought I did.
This was a humbling day because I made mistakes I could have prevented, but now I have a nutrition plan for the bike, and I am incredibly proud of the way I kept pushing past the red line. My body screamed no, and I kept riding forward. Not bad for a woman who used to think she was a wimp.
The next day, I rode an easy 20 miles with my dad, and then went out for a slow, 3-mile run.
The day after that was another tough one, though.
I set out on my favorite road for a six-mile run. It was miserable. I felt horrible, much like I have for more than two years. My running since 2014 has been just rough; I mostly feel bad and haven’t been able to find my grove. And here I was today, already feeling beat up, and my body wasn’t having it.
I walked a few times, and I shed a few tears of anger and frustration. Why, why, WHY is running SO HARD RIGHT NOW? Why can’t my body just…run?
At the turnaround, I took a deep breath. I knew this was my ego yelling because it was bruised and hurting. In that gran fondo? I beat nine riders out of 57 in the 100K. But I don’t do any of this to feed my ego, I do this because I love it. I set my ego aside and listened for the quiet voice within me. It always knows what to do, and I know the consequences of not listening to it from years of not listening to it.
“Everything I need is already inside me,” I reminded myself. And I listened.
“Stop fighting,” the voice said, kind but firm. “Surrender.”
I did. I surrendered to that run, to how I was feeling right then on that dusty stretch of road. I let go of the ego that was angry at how slow and hard this run felt, how slow I had been feeling on the bike and in the pool and how my shorts felt like they fit too tight this summer. If it’s hard, I thought, I’ll let it be hard.
I started trudging forward. You know, I didn’t feel good on that run, but I realized I didn’t feel bad, either. I kept on and my stride opened up a little.
The road took me into the trees, up a hill and down it, across another field, back into the trees, past secret streams and up and over two more hills. My stride opened up a little more. I felt OK. Sometimes feeling OK is better than feeling good.
The only time I slowed was to try to avoid scaring a doe and her fawn because I brake for animals. I kept running toward a silly young buck who walked toward me without seeing me. I kept running until I made it to the driveway, and I stopped, but I was different. I felt lighter and stronger and OK.
“Strength is going through the darkest depths and simply not giving in to the darkness.” — Devon Yanko
Learning how to surrender has been one of the toughest challenges of my life. We grow up in a culture that teaches us to fight and force our way toward everything, but the things we fight fight us back. Acceptance is the only way to start moving forward.
Surrender and acceptance are lessons I keep having to learn again, but it’s getting easier each time I remember, close my eyes, quite fighting and listen to the wisdom I have.