Respecting Our Limits

On Sunday I loaded up my bike and braced myself for a cold, wet, misery-inducing 45miles.

Nelly Nero Grunge BW Action

The “Ride for Rick” was a long-scheduled charity event for a local cyclist battling cancer. He sadly lost his fight and passed away last week. The ride and fundraiser BBQ, was more somber but still held to raise funds for his outstanding medical expenses and show southern community support for his widow and daughter.

I thought the least I could do was brave a little weather and show up.

I expected (hoped) that maybe the ride would be canceled. I was planning my gym workout as I pulled into the lot. A clutch of men in rain-gear, already astride their steeds, dispelled my dry daydreams.

Ok. Let’s do this.

After barely 5miles I wasn’t at all sure I could. I was desperately wishing that I had been one of the smarter ones that chose the shorter 26mile route, stayed warm at home, or waited til later in the day…

I wanted to be anywhere, doing anything rather than pumping with rivulets of water running down my glasses from above, getting sprayed in the face by the wheel in front of me, losing feeling in my pruning toes, muscles aching with effort after too much at the gym the night before and in all attempting to keep pace with the only others doing the long route —  three much stronger men.

At certain points I just didn’t have the strength in my legs. Despite all my best efforts I lagged behind. It was worse without the break of drafting. So I’d find some little ounce of reserve and, with the help of a downhill, flat or Chris (kind gent that he was, dropping and then pulling) I’d inch back to the lead pair.

I want to ride my bicycle... (58/365)

Internal monologue: “Just hold on. Stay on that wheel and don’t worry about anything else. Push Jo. Dig Deep. You got it. Stay on his wheel. Only (fuck!) 26 more miles… you got it… push…”

My muscles started to burn then unceasingly ache. I was freezing and there was no relief. If I’d had the energy to cry I would have.

At mile 20 I thought about pulling off and calling for the sag vehicle.
Letting go to push forwardPride kept me going. I didn’t have any other fuel to burn.

At mile 22 I was again losing the leaders and cursing myself into another ditch push. “This is temporary. You gotta embrace the suck.” Then: “Why?! What am I doing this for? This is dangerous.” Then: “Unhelpful. Just keep peddling… just keep peddling…”

My few moments of respite came when I realized how much I was clenching every tendon, bone, and fiber in my body — a natural reaction to the cold — and I made myself relax. I wouldn’t let up on the drive but I would ease my shoulders back, let my arms be a little more loose and unclench my jaw.

Then for about 30 seconds I would have renewed energy in my legs.

Sapping up every part of that power, I would get through the next 2 minutes… until I realized that I was doing it all over again. My shoulders had creeped back up next to my ears and my breath was a constricted pant. Let go — ease forward — slowly tense and grind — let go…

Just… keep… going…

As we made a turn at the 30 mile mark there sat the sag vehicle. A white SUV of salvation.

“I’m getting a ride back fellas, I won’t hold you up anymore.”

While they offered to slow up, I didn’t want to continue to be a drag. Good guys that they are, I knew they wouldn’t drop me as they should and I had  been the weak link for long enough. I knew I was done.

Dutch bike in its natural habitat As soon as I got off my bike, my legs started to shake and I was shivering.

I then braced for a different kind of cold. I waited for the self recriminations to roll in. They didn’t.

Sure, there was consolation in the fact that I had hung on for so long, did more and faster than the other group and was the only woman out that day. But I found that I didn’t need to make excuses for myself.

I had gave it every little bit I had and respected my body enough to know when to stop.

My hero

Mark, a friend and training buddy of Rick’s was my driving hero. He ratcheted down my bike, handed me dry towels, turned up the heat  and we chatted easily along the 15 miles back to my car.

I prepped for my inner disappointed, downer voices to fling their barbs at my weakness. They maintained their silence.

I should have been doubly embarrassed at my failure to finish being driven back by an 8-time ironman and triathlon coach. Yet Mark was nothing but jovial, unassuming and kind. We talked sport and family, history and geography. It was a kismet meeting that I was glad to have.

I knew more than ever that I had made the right choice. Perhaps that is what kept the yapping self-depreciating wolves at bay.

I mentioned my first tri was upcoming and I was only really concerned about the swim — I haven’t been in the water for about a year. He chuckled, “yeah, you might want to do that. But if you made it through today so as long as you don’t drown you should be fine.”

He also talked about Rick, the life he lead and the many miles they had traveled together. The passenger seat was where I was meant to — honored to — be.

It was, apparently, the type of day Rick loved because it was a measure-taker day. Showing up and going hard on such a horribly miserable day gave you step-up and issued a challenge to all those that stayed home.

It didn’t matter how ugly the ride – time, distance, pace, finish place – the important part was that you got out there and made the attempt.

“It doesn’t matter how slow you are, you are still beating everyone on the couch.”

It was a good check-in as to why I keep showing up. Why have I been pushing so hard?

The whys

Let me count the whys: because there is joy in testing my strength; gratification in little/big accomplishments; motivation in passing goals. Pushing my limitations, grinding it out when it is tough, makes me appreciate my endurance when it is there and the easier roads when they appear.

Because I braved and challenged the suck I will be that much more able to achieve and enjoy the beautiful day. The day where weather is perfect, the road is flat and freshly paved and I have a laughing group of comrades on my wheel, encouraging me up the next hill, it is the one worth fighting through for.
Push until you are about to break and the take the next measured step on the path… even if at times the step is into an SUV to carry your defeated butt home.

Take a moment to relax, untense those muscles, look up and see where you are, what you have accomplished, and with love and pride of self keep showing up.

Rise the next day. Work to your fullest potential and then blast — or eek — past the mark. Live.

Do it, if for no other reason, than because there are too many Ricks out there who don’t get the chance to enjoy one more miserable day of pushing themselves.

To the next turn,

Jo Signature


What drives you to give your all in the moments of suck? How to you overcome when you fall short?

Images via Flickr under CC licence by: SpokenShutter.comdebeer.jonathan, oui-ennui and [auro]

UPDATE: Just a note to say when I reset my cycle computer on the next ride I saw that the avg pace for that ride was 18mph — a full 2-3mph faster than what I am used to and with no stops. I was pleased that I gave it my all and now it is a source of pride that I held on for as long as I did.


  1. Don’t worry Jo, happens to the best of us. My good friend Tricia ran the Boston Marathon a couple years back, here is her story of trying.

    • Thanks Barry. And thanks for the link to Trish’s blog, will definitely read more of it. Twasn’t the first time I’ve bonked out and certainly won’t be the last. Learning to push but still be patient with myself – appreciating the lesson and the hidden rewards that brings.


  1. […] back muscles ease (and like on a hard bike ride) I get a little jolt of calm energy to push forward with renewed vigor and a smile. I take on the […]

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