In my 3 1/2 years of dedicated training and reasonably ambitious competing in triathlons, duathlons, aquathons, ocean swims and ‘fun’ runs, I’ve had a few training sessions that sucked.
And in the hundreds of hours spent on my bike during that time I had – beside the amazing adventures – a few rides that were tough, cruel, painful, forgettable and even not enjoyable. But none of the rides sucked as much as the one I did last Sunday.
In fact, it was so miserable – I was so miserable – during that ride, that I decided to write about it.
Follow the plan
Those of you who know me a bit better, are aware that I have a triathlon coach who designs a program for me to ensure I am in top form when I need to be and do all the different training sessions I should be doing to achieve my goals and perform at my target races.
The main reason for having a coach for me is convenience. I tell him how much time I have on the different days of the week and he fills that time with training that is structured, varied, covers strengths, endurance, speed, running, cycling and a bit of swimming and includes the necessary recovery, load and race prep like transition training (a fun session coming up this weekend: 30min bike, followed by 4x (8km bike, 2km run) ).
Given that I pay for this service and want to make the most of it, I follow the program pretty diligently, otherwise: what’s the point?
For last Sunday, the program simply said: 2-2.5 hours, add a few metres of altitude.
To me that translated into: go for a fun ride, include some hills.
On Strava there was a competition last week around the London Duathlon and anyone completing 10 hours of cycling and running for that week would go in the draw to win a pretty slick backpack. To be eligible I would need to ride 2.75 hours, perfectly doable, so I planned to complete those 10 hours and enjoy a new route that I hadn’t ridden before.
This being Easter Sunday meant a long breakfast with the family. It being the first of April meant that weather-wise anything was possible and the forecast looked a bit patchy with occasional showers.
During breakfast/brunch I saw the sun outside the window and worried that I’d miss the best riding weather (spoiler: I did!) but figured that at least I’d be fuelling my ride with lots of yummy food.
Off you go
At 1pm I finally headed out, wrapped up in warm clothes with double socks and double gloves but hoping the sunshine would stick around.
3 minutes into the ride it started raining and for the next 30min I rode in constant rain and hail but at least I had tailwind and covered lots of ground pretty quickly.
The downpour stopped and headed away from the flat bike path along the train tracks and into a part of ‘Upper Franconia’ called ‘Franconian Switzerland’. He said ‘add some altitude’, didn’t he?
So the sun came out, my clothes started drying, I was smiling and very much enjoying the scenery. I came through village after village – none of them I’d ever been to before and many of them I’d never heard of…
I enjoyed a delicious ‘chocolate’ energy bar, rode up and down those various hills like a good girl and felt rather smug about this almost educational junket around the ‘neighbourhood’ of where I grew up.
Emonda (that’s the name of my bike) and I did get pretty dirty too along the way.
And just after I hit a major milestone on my journey, a town called ‘Heiligenstadt’ which was basically the furthest point away from home, my fortune changed.
Instead of choosing the shorter route home, which would have meant a climb with a 10% gradient that I wasn’t so keen on, I opted for the longer route. I wanted that backpack, remember?
On the more gradual climb out of Heiligenstadt it started raining. Just a drizzle and I figured it didn’t really matter, because I was dirty anyway and I’d just ride home, get cleaned up and be done with it.
Then came the hail and not just any hail. Nasty small hail stones that went into my eyes with a lovely headwind as I climbed up the hill. I pulled out my sunglasses before the next downhill. They were smudged and too dark for the cloudy situation I found myself in but at least they protected my eyes from the onslaught of icy stones the skies were throwing at me.
So into the tailwind I struggled for a little longer until taking a left turn to start the last 17 kilometres back to my parents’s house.
It gets worse
By this point I was completely drenched, couldn’t feel my toes or my fingers and had a few moments when I just wanted to cry but couldn’t and had to start laughing but couldn’t laugh properly either.
Yes, I did consider a DNF (did not finish) but there was no one to save me. I could have called dad and waited in the cold in the rain and hail without shelter for about 40min for him to pick me up, only to then drive for about 25min in my wet clothes. And that would have only been possible if my fingers hadn’t been too numb to use my phone. I didn’t even try to quit.
My only option was to continue and keep moving closer to home. Or at least to some sign of civilisation because the reason why I hadn’t heard of most of these villages is because no one lives there. Well, almost no one.
So I took that left turn and went downhill towards salvation, i.e. feeling closer to home and getting to some familiar places.
The downhill was nasty! It was pretty dark because of the clouds and my smudged sunglasses, as well as the fact that the hail was hitting my face and making visibility less than optimal. My fingers were numb but somehow I could hold onto the breaks because. This was pretty important because the downhill involved numerous switchbacks and doing those on a wet road means you want to use your breaks.
Reaching the bottom of the hill was marvellous because on the flat the hail didn’t feel quit as nasty.
I vaguely remember a bus stop stuffed with people seeking shelter and looking at me on my bike as if they had seen a ghost.
But I couldn’t stop to huddle and chat, I desperately wanted to get home and somewhere warm and dry. Windchill isn’t great when you’re soaked to your core.
By now I was understandably angry about my decision to chicken out of the 10% incline and the stupid backpack was as far from my mind as snorkelling in Antarctica.
Just keep going
I hope you understand that I can’t even share any pictures from this section of the ride because there are none. Etched into my memory but not documented because that was impossible.
I somehow, without feeling my feet, but knowing my shoes were clipped into my pedals and as long as I kept moving my legs, my feet were doing something useful, managed to continue.
I had never felt more miserable in my life. I have done dumb things in my life before but this really tops it all. Being cold is one thing but being cold and wet and unable to do anything other than stay in that miserable state for the next 40min is awful.
I finally reached Litzendorf – 9km to go. Next came Naisa, 8.5km to go (yes, they’re basically one village). Then Poedeldorf and I knew the next houses would be the eastern edge of Bamberg. Salvation was near!
Unfortunately, arriving home in the state that I did wasn’t the happy end of the story just yet. The horse comes first or in my case the bike. So as I was already wet and dirty anyway, I hosed down the bike behind my parents’ house to get most of the gunk off and I just left it out there and rang the bell. Getting the keys out of my pocket was impossible.
Mum – bless her soul for saving me – opened the door and I made it very clear that I was in desperate need of help because I literally couldn’t use my hands for anything other than gesturing in an ‘ET phone home’ kinda way.
So mum helped me shed the various layers of dirty, wet clothes (lycra isn’t easy to get off at the best of times, let alone when you’re incapacitated) and locked up my bike while I climbed into the shower where I sat for the next 20 minutes whimpering and sobbing. I couldn’t even cry. I was shaking all over and the lukewarm water felt like hot coals burning my feet.
So I just sat there and felt miserable for a little longer, waiting for my limbs to defrost and hoping that life would return to them. During that time I reflected on my decisions that day and felt somewhere between the biggest moron and an absolute rockstar. I did ride for 3 hours (didn’t win the backpack though) and I covered plenty of kilometres and a bit of altitude and somehow I survived what surely weren’t the worst conditions in the world but they certainly were absolutely horrific for me.
At some point very suddenly my feet and hands had reached their normal temperature again and I was able to stand up and shower like a normal person.
And then mum made me some delicious warm food. I don’t remember what it was but it was good!
Get back on the bike!
During my 20 minutes of whimpering, sobbing and questioning my sanity in the shower I wondered whether I would want to ride my bike again anytime soon because despite the natural beauty all around me, the cute villages and the occasional rays of sunshine along the way, this ride had been awful and miserable and I had never felt worse while riding a bike.
So I decided that I would follow the plan and go for a ride the next day. Well, I wouldn’t quite follow the plan because it called for the bike + run session I mentioned at the beginning. I switched it for a 2 hour ride.
And so the next morning I woke up early, put on my many layers of clothing (mum washed all the stuff because I couldn’t at the time lol) and went out there on a cold, sunny and dry morning.
I did a two hour ride, saw a stork and not much else and really enjoyed my decision to not let one bad ride ruin my day, my weekend or my fun.
The moral of the story
Most of the time I have a blast when I get out there on the road. I love cycling and I love the adventures. Most of the time things are great – in cycling and in life. But even for me where things appear to go so smoothly all the time, there are days that suck. That make me question my sanity or various life decisions and plans.
What I’ve learned – in life and in cycling – is that sometimes things suck while we do them and we may hate it. But generally, we feel better afterwards. I felt amazing after that ride once I was wearing dry, warm clothes. I’ve never felt worse after a ride than I did before a ride.
I also believe that we don’t get given more than we can handle. Sure, it seems like a lot sometimes and overwhelming other times. But generally we get through it and come out stronger on the other side.