I woke before the alarm clock too excited to sleep. What will it feel like beyond 50 miles? Can I actually do 100? What if . . . I forced my mind to focus: pump tires, fill water bottles and pack food. Today I would try bicycling 100 miles—alone.
A century ride! It loses something to say 162 kilometres. Since the 1880s, cycling a century always meant 100 miles. Was I being foolish or daring? At 47, was I denying my age or seeking new definition? My longest effort had only been a 50-miler.
Finally it was light enough to leave. Just think of it as another early morning training ride. The city was still sleeping; the air was chilly. Maybe I should have worn something else, but it will be hot later. Maybe I should have . . . should, coulda, woulda . . . fat people shouldn’t ride bicycles, shouldn’t wear tight spandex, shouldn’t , shouldn’t. . . .
My inner critic had awakened early. Though embarrassed by my thunder thighs and protruding belly stuffed into padded stretch shorts, they were so comfortable that I wore them anyway. But I wished I was thinner. I berated myself over it. Nothing I did had true value because I was fat—not the book editing, not dog walking, not even my friends. I felt inadequate because that’s how I thought others saw me.
Maybe this is stupid. A fat broad like me—200 pounds of flab squatting over skinny tires. I glanced at my bike computer. One mile done. It’s really happening! It just matters that I do all 100 miles—then I’ll be worthy. Worthy of what I didn’t know. Maybe myself?
The bicycling magazines had promised that serious cycling would have the pounds melting off. I had believed them when I started cycling years ago. But although I had progressed from one-hour to three-hour rides, I now weighed more than ever. After years of carrying an extra 60 pounds, of giving mind, body and spirit no relief from this perceived failure, I thought doing a century might vindicate me. At worse, it meant I tried something quirky and difficult, and I could laugh it off as a pre-menopausal aberration with friends. At best, I would no longer be a Sunday rider but a REAL cyclist. It would prove that I was fit even though I was fat.
After a few miles, I settled into a familiar, comfortable pace. Don’t think 20 miles down and 80 to go—that won’t work and you’ll get discouraged. I paused after an hour to drink, eat a fruit bar and stretch. It was part of my plan. A break every hour.
By 30 miles, the sun had warmed the land, erasing the mist on the small streams. Song birds, bobolinks and meadowlarks flitted in the fields. The first half of the route was mostly through flat farmland down roads I knew from previous rides. I concentrated on staying comfortable on two wheels and tried to ignore my inner critic’s harping: If you were thinner, you’d be faster; you’d be further along by now. If you were fitter, you’d be cycling in a group and not be out here alone. If you were . . . .
I couldn’t always fight the voice. It drove me to doubt my abilities, my tenacity, my spirit. Not this time. I had prepared mentally and physically for this challenge. I’d put in 900 training miles in 12 weeks. Hey, I’m coming up on 50 miles! It had taken me four hours with the rest stops. I’m doing fine. My legs are strong, my butt’s okay. I had to stop and read the map since the rest of this trip was unfamiliar. East about an inch and then south. Good, the wind will be behind me going south.
100 Kilometres. Okay. So Now I’ve done a metric century. This isn’t so hard. I love being on a bike.
I took a real break at the next gas station. Four hours and 55 minutes riding time! I refilled my water bottles, had a bagel and banana, then changed into dry shorts. About three hours to go. I’d arranged for a friend to pick me up at the end of my route around 2 p.m.
Back on the road refreshed, I concentrated on maintaining a smooth precise rhythm. Not hard or fast, just steady. The landscape was changing. Cornfields became rolling hills sprinkled with livestock. I crossed the same meandering river four times. Up. Down. Stay smooth, save energy. So-called towns on the map yielded nothing more than four corners and a grocery store.
Just shy of hour six I reached 75 miles. I stopped, slowly swung my leg off the bike and stretched. Wow, I’ve done three-quarters of a century and it’s not even noon. I sat by the dusty roadside, ate a Power Bar and drank water. My feet were swollen. My neck ached. The hills were definitely taking a toll. Still the wind was at my back. I’ve already gone further in one day than I ever have before.
I looked down the road—more hills; some were covered with pine or spruce, others just rocky fields with a few horses or a house on the leeside slope. I remounted, pushed at the pedals. The spin was gone. Why am I doing this? Cycling the open road is freedom. A chance to explore my limits of body and mind. This is my journey—not knowing what’s down the road yet creating a way to get there. Why have I let my fatness stop me from doing things?
More hills. I was nearing my physical limit. My legs felt leaden. My face flushed from heat and effort. I poured water over my helmet and head. I kept going. Around a curve I saw the next hill. Long and steep. I can’t make it up that! I wanted to go forward but . . . Discouraged, I thought about turning around but I’d be fighting the wind. I can’t face this hill. I’m tired. Fatigue ached deep in my bones. I have enough energy to ride but not to climb. So walk up. No, that’s cheating. Then quit. Eighty-three miles is respectable. Your friend will find you. I just stood there; started to cry. Yeah, 83 isn’t bad, but it’s not a century. I felt deflated, stunned. Why am I doing this? Then it finally dawned on me—THIS was the test. This was my personal version of Heartbreak Hill of the Boston Marathon. This was where some people failed. I’m not quitting. I won’t. I just won’t. I’m so tired of feeling like a failure. ’
I climbed on my bike, shifted to an easy gear and started up. Midway, I had run out gears and oxygen. I stood on the pedals and lifted myself off the saddle. Heavy, ragged breathing. Sweat in my eyes. Burning quads. Barely turning over the pedals. Finally, the road flattened out a bit before the last steep pitch, I sat down for a moment to relax my muscles then rose again. I’m no quitter. I kept going. Arrrgghhh. Yes, the top!
My legs were jelly. Damn. All I could see were more hills. Elation turned quickly to exhaustion. My body said stop but I knew I couldn’t. My spirit had resurfaced. I wasn’t going to stop now. I felt the strength in my mind—crisp, clear. I kept pushing at the pedals. No finesse, no power, just bloody-minded determination.
Mile 91. Seven hours and 53 minutes. Well, I won’t do it in my eight-hour time frame, but I’m going to finish… I pedalled slowly letting the idea sink in. I’m going to finish this! Wow. A rush of adrenalin in my legs.
Mile 93. To hell with my inner critic!
Mile 95. To hell with what other people think. Cheshire cat grin, fist pumping the sky.
Mile 97: What matters most is how I think. I’ve been wasting my life waiting for the “thin” me to arrive.
Mile 99. So what if there’s fat under my skin? Deeper inside there’s a cyclist.
Mile 100: Self-acceptance.