Around mile 82 I had to stop. My heart was racing, my head was dripping, I couldn’t catch my breath. The 20% incline of Westlake Boulevard was getting to me. So I stood on the quiet road, forcing down water and taking in the stunning views of the Santa Monica Mountains. And I wondered: can I do this? Do I want to? Why?
The day began early. Before a big race I always sleep poorly and wake with a mix of excitement and apprehension. This was a new kind of race: 100 miles (160 km) in the mountains around Malibu, climbing a combined total of 11,000 feet (3300 meters). I have been training in this area, but a race is different. My first century ride.
We were off at 8.15 a.m. Trying to learn from past mistakes as a runner, I started out easily. But after 2 miles I got restless and began passing folks. The first climb was long and easy. But I knew what was coming and began drinking early.
One thing I know about endurance sports is the value of rhythms. There is nothing monotonous or boring about a ride through some of the most beautiful country I know. But as we work and push, hour after hour in quiet solitude, when aggravation and pain come in waves, it helps to find your rhythm. The pedaling, breathing and especially the drinking need to be in sync. I had decided on a strict regimen: I would sip or gulp once every 15 minutes. I am so happy to have discovered Tailwind, a 100% natural powder to mix with water, creating an tasty endurance drink. It’s the first nutrition I can safely and happily use without any IG issues. It keeps me hydrated, with plenty of electrolytes and glycogen in every bottle. I drink about one every hour. (I mix 2 scoops per water bottle: 200 calories.)
But rhythms get interrupted on incredibly steep inclines like Decker and Deer Creek canyons. It was slow going. Patience was required. Respect for the mountains was forced. Passing people, being passed, I found a rider named Dave to focus on. I could tell how experienced he was: being still in his seat, rarely coming out, moving up with a steady pace in a straight line. Let’s just say I wasn’t quite able to do so. We talked at an aid station where I ate bananas and refueled my bottles. Dave told me he was going to call it quits. Not his day, he said. I thought: wait, this is a bicyclist whom I can barely stay with. And he’s stopping?
I have been blessed (or cursed) with a highly competitive gene. It often pushes out rational, smart considerations. It makes me ambitious, looking for my boundaries, so that I can push through them and find out what I’m made of.
The 15 miles north on the PHC —stunning views of the Pacific coast— and around the north side of the mountains was a time to restore my rhythms. I felt alive and happy; lucky to be moving well in this moment, in this place.
Then Portrero Road began to rise in front of me. My Zen state crumbled quickly as I cursed my way up a 15% grade. A small group of riders passed. I tagged along, using their energy and strength to pull me forth. The heat got worse, but we rode well.
Then Westlake appeared. “Mo-ther-fucker”, a young rider said emphatically. “Word,” someone called out.
I lost the group. My bike wanted to go down, not up. That’s when I stopped, wondering how, and why.
I answered: I do want this. It means to me that I am fully alive. This is a boundary, I realized. I thought of my grandfather, his strength and grit. I though of other loved ones, which made me smile, slap my cheek, empty a bottle of water over my head, and get back on my bike. Slowly I pushed up the hill, then descended down Mulholland Drive. Hitting the PCH again, I cruised back and arrived at the finish at Zuma Beach. My sweet niece Vera was waiting, yelling, running with me. Friends who’d done the 50 miles cheered and high-fived.
A jump in the ocean was followed by a a cold beer and a great meal. I looked at the Pacific and thought: not bad. Not bad at all.