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Piecing it Back Together

I had my first race of the year on Sunday. On this weekend a year ago, I quit cycling.

As you may have gathered from my last post (Your Heart Still beats When it's Broken) my preparation for the race certainly wasn't ideal. I'll go back to where I left off in that post when I tried to do the Oak Bay ride.

By the time I got home Aidan had been done his ride for at least an hour. I reached to open our front door but before I could grab the handle, the door swung open, revealing Aidan. "Buddy! Where were you? Are you okay?" he asked in the most genuinely concerned tone I'd ever heard.

I tried to say I was okay, but shook my head instead and proceeded to try and pull my helmet off without undoing the strap. I fell to the floor and started to cry. We went outside, sat on the front step, and I punched the wooden siding of our house. I didn't know what to do to release what was inside of me.  My knuckles started to bleed.

 Aidan in Vancouver the day before the race. By me.

Aidan in Vancouver the day before the race. By me.

This was the lowest day yet. I decided that this would be the best day to go collect my clothes and other items from my ex’s place. No point in recovering from such a low point only to have another tough day when I finally saw her.

A visit that only needed to be a couple minutes turned to four hours. She told me she loved me. That fucked with me. I overstayed my welcome because I knew that when I left that would be it. After three hours I decided it was time to go. At the door I reached into my pocket to retrieve my keys. I took my key to her place off the ring, and handed it to her. Before she could grab it, I clasped my fingers around it and started to cry. This was it. I couldn't do it.

I fell to the floor yet again. I went dizzy. I couldn't think straight. I was having a massive panic attack. I cried and wailed. This lasted an hour. I finally left and went to my friend Whitney's house. I was afraid to be alone. I could barely drive the two kilometres.

She took me in for tea and let me lay down with my head on her lap. She talked to me and stroked my hair for hours until I fell asleep. I'm so grateful I had her that night.

I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink other than Whitney’s tea since before my ride. I had the nastiest headache from dehydration. I was exhausted. I couldn't stop shaking. Looking into my ex's eyes as I broke in front of her shook me. I felt terribly, terribly ill. All my strength was gone.

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On Sunday morning I lay in bed crying for 45 minutes before getting up. Then I decided that would be all the moping for the day. What was the point? I went for a walk with Aidan and Whitney, and sat at a cafe sipping tea. I did my best, but when I went downstairs that evening to sleep alone, which has been a major adjustment, I was reminded of my loneliness. I lay on my floor and cried. Race day was in two weeks.

The following Monday I decided to go for a ride. I had no motivation, and not really any will to do anything, but I knew that I needed to do something. Aidan and I went for a ride to the prison, just a 2.5 hour out and back route. As I rode, sometimes my thoughts would become too much. When it became too overwhelming, I would sprint as hard as I could for 10-30 seconds. This was my new wall punch.

On the way home, we turned onto a road we'd never done before. It was a dead end. We hopped on some super muddy single track, got lost, and spent 45 minutes riding and hiking through mud and streams before we found pavement again. Focussing on finding my way out of the forest was the first time I went five minutes without thinking about my ex. If finding a way out of the forest was a distraction, I determined that finding a way out of my slump would also be a good distraction.

 Solo. Photo by Tammy Brimner

Solo. Photo by Tammy Brimner

I came to another revelation as we spun home: the most comparable feeling I've felt to being both loved and in love is the feeling of being fit. This may sound shallow, but let me do my best to explain it. Being happily in love is so ridiculously simple at times. It's so satisfying, and fills you with such confidence and contentment. Similarly, being fit can feel (almost) equally as fantastic. You're on top of your game, you're doing things right, and you gain massive confidence in yourself. You’re doing you. The difference is that, to a much greater extent, one can control how fit they are. You can't control whether or not love is reciprocated. Being fit also helps me to love myself. I figured the healthiest thing to do would be to learn to love myself, and getting fit again would be an important part of that process.

I called my coach and said I wanted some structure. I would start doing intervals. I hadn't done those in over a year.

I started training for real that Tuesday. Nothing crazy. Just a bit of structure. Something to focus on. I continued to do intervals for the rest of the week. Intervals provided me with a few minutes each day to focus on something other than my broken heart. They were temporarily liberating. I even smiled as I rode.

On Saturday, Adam de Vos showed up to the Oak Bay Ride. I did my best to follow all of his moves. While I was nowhere near as strong as him, I was the closest to him. I attacked and followed him and made it to the end. That was a huge difference over the last weekend. I decided that I'd try to win the race in a week's time.

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I focussed even more last week, and rode harder. I took it easy on Friday and spent Saturday riding in the sun in Vancouver with Aidan and our friends Von and Amiel, visitting, sipping coffee and taking photos. Although I wished I was more fit, I decided I could still win the following day. I just had to race smart. On Saturday night I dreamt that I won.

Sunday's race was the the third race in the Escape Velocity Spring Series. It was the Snake RR. We did 11 laps of a 10 km circuit which featured a 700 m long climb that averaged 8 or 9 percent.

I attacked a km into the first lap as we went up the climb. No one followed. I had 20 or 30 seconds by the time we crested. I didn't want to be solo, but everyone thought it was too early to go so no one followed. I decided to commit and I rode the next 35 km on my own.

On the fourth lap I was caught by a group of five, and our breakaway eventually peaked at 8 riders. Over the next three laps, I set the pace over the climb and dropped a rider or two each lap until we were left with four.

Our gap steadily grew to 8 minutes. With three to go, I got a gnarly stitch in my ribs. I had to sit on the climb and ease off a little. It went away on the flat and I decided I would attack the second to last time up the climb, and then ride the final ~20 km solo. I stood up to accelerate on the climb and my stitch came back. It hurt so much that I had to sit down and control my breathing. Breathing too deeply hurt far too much, so I had to take short, shallow gasp-like breaths. I did my best to hide my pain, and stayed on the front over the climb.

 Watching my breakaway companions on the climb. Photo by John Denniston.

Watching my breakaway companions on the climb. Photo by John Denniston.

I didn't want to wait for the last time up the climb to attack, so on the flat with 15 to go I swung to the right side of the road and put in an attack. I got a small gap and rode as easily as I dared over the final climb to manage my stitch, and then rode steady on the flat.

I rolled in solo for the win.

Spring series aren't huge races. But this was my first win on the road since 2016. It was my first crack at a race this year. Two weeks previous I couldn't even finish a group ride. A year ago I thought I was done with cycling all together. I lost all confidence and belief in myself last month. For those reasons, this win was huge. It proves to me that I can do this. I can and will be okay.