I woke up this morning in a start; first unsure of where I was, then unsure of why the alarm was going off so early, and THEN unsure of why I needed to abide by its nagging chime when the sun wasn’t yet up. Cape Epic is why. South Africa is coming and when it does, I want to be ready. So, I rose.
Shuffling into the kitchen I can’t help but remember years of Ironman training when every single morning was this way. I’d yank myself from bed in the dark to run sprints, to lift weights, to do intervals on the trainer, all before breakfast. I had two (sometimes three) training sessions a day back then, sandwiched between work, life, any anything else on my plate. I don’t know how I did it. Not because I didn’t love my sport, not because I lacked the dedication….but because winning, going faster, was the only motivation behind all that effort, all those races. And the truth is that’s just not motivating for me anymore.
Don’t get me wrong; there was nothing like the glory of crushing the women’s course time at Vineman, nothing like racing for Team USA at the ITU World Championships, or just learning about who I am as a person on the course out there. Those are accomplishments achieved through a process that has been invaluable for me. Back then, I was hunting for finish lines and finding a lot of them. These days, all those finish lines feel like speed bumps on a journey that is so much longer. A journey of my own design, and one that is so much more fulfilling.
It’s easy to reference Cape Epic as a journey because there are so many moving parts to this project. Ironman was just one day, one race with months of training attached. Cape Epic is 8-days, requires months of training and in our case months of work to organize our efforts on the ground as well. In addition to competing in this grueling stage race, we’ll be hand delivering 50 bikes to women’s projects in South Africa beforehand; bikes that will connect their recipients to resources, education, communities, and more. Bikes that we hope will inspire these women, empower them, and teach them about the transformative, simple joy of wind in their hair. A film crew from Trek Bicycles will be there with us documenting our journey with the experience of Cape Epic as a background to illustrate how bicycles empower women. This is all to say that sometimes my early mornings are dedicated to the trainer, but also to emails, to notes, to checking boxes, having Skype calls. When that alarm goes off, all of those bits of work come rushing back to me and I’m at once exhausted and so excited I can’t stand it. So much more excited than I ever was about another morning of intervals preparing for a triathlon. Those efforts were only for me, for my glory. But this…this is for all of us.
The idea that we could do something huge – for women’s cycling, while doing something huge for ourselves – was the idea that both Bud and I latched into when the invitation to do the race arrived. Both of us have endured hardship and great loss this year and, as it turns out, there are few things we find more soothing than being on our bikes. And, there are few better ways to ease your pain than to inspire a lasting smile for someone else. Few better ways to remind yourself that things are going to be ok than finding the edge where you’re not sure they will be. It’s been a long time since I set out to find my own edge. And it’s taken a while to long to find it again.
But now, I’m seeking. The process of training for this thing is arduous, but also perfect; living in the Rocky Mountains and Wasatch Mountains respectively means between now and March Bud and I will have the benefit of some exceptional training days, some brutally snowy and cold training days, and the mental game all winter long where our bodies and brain want to hibernate. We’ll want to roll over our alarms and snuggle back into bed, but having to talk ourselves out of it is the best training yet.
In the couple of years I stopped racing at an élite level, so much has changed; in my body, my brain, my life. A short education in life and sport have made me stronger and smarter now than I was then, and I know that sounds strange but it’s absolutely true. This new, improved version of myself is having a really hard time with what any coach would call “formal training,” but I am checking off the blocks; lifting weights, running, riding, riding, riding, yoga, bodywork, sleep, and on and on. But what’s between those blocks are the most important elements of this preparation. I know what it will look like to watch my psyche descend into the depths on day 3 of 8, and threaten not to come back. So I’m working on coaxing it. I know what it will feel like to have every molecule in my body ache from effort, so I’m working on being comfortable with it. My body is capable of enduring more now and I know what it will feel like to jostle and drive myself forward through the heat and the dust of the desert, literally forging a new level of possibility for myself on the bike; a whole new frontier of ability in my being. It’s true, though, that sometimes its difficult to imagine the translation of how the work we put in here at home will become our preparedness in Africa; how is it again that riding my bike in 12℉ degree temperatures is preparing me for the heat? How is it that just getting after it day after day, whether it’s for 1 hour or 6, is the best thing I can do to conquer this tremendous, epic journey? It would be so much easier to say that 8-days of heart-breaking mountain biking would be too difficult, too soon, too much to prepare for over the winter. Why is it again that we’re out in the headwind, making each pedal stroke count?
Winston Churchill once said: “Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it.” And this is how we know that the effort we’re putting forth will render our story a success in Africa. In this year, the world expected Bud and I to crumble, and never would have guessed we’d take on something larger than our own strife. But we have a pair of simple, two-wheeled machines that inspired us to be bolder, to chart our own journeys. Our bikes have taught us to love the wind in our hair, no matter the weather, no matter the course. We can’t say that completing the race isn’t important – it absolutely is, and we will; riding gracefully into the wind because that’s just what we do -regardless of what the world expects of us – and riding to encourage and empower everyone watching to do the same.
**If riding into the wind is something that pulls your heartstrings, please check out our webpage and please consider donating to our Qhubeka Bicycle fund here. Thanks in advance for your support!**