Last weekend I lined up on the start line of the Telluride 100 Mountain bike race. Despite having a rather intense week where Max, myself and Jason all got very sick, I felt oddly calm, ready and focused. At 5AM I boarded a gondola down to the start of the race. It was intimidating to glide effortlessly down the steep mountain, knowing I’d have to climb back up to the top at least 5 times. To curb anxiety, I meditated on Spirit B. I asked him to join me for the day – to help me grind up the never-ending climbs and find the safe line down the technical descents. Before I opened my eyes I heard a voice saying “Let’s do this Mama” and then, when I opened them, I was greeted by the most beautiful glimmer of light coming up over the mountains. I knew right at that moment that I was going to have a great day no matter what came my way.
Historically, this race has had less than a 50% finish rate. With 5 big climbs, a starting elevation of 9,000 ft, 50 miles between 11,00 and 13,500 ft and a total gain of 14,000 ft – it is no joke. The first climb is an graded “HC” (Hors Categorie). This literally translates to “beyond classification” and is reserved for those cycling climbs that are harder than the usual climbs that are graded 1 (hardest) to 5 (easier).
I started the race with the goal to make the cutoffs, to have fun and to finish with nothing left. At the start the front pack bolted ahead. Rather than chasing them, I settled into my pace, watched my heart rate and focused on my breath. And this is the strategy I clung to for the entire race. When ever doubt would well up inside about not being prepared enough, or acclimated enough, I let the doubt fully come in, and then I went right back to my breath – exhaling out all the doubt that I could and inhaling all of the focus and self love I could take.
At one point, around mile 40 I called out to Spirit B. “Where are you B??” “I need you!” I was starting to bonk and loose some speed. A few minutes later, a beautiful yellow bird crossed my path, then another, and then another. I knew it was him. “HELLLOOO Spirit! I LOVE YOU!!!” I yelled out.
6 hours into the race I couldn’t take the pain of my ever growing boobs anymore. Jason’s parents had been trying to get ahead of me with Max so that I could feed him and get some relief, but most of the course crossings required gondola rides and some steep hiking to get there. They always arrived just a few minutes after I passed. I was getting desperate, and when I reached the top of the mountain again, where Max, Nanny and Grandpa were supposed to be, they were not there yet. I debated waiting, but a hawk circled and then headed further along the course. Spirit was telling me to keep racing.
2 hours later, Jason managed to find me at mile 66, right before my last big climb. He figured that I had about 3 hours left. “How are you doing?” he asked.
“Where is Max? I need him, there is no way I can make it 3 more hours”.
“Max is still at the top with Grandma and Grandpa,” he answered
I was crestfallen. But Jason smiled and without missing a beat he led me to some bushes that at least gave me a false sense of privacy. I unzipped my sweaty cycling jersey, and Jason did Max’s job. Yep. Jason had to suck and spit. After a few minutes, my boobs felt pounds lighter and I was off again!
Over the next 35 miles I felt a big emotional cathartic release happen, I let the pain come in and I invited the anger, the tears, the trauma and the laughter. I let it ALL come in and fuel my body up the never ending hills. I imagined it coursing through my blood, pumping, churning and getting processed and recreated into something beautiful …and strong. I used that new energy to power me all the way to the finish line. It was as if Spirit B had now transformed into a constant tailwind, gently pushing me up the hills.
When I got to within 3 miles of the finish line, my legs felt like mush, my lungs were burning and my butt was very sore. “Goal accomplished” I thought to myself. As soon as I crossed the finish line, there was a roar of screams. The loudest of those screams was Max however. He was HUNGRY and I could feel it. I dropped my bike and within seconds of finishing, I was feeding Max. The crowd went wild with “GO Mama GO!!!”. Then someone came over and handed me a greasy delectable grilled cheese sandwich. Max and I ate together, both of us ignoring the mud and sweat that covered me everywhere. Those few moments of pure joy, satisfaction and love was worth everything and it is something I will never forget.