One of the biggest challenges in my journey to lose weight was exercising. This WAS a challenge for me because I loathe moving! But I knew if I wanted to get into some kind of shape, and feel better about myself, I would have to do this, because diet alone wasn’t cutting it.
However, the ideas of strolling on a treadmill to nowhere, or lifting hunks of metal for no practical purpose, were not appealing to me. I had to find something I would enjoy and stick to. That’s when I discovered long distance cycling.
Cycling gave me an excuse to get off my dead ass and be physical. I bought a bike and rode all over Albany. It was a lot of fun at first, I even rode to work a few times and saved myself a few hundred bucks in gas money. However, the allure wore off after a month and it was all because I’ve was riding with no purpose; no goal. Well, not entirely true. I had a goal and it was to lose weight. I guess for me that wasn’t enough. I needed a more meaningful goal, something challenging, but attainable.
That’s when I remembered the annual Saratoga Springs Tour De Cure race. I went online to read about the event. Lucky for me, it was still two months away. I had time to train for a one hundred mile ride, or what is called a century ride. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it?
I began training and quickly realized how out of shape my body was. There was no way I could reach a hundred miles in two months! Yes, I was riding around, but I was riding two hours tops. There was no way I could last eight hours on a bike. No way!
I sat down and thought about the race long and hard. I really wanted to do this. I wanted to challenge myself, but I didn’t want to kill myself to do it. So, I researched cycling online and found several helpful websites about training for a century. I studied the advice and thought some more.
In the end, I decided the century ride would be too much at this time, but I was sure I could do another called the metric century instead (62 miles). Just to push myself a bit more, I made the decision to train for this event as if I was going to do a regular century.
I rode my bike almost every day. Every day, I focused on breaking one of my records: time or speed. Then, as time went on, I saw improvement. I was up to 50 miles and doing great. That said, I had another challenge to tackle and then I would be ready for the 62 mile race. That was challenge was hills. Not little hills, but the kind that make your car say, “Fuck this, I’m going around!”
To accomplish this next goal, I joined with friends and together we decided to do the second highest peak in our area—we thought Thatcher Park was too ambitious. We all rode our bikes to Putnam Hill in Schenectady, NY. When we first saw the hill, it wasn’t that impressive. It looked easy even. Thus we started our climb and almost immediately, I had the urge to stand. All the advice I had read said that when you bike a hill, the last thing you want to do is stand—especially if it’s a brutal long climb. Not only is there no benefit, but you tire a lot quicker. It may give a good burst of speed, but when the hill is over a mile in length, no burst will help.
Ten minutes into the climb, I cursed the minute I came up with this idea. If one presented itself, I would’ve probably ridden in front of a semi-truck and taken me out of my misery. I hated myself that much.
Exaggerations and emotion aside, fifteen minutes into the climb, my legs were Jell-O. The Clif Shot Bloks I was sucking on for energy had more substance than my legs at that moment. It felt as though there was enough lactic acid accumulated in my legs to dissolve them. I wondered what kept them working, because I swear I lost all feeling from the waist down.
Twenty minutes into the climb and I was alone. My friends, who rode years before me, were pros. I’m sure they were having a nice cold one at some bar at the top—without me. My motivation became getting to the top to murder them. Thankfully, I finally saw the top. I was getting close. However, I couldn’t tell if God smiled upon me for love or suffering.
Twenty-five minutes into the climb, I reached the top and thought, “Thank you, God. Thank you. It’s all gonna be flat and downhill from here—Oh what the eff!”
At the top of the hill was a bend with an even steeper hill after. I saw my friends. They were half way up the hill already. Here I was huffing and puffing, and fighting the urge to throw up or throw my bike.
I drank the rest of my water and inhaled the rest of my bloks. I jumped on my bike and clipped in. I somehow managed to get to 25 mph. I wanted a head-start before the horrible climb waiting for me.
It was now thirty some minutes in and now I was cursing the moment I was born. The pedals got heavy again, and I started feathering down my gears until it went no lower. My life passed before me while I kept a vigilant eye, hoping to notice the horrible deed that deserved this kind of punishment.
Forty-five minutes in, I’m sure I passed out and a Good Samaritan drove me to the top of the hill. I don’t remember the thirty minutes of pedaling this loathsome hill, well past the point of wishing for sweet death. But when I saw that I had crested that hill top all I could think of was, “How the hell did I get up here?” I looked back. It was a long way up. So long that the ride down was starting to sound like a really bad idea.
We stopped at a convenient store to grab lunch and fill our bottles with a disgusting combination of water and Gatorade. I drank two and a half gallons of that stuff and I still wanted more. Walking was a challenge too. Not only could I not feel my legs, but bike shoes aren’t really made for walking around. So we finished our lunch and drank more water. Then, we prepared for the downhill run, praying we didn’t kill ourselves in the process.
The experience of riding downhill in a vehicle that weighs a fraction of what you weigh is daunting. You’re riding just as fast as the motor vehicles on the highway, with nothing to protect your body but a thin bit of plastic and Styrofoam. One pot hole and “Adios!” I was freaking out, but at the same time I was having the time of my life. I just climbed 1500 feet and now I coursed downhill at 60 MPH on virtually nothing. So yeah, it was fun!
The entire trek took almost four hours to complete. At the end, I was glad we did it no matter how painful it was. When I finally did my metric century, I was ready. I believe I could have done the full century without a problem, but it was too late to sign up for that. Instead, I focused on my 62 miles and made them count. I rode my butt off! I felt like Armstrong, without drugs, maybe. I flew past everybody. I rode up hills like they were flats.
When my training was all over, I saw nothing but amazing results despite the dreaded scale. I was proud of myself. I accomplished my goal within a year—something I never thought possible. Next year, I tackle the real Century!
Come back Wednesdays to read more by Victor and keep up with his cycling exploits.
Find out more:
Saratoga Springs Tour De Cure – http://main.diabetes.org/site/TR?fr_id=10193&pg=entry
Clif Shot Bloks – http://www.clifbar.com/products/clif-shot/shot-bloks