From the Back of the Pace Line…Fake It ‘Til You Make It
By Amanda Schul
Back in the fall of 2013 I was attempting to do something I’d never been good at…running. I didn’t like running and I physically couldn’t run further than the stop sign at the end of my street. Bottom line, I was a horrible runner, but it was something that a lot of my friends were involved in. All of those mud runs were popping up and it just seemed like I needed to jump on that wagon. I tried running in the gym and even downloaded a couple of apps that were supposed to help you run a 5k in 9 weeks. I never made it past week 4 of the training, but I did become a decent elliptical runner at the gym. I signed up for a couple of mud runs and completed an official 5km run. I was still a horrible runner, but I had set my sites on a half marathon next.However during an unrelated visit to the doctor, he noticed my foot was swollen and bruised and told me if I continued running I would end up needing surgery.
Deflated but not yet convinced to give up I left his office. I really didn’t like running but I needed a challenge. It would be something to work towards that would be satisfying when completed but also a good workout tool for weight loss. About two weeks later an email came out at work asking who was interested in joining the MS 150 team. I have been in Houston for 10 years (born and raised in North Texas) and knew of a couple of people involved. I also thought it sounded crazy hard to ride your bike 150 miles from Houston to Austin. I had completed a couple of spin classes over the years and I needed a good challenge, so I hit reply and signed up for it. I was super excited and proceeded to tell all of my family and friends about it. I received many blank stares and mouth drops, usually followed by an array of “there’s no way”,and “why would you even think about that”, to the ever popular “you won’t make it 10 miles let alone to Austin”. Well one thing I am more than stubborn is determined. I tuned out my naysayers and began training.
I started out with spin classes 2-3 times a week until the first of the year and then bumped it up to 5 times a week. I didn’t purchase my bike until mid-January, due to my polarizing fear of going into my local bike shop and looking stupid. And I wouldn’t listen to my few fellow relatives that were former cyclists to get a road bike. See that comment about being stubborn above. I thought that I would feel awkward in the aggressive stance of a road bike and those skinny tires scared the hell out of me. I told the guy at the bike shop what I was training for and that what my budget was. He didn’t try to talk me out of my anti-road bike stance, presumably because he figured I’d be back in to get a road bike before the ride. Or maybe he was just being nice. Either way I ordered a Giant Hybrid bike and waited 7 days for it to come in.
After checking the internet and Facebook groups I found a local bike club, Space City Cycling Club (SCCC) that had weekly Saturday rides and a beginner group, the Neo Cruisers. They stated it was no drop, meaning if I couldn’t finish someone would hang back with me. Luckily I didn’t wait as long to try them out as I did to visit the bike store. I picked up my bike on a Tuesday and thanks to a friendly response to my inquiry on the SCCC’sFacebook page, I was out riding with them that Saturday, February 1st. Due to my massive response on Facebook, as people rode past they picked me out of the crowd and welcomed me to the group and the sport. It made me feel, for the first time, like maybe I could pull this cycling thing off. After our first 22.3 mile ride at a 12 mph pace I felt so accomplished that I actually teared up pulling back into the parking lot. It wasn’t fast, but I finished. I was excited and very quickly addicted. I wanted to go further and faster immediately. Thanks to Strava when I got home I showed off that I in fact had made it 10 miles, I’d gone double and at a decent pace. Let the cycling begin.
My Saturday rides became a regular thing and I kept up the spin classes in the gym twice a week and a weight training session. I started finding “t-shirt” rides to participate in on Sunday to help get my rear end prepared for the two days of the MS 150. The furthest I had ridden prior to the MS 150 was 31 miles in a t-shirt ride. The morning of the MS 150 I was so excited and nervous I thought I was going to throw up. I hadn’t been that nervous since my high school swim team days. Our support team dropped us off in Waller, Texas and we embarked on what would end up being the most miserable, yet inspiring two days ever.
The four of us on my team started off racing each other, trading off who was leading and who was going t
o be chasing the group down. We quickly ended up in the hills. Oh by the way, did I mention that Houston is about as flat as can be? And that our idea of “hill” training, is to ride the area bridges and over passes? Yeah, I had little to no“hill” training and no real idea how to use my gears. We ended up at the first break point which was 11 miles in at a 15 mile per hour pace. This was fairly fast for me at the time, I told my co-workers as we left the break point that we were going to have to slow it down if we were going to finish the day. Our group managed to stay together until the lunch point.
At the lunch stop, I barely ate my sandwich and consumed only one bottle of water before my teammates were ready to roll. I should have told them to go ahead but I threw away the rest of my food, and skipped the best part…the Blue Bell Ice Cream truck. At this point I still had not been to the bathroom since we started out. I had a 13lb messenger bag on my back that had everything known to man in it, including a half dozen water bottles because I was too stubborn to mount water bottle racks to my bike because I was afraid to reach down for them.
I started to notice these blister type things popping up on my skin before the lunch stop. We made it to the second rest area after lunch. The cold sweats had set in, the blisters were now all over both arms and I had yet to pee. I was holding a friends bike while he got us water when a bike marshal approached and asked if I was feeling okay. I said tired but of course. She was concerned about the blisters and told my co-workers to take me to the medical tent. After a battery of questions, it was concluded that I had sun poisoning and was dehydrated. I was forced to sag in the last 30 odd miles. I felt so ashamed and defeated. All the naysayers were playing in my head.
One of my co-workersand I slept in the second day having decided we would start at the lunch stop for day 2. There were not many hills; it was cloudy and even rained on us for a bit, in other words night and day different from day one. We made it to the last rest area and were celebrating being only 11 miles from the end, we had this in the bag. A lady overheard us celebrating and proceeded to inform us that this was going to be the worst 11 miles because when you think that there couldn’t be any more hills there would be more. This turned out to be true. I ended up alone in Austin and wanting to quit. I couldn’t cry because I had no liquid in my body to spare. I mapped it and was only 1.2 miles from the finish line. I wasn’t going to quit now. Begrudgingly I got on the bike to climb up what ended up being the last hill and finished. Once again I teared up as I crossed the finish line. Tears of joy that although I had my issues, I had ridden way more than anyone thought I would and I didn’t give up.
Since starting on February 1st I have ridden 814 miles and keep an average pace of 15-17 mph during training rides which is a vast improvement from 12 mph. My goal is to hit 1200 miles by December 31st. Currently, I am now training for Bike Around the Bay which is a 180 mile, two day ride in October that rides a complete circle around Galveston Bay.