I realize my blog’s content is very bike-heavy. But if you’re new here or didn’t read this thing before I deleted seven year’s worth of content at the end of 2017, you wouldn’t know my background in endurance sports began with running. I used to write a lot more about running, but I needed a fresh start.
I spent most of my childhood and high school years swimming on club teams and school teams, then joined the track team grades 8 through 12 to do something fun when swim season was over, and because because my favorite day of the year was Field Day when our school took us to the local park for all sorts of track and field events. In college I took things more seriously, dropped competitive swimming and found my way onto The University of Tampa’s cross country and track teams for the 2009-2012 seasons. Those years remain some of the best of my life.
I had a few very successful seasons training my ass off and having a blast along the way, making it all the way to nationals a couple times with the team. But at the end of my last track season, my legs weren’t responding like they used to. I felt exhausted all the time, like I couldn’t find turnover or endurance and each run was a massive struggle. A couple years later, after handfuls of doctors’ appointments and researching and failed treatments for misdiagnoses, a doctor finally confirmed my worst fear: I had Dystonia.
In the years since that awful day when I learned there was no cure and little hope of improvement, I had to come to terms with some things. I would never qualify for Boston—a dream of mine since I started running. I might never know the severity of my disorder; it would continue to worsen and may never improve. My post-collegiate competitive running days were over before they even began. And a hard one for me to still wrap my head around: I’d never PR again. I don’t know why, but that one was particularly devastating.
I began cycling and got my first road bike before this diagnosis, which felt like a massive blessing when I was in the depths of depression and feeling like my whole life—which, at the time, was running—had been taken away from me. As the disorder progressed, I had forgotten about PRs and my goals radically shifted. I wasn’t running or racing to beat myself or other people, or even break the tape. I ran for the endorphin rush and the fresh air and because I truly loved it, whether I walked most of my miles or not.
Fast forward about six years, and here I am in Colorado, where I’ve come about 99% to terms with this disorder. I went through all the highs and lows I could’ve possibly experienced, including several rounds of unsuccessful Botox treatment, and right now I’m feeling like…it is what it is. And you can’t possibly believe what I had to go through to get here. I hurt some of the most important people in my life on my way to this place and while I regret much of what I did and said, I am here, a place I never thought I’d arrive alive.
That was a tangent. What I wanted to get at was that I am working toward goals again but in cycling instead of running. And on Saturday, in the middle of the afternoon under a hot hot sun up in a cloudless sky, I rode a huge PR on a popular climb here in Boulder. The best part? I wasn’t expecting it or even going for it.
Earlier that morning, I wasn’t out the door until after 8 a.m., which didn’t do me any favors. The sun burned the back of my neck. But I needed the sleep, and I’m doing my best to prioritize that these days, especially leading up to big races.
John and I took our road bikes out last week and it was a nice change of pace (literally, a faster pace because my road bike is significantly lighter than my gravel bike), so I chose that one on Saturday, too, for some faster miles. My plan was to keep things flat and medium-fast-ish. I wanted to put in a good, steady effort for as long as I could sustain it, then pull back and repeat that a bunch of times.
After about 20 miles on the roads northeast of Boulder, I circled back toward town and decided to finish up with at least one climb to help prepare for my race in two weeks. Flagstaff was the closest. No matter how many times I do it, Flagstaff is always pretty intimidating. It’s always a test, and lets me know immediately the real level of fatigue in my legs. Thankfully, I was feeling pretty good. The first half mile is the steepest, so I got out of my saddle and jogged a bit until I reached a less aggressive section. Rider after rider flew past me down the mountain, some out for a solo ride and some in bigger groups. . Car-wise, Flagstaff sucks on the weekends because there isn’t a shoulder, but when other rides are getting after it, it’s motivating when you’re on the verge of turning around and bagging the thing.
About 15 minutes into the climb, after I passed a guy on a big fat mountain bike, I was still feeling strong, so I clicked up a gear and put in a harder effort for another 5 or so minutes. Each time I got to a switchback, I pushed as hard as I could into and through the turn until I could recover for a few seconds when the road straightened out. The final half mile stretch of Flagstaff is just as steep and painful as the beginning, and when I reached that last section, I got out of my saddle one last time and dug my feet into the pedals. One last effort,I thought. You got this. Keep pushing. Almost there. You can see the parking lot. Push, damnit. I cycled through every mantra I could think of and when I finally turned into the lot at the top of the hill, I fell over my handlebars, grabbed my water bottle and squeezed what was left onto the back of my neck.
I was proud of that effort and I enjoyed a flowy descent back to town.
After I showered and guzzled down an iced coffee, I opened Strava and noticed I PR’d the Flagstaff climb by TWO MINUTES. I forgot how good it felt to get a personal record since I had given up on them in running.
I can’t wait to keep chipping away at this climb over the rest of the summer!