This past weekend, I competed in the Lifecycle Classic road race. The race is done in a handicap style, with the aim of giving all riders a handicap that in a perfect world gives everyone the opportunity to win. After coming dead last in the previous year, I was hesitant about entering the race again. However, I decided that 2017 was a different year and given that I dropped my grading in order to be able to race again, thought my handicap may be more manageable. When I saw my start time, six minutes into the race, I was relieved. After having to start nearly 20 minutes behind the front runners last year, it felt like I had a good chance of completing the race in a reasonable time.
However as the event day approached, I began to feel nervous. I tried swatting the nerves away to no avail. It occurred to me that my mental hounds were out of my mind kennel, howling and barking and jumping up at me. Pausing, I took a deep breath to ask them, “why are you barking so loudly?” It was then I realised that I was facing another fear, a hangover from last year’s disaster,that of being incompetent. Wondering why this fear was bubbling to the surface, I thought about my reputation and how I wanted to be seen by the rest of society as someone who was capable and talented. My mind wandered to my yoga training and how part of attaining enlightenment involved the concept of separating our ego from our true self. My thoughts then ricocheted to the “Game of Thrones”series that Mr Lucy had purchased for me as a Christmas gift. One of the characters, Arya Stark, joins a group of assassins known as “The Faceless Men”. As part of her training, she is trained to relinquish her former identity and become “no one”.
Thus,I decided to become “no one” for this race. Put simply, my “work” was to simply ride without question, to be “in the moment” of the intense physical discomfort that occurs when you’re at the limit. My mind’s role was to sit back and observe the pain. When a girl has no name, she has no ego or reputation. Being a girl with no name was a comfort.
Before we rolled out, I politely greeted the other riders I was handicapped with. Handicaps are a great opportunity for relationship building and I took the opportunity for a few friendly “hellos”, hoping that it would foster a spirit of cooperation. We started well, rolling quick tight turns until we had reached the first climb of the day up towards the Wivenhoe Dam wall. Our tightly knit bunch began to splinter and soon we were a cast of three – myself,Sholto from Logan Cycling Club, and Robert from the Sunshine Coast who I kept accidentally calling “Craig” (sorry about that). I was grateful that, although the work was hard, I wasn’t on the edge. Sholto and I started to ride away from Robert on the first pass from Coominya back into Lowood and we decided to work together. At the 35km mark, Sholto signalled that a group was about to pass, so we both successfully made the jump and felt the pace swell and lift as we came into Lowood.
We remained in this group into the first part of the second lap where we picked up Frenchie, and where I made the discovery that I was riding with old KBR teammate, Steve Schoemaker. It felt good to have some friendly faces in the bunch and I put my head down and kept at it. We hit it hard to the dam wall and then we were joined by another group. I lifted again, jumping on the back of the oncoming freight train wondering why my quads were cramping all of a sudden. Steve was with me and soon passed me. Good fortune would have it that former Koiled teammate, Shannon, was piloting his tandem bike with Dean Cameron. Shannon is a fantastic wheel to sit on when he is riding alone, but having him there on a tandem amplified the effect. I marvelled at his strength as he pulled me across the dam and then up the hill. We caught Steve on a downhill section on the road. We were screaming down at a rate of knots and if I hadn’t been cramping so much, it would have been great fun.
Going into the Lowood home stretch from Coominya, I told Shannon and Dean that I thought that I might be second or third female at that stage. They both declared they would bury themselves to get me there and I hung on for dear life, thanking my lucky stars that I had run into them at the right moment. The cramping in my quads intensified as another group started to come through – I jumped as hard as I could and looked at my Garmin. Was it possible that I was really doing 53km/hr on the flat? However,it wasn’t to be for too long as I was spat out the back and soon found Shannon and Dean again. However, about 5km from the end, the scratch group came through with some of the elite female riders and I just couldn’t hang on to them or to Shannon and Dean.
Good fortune would have it that Steve had caught up and we were able to finish together. “Completely spent” would be how I described the moments after the finish. I gave Shannon, Dean and Steve hugs. We were now forever bonded in an out of body experience of cramps, breathlessness and nausea. Feeling my stomach lurch, I decided to have a quick cool down to try and settle my gut. Luckily it worked and nausea gave way to elation – I had not only finished, but had done 80km in 2 hours and 8 minutes – a 38km/hr average! It was an even better surprise when I was announced 6th female across the line and I became the recipient of a famous Lifecycle fruit and vegetable box!
It was such a great feeling to finish and the placing was an added and unexpected bonus. Every race I participate in seems to be an exercise in learning the mental processes of dealing with intentionally making yourself physically uncomfortable. I find it useful to draw upon what I’m currently reading or watching. Being a girl who was “no one” seemed to resonate perfectly. On that note, bring on series 7 of Game of Thrones!