What I Learned in my JDRF Ride Training, Part 3: The one where I bonk and cry and then regroup (just like life!)

Some people need to be smacked on the head. Over and over and over. Before they get it. Count me as one of them.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’ve been training hard to do the JDRF Ride to Cure Diabetes since, oh, late April. When I started, I’d not been on a bike in about 25 years. The first day I rode I only did about four miles and then told a cyclist friend I was wheezing and worried I “had allergies.”

She ROFLOL’ed at me and said, “That’s not called allergies, Moira. That’s called not being fit on a bike yet!” Yeah, she was right.

In any case, I registered early summer to do the “Flattest Century in the East,” a popular ride held every September in Southeastern Massachusetts. I figured I could test out how ready I was (even though the century training plan I was following and every other one I ever read said you don’t need to do 100 miles before you do 100 miles. I’m stubborn that way).

A confession here: I have been terrified I might not finish the 105-mile ride through Death Valley this October. It goes like this in my head: soooooo many people have donated to my cause (202 and counting as of right this moment, adding up to almost $22,000). I’ve told them how I want to go big for Lauren’s 21st birthday and 15 year “diaversary,” and they’ve opted in. I feel like I owe them. Like if I don’t make that 105…I’m not worthy of their donation. Sounds silly, right? And yet…. I’ve not been able to shake that. I don’t want to let anyone down. I don’t want to fail.

So this past Sunday was the Century. I didn’t sleep a bit the night before; it was humid and hot and I was nervous. I’d had the unsettling experience of watching Dice-K “pitch” at the Red Sox game the prior night (I Love my team. But Dice-K? Really” But I digress). In any case, it was restless night. So I started out tired, but shook that off as I drove to the ride start.

And here is where the learning started this time around. I’ll go to almost the end first, skip back to the start and then wrap with the finish.

I did not make it 100 miles. And I cried about it.

I started out feeling pretty great. I’ve had trouble with increasing my speed all these months and right off the bat, and I solved the problem.

“Don’t you ever use the left gear?” a friend riding with me asked.

“Left gear? I don’t know what it does. I’m afraid of it!” I responded. (Diabetes and life lesson here: know and use all your tools. They help).

Hey, Moira: you bought the whole bike — so USE the whole bike!

 He laughed at me and then helped me learn how to use the gears that – funniest thing – make it easier to go faster on flat surfaces and even downhill. Almost immediately, I was clocking speeds I’ve never clocked before. In time, I was clicking that left gear and charging forward, zooming along flats like I’ve never done before. I felt good as we headed into the first stop at about 30 miles. About 10 miles later we passed a pungent farm (made me give a nod to my Wisconsin rider friends) and all of a sudden I had this odd tightening of my throat. I rode on… and coughed … and rode on … and struggled to breath. Finally, I had to stop and chug water and just take some time even though with about 60 miles to go, that time was valuable (Diabetes-and-life-related lesson here: sometimes you just have to take a time out and regroup, for your health and for your safety. Don’t stress; you can work it out later). In time I felt fine and we charged into the 50-mile rest area where I discovered that a simple sliced orange could sometimes taste like liquid gold.

The next 25 miles were amazing: we pedaled all along the Rhode Island shore. I could smell the ocean air I love and at some points look out over the pounding surf. We passed multi-million dollar homes, beach plum still blooming, some strange, flat road kill and more. I was getting better at hills, with some coaching on how to better prepare for them and shift through them. But all of a sudden I looked up at one and I just …froze. My head beat out my legs and I freaked at little bit inside. (Diabetes lesson: Don’t look at the huge road ahead of you. Just focus on what is directly ahead of you and you’ll be fine). I hopped off my bike, walked a tiny way, then said to myself “Just do it,” hopped back on and went along. The next hill when I started to say “Oh no,” I decided to just focus on the pavement directly ahead of me. Before I knew it, I’d crested the hill. How bout that?

At the 75 miles stop I got some news: while the ride was scheduled to run until 6 p.m., the organizers seemed to be getting antsy and approached me. I was among the last dozen or so riders (but hey! Remember! MOST of the riders opted for the 62 mile route. Or the 50. Or even the 26. So I give myself credit here. And it was only like 2:30). They were concerned about how much time the just under 30 miles left would take me. And yeah, they talked me out of going for the entire 100 and showed me a short cut that would take me in a tiny bit sooner. I headed out to do that. And felt like a failure. That’s where I cried.

Okay, I thought. All these people have donated for me to ride 105 miles. And I am not finishing 100 today. I’ve asked the world to support me on this mission. And I’m falling short. With that, my body shut down. I bonked right smack up against the negativity that was swirling in my head.

At 78.18 miles, I “SAG’ed” in. But that’s not the end of the story, because a funny thing happened on that SAG Ride. I told the driver my story…how my head had messed me up. And he, a kind old man with a German accent, said this:

“Well, zee day is not over. How ‘bout I drop you off and you get back on zee bike? What would happen then? I promise to check on you.”

And so I did. And rode 12 more miles. It only added up to 90, not 100. But it felt like something good. Like even when I thought I was a complete loser, I could listen to one kind voice and pick myself back up again. Like even if it wasn’t 100, it wasn’t nothing. Far from nothing: it was really something.

I called my husband from the car and told him I’d “only done 90.”

“Moira,” he said. “We know almost no one who could get on a bike and ride 90 miles. You’ve just started this. It’s an incredible accomplishment.” I knew he was right…. but I still felt icky about it.

Then today came. I started the day admitting to my on-line world I had not finished the 100. And the praise came over and over and over. One woman was shocked to realize I’d only started cycling a few months ago. Another told me my mission on this ride was inspirational already. Donor after donor praised me for working so hard and coming so far. They were far from upset. They were proud.

And donations flooded in, once again. Three zoomed in on line. Then two more. Then I went to the mailbox and found a letter from a kind older woman in my town that I know from my beach club. She’s taken a real interest in my riding and sometimes, on hot days, drives out to check on me while I ride around our town. She lives in a modest home and is retired. I ripped the envelope open and found a giant donation to my ride … among the largest I’ve received. It blew me away: the obviousness of that message.

Because it hit me right then and there. It’s not about the final total; it’s about the journey and what it brings you. I’ve been told this a million times. I’ve never once truly heard it.

And now I do. I want with all my heart and soul to ride all 105 miles at Death Valley in October. If you know me at all, you know I will give it 200 percent. And the good Lord, some only wicked-hot and not deathly-hot weather and the good vibes of friends around me willing: I will make it.

But no matter how I finish, it’s going to be okay. I am doing this ride as a tribute to my daughter’s 15 years living with diabetes. I’m doing it for all the people I know and adore who wage the same battle every day. I am doing it to fund research to bring a better future to everyone with T1D.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve told my daughter – and told some of those friends – every day and every moment cannot be perfect with diabetes along, but that’s perfectly fine. You’re moving forward and therefore you are winning. Don’t’ beat yourself up for doing pretty well; praise yourself for every tiny victory. And know I support you every single step of the way.

I need to listen to myself more. >>bangs head on wall<<.

Me, post-ride, post-cry, all bikefaced up. I ordered a photo from the ride photographer but it’s not in yet. I think I look pretty bada$$.
Me — pre-bikeface, pre-cry, pre-recovery.

10 thoughts on “What I Learned in my JDRF Ride Training, Part 3: The one where I bonk and cry and then regroup (just like life!)

  1. Let me wipe the tears from my eyes so I can write this comment.
    Just when I think you can’t get any more awesome, you do! Thank you for all that you do.

  2. Moira, you are such an inspiration! I am facing several challenges in my health this week, my son is struggling with his bs levels, and you know how rocked we all are in the DOC with last weeks sad news from Meri. I’ve been looking too far ahead at the whole seemingly insurmountable “hill” rather than focusing on just “the road ahead”. Thank you so much! I needed this blog post so much today!

  3. “I don’t know what it does. I’m afraid of it!” I am pretty sure everyone with diabetes has uttered that phrase at one point about something – insulin, pens, pumps, CGM. New stuff is scary.

    Confession time: I have not ridden a bike since the week after I got out of the hospital when I was diagnosed. Long story but it was a scary ride involving not-yet-recovered DKA leg muscles and not-yet-ready for exercise insulin management.

    To me, you finishing one mile is inspirational enough!

  4. Moira, do you know that I don’t think I rode a mile past, oh, maybe 45’ish while training for my ride?

    So for you to pull off that many miles already is huge. Just be sure on ride day to focus on your hydration and fuel. You need to eat often and drink often.

    You can SO do this.

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