I recently quit the STP bike ride, a 205.8 mile ride from the University of Washington in Seattle to the city of Portland Oregon. The ride can be done in one day or two. I opted for two. In fact I would like to meet someone who did it in one, look them in the eyes, and try to see the crazy lurking there.
The big plan: train for 5 months prior to the event, ride with my close friend Alex about 101 miles the first day to the official halfway point in Centralia, WA, stay the night with our families in a hotel nearby, finish the ride together the next day, have a beer with Alex and Micki (my wife, my coach, and our ride support and official transportation angel) in the beer garden, then head to a hotel nearby with quick access to a McMenamins for a burger and a couple more beers.
There are lots of sayings about plans, most warning you not to rely too heavily on them.
Day two at around mile 30 or 35 I was on the side of the road, alone, staring at a text on my phone. I had pulled off the road for the third time in under five minutes. My legs still burned from the last hill, but mostly my shoulder and back hurt. I had been afraid of re-aggravating a pinched nerve in my neck and back, and here it was again- the tightness and pain in the scapular area which is where the problem started the first time in late May. It had gotten bad enough then that I had to do a regimen of muscle relaxants and steroids to just get the muscles to relax and stop seizing. It sucked and it hurt.
On my phone was a text to my wife that basically said “I’m f*ing done, come get me.” I had sent a similar, less dramatic text for the same reason the day before- the pain had gotten pretty intense and during the lunch stop I decided to call it a day, attempt to relax and stretch the back muscles, and try riding again on day two. A college friend I bumped into at that stop called it the “mature decision.” Despite knowing she was right it still didn’t feel great. I had really wanted to get my first century under my belt, even if it meant I didn’t ride as far on day two. I had thrown in the towel after only 56 miles. And here I was the next day about to give up on the entire ride.
I stared at the text for a full minute (felt like an hour), took a couple of deep breaths, made my choice and deleted it. I rewrote the text. I would ride to the next major stop and get picked up there. It was only about 10 or 15 more miles. Now if you ride a road bike 10 miles on mildly rolling terrain is not much, 15 not much more. It felt like a really long way just then, for sure. Micki said she would meet me there, and could come pick me up if I couldn’t get that far. I made it there and even had a smile on my face when I did. My ride was definitely done.
Despite what I told friends and family while I knew it was the right decision to make it still felt bad giving up. There were a lot of reasons behind the decision besides the immediate pain- my riding partner couldn’t make it to the ride due to illness, the previous injury and travel had meant I lost six weeks of training immediately prior to the ride, and my longest training ride prior to that had (only) been 44 miles. All enough to say “duh, of *course* you didn’t make it 100 miles in a day, let alone 200+ in two!” But does the reality of the situation make it feel better in your gut? Not entirely. Especially when you have a long history of finishing physically demanding events with minimal training and preparation.
Then this morning I read a great article Why It’s Okay To Quit- Just Never Give Up. It articulated something that silenced my gut feelings of inadequacy and weakness, and made me quietly proud of my choice to quit the ride. I stopped both days because pushing myself to finish at the expense of possible permanent injury would have been a stupid choice. Period. You are supposed to grow out of that sort of thing at some point, and 50 seems as good an age as any to flip that switch. And plans are already laid to try the ride again next year. Micki will be training alongside me to do the ride (for the 3rd time!) herself. Alex is on board for next year as well. It was really hard for both of them to sit this one out! A couple other friends have said they want to join us or support us. And I have already found some excellent kettlebell routines for strengthening, among other things, the upper back region to prevent further injury. So it isn’t giving up. It is quitting a plan that is clearly not working and opting to come back and try again. The data I collected during these rides will be helpful in planning for next year, and I will certainly be better prepared when the time comes around again.
And yes, I will remember what they say about relying on plans…