One of the reasons I love cycling is because it allows me to maintain the self-image I prefer, as opposed to the one I really ought to have.
Allow me to explain.
A Sock, And the Putting Thereof
Before The Hammer was The Hammer, she was The Runner. And yet, she was not just a runner. She was a cyclist, too. She started cycling long before she and I got together. Indeed, she was an accomplished cyclist, having completed Lotoja (a 200+ mile race) and The Leadville 100, multiple times.
But — and I say this with all the humility a beloved internet celebrity cycling superstar can say without seeming falsely humble or perhaps even condescending — I was a better cyclist than she was.
Yes, I was both faster and had more endurance. She and I both knew who the alpha rider was, and that was me.
[Side note: while I am most certainly thumping my chest right now, it is with a certain amount of charming irony and a smidgen of foreshadowing of a contrasting situation that will make you love me even more than you do already, if that's possible.]
So anyways, sometimes we’d go on rides together, and I’d push her a little bit, for a long time. Not in a huge way, mind you.
No, more in much subtler, insidious ways.
Like, when we were riding side by side, I would keep my front wheel about half a length ahead of hers. As if to say, “Hey, if you want to go just a little faster, I’m up for it.”
Or — much worse — I’d be relentlessly cheerful. No matter how long we had been out, I always had something nice to say about the ride. If a big climb was coming up, I’d talk about how much I like climbing. If we were in the flats, I’d go on about how there’s nothing for endurance and power like turning the cranks over and over in the flats.
If I was exhausted, it was a good exhaustion.
This kind of behavior, I am sure you will agree, is not annoying at all, to anyone. And so I was incredibly surprised when, at the top of a short-but-painful climb, I turned to tell her how amazingly cooked I was and how much I love cycling for the way it can leave you completely ruined, when she spoke first.
“Don’t start,” The Runner said. “Just put a sock in it.”
As a man who knows when a woman is not kidding around even a tiny little bit, I put a sock in it.
But honestly, I did not get it. I had not been anything but pleasant during the ride. She had no reason to suspect that I was going to say anything offensive or mean or anything. Hey, I’m Fatty, for crying out loud. I never say anything mean or offensive.
And as long as I was being honest, I didn’t understand how anyone could be angry while on a bike anyway. When I’m on a bike, I’m happy. It’s really as simple as that. I can be tired, hungry and hurting on a bike, but there’s still a chunk of my brain that says, “Yeah, but I’m tired, hungry and hurting on a bike, so it’s cool.”
So why was I riding with a metaphorical sock in my mouth? What had I done wrong?
The Gaining of Understanding
It’s no secret that, as a wonderful person who wants to be supportive of his wife, I have tried to take up running. I believe I have documented at least a little bit about how well that’s gone. For example, I’ve talked about how I totally crushed the Death Valley Marathon. And how I just flew when running the 2010 NYC Marathon. And then there was the Ogden Marathon, where I discovered that I’m more than half an hour faster if the course is downhill.
And now, in (much!) less than a month, we’re doing the Boston Marathon (The Hammer is doing it because she’s fast and qualified to run it, I’m doing it as part of Team LiveStrong).
So I’ve been running again. Training for another marathon.
The experience has been memorable. In particular, I remember the following:
I remember an exquisite sense of humiliation. A couple weeks ago, we were doing an 18-mile training run. Around mile 12, I started slowing, and there was nothing I could do about it. I tried speeding up, but simply could not.
In fact, at mile 13, The Hammer changed over to a walk. “Why are you walking?” I asked.
“Because you’re running slower than I walk,” she answered, without irony.
And it was true. I was taking run-like steps and making a run-like motion with my arms, but I was going at a pace so slow that any mallwalker would have gapped me.
“Just go on,” I said. And I really meant it. The Hammer is the fastest she’s ever been right now — she’s really stepped up her running game lately — and I didn’t want to hold her back.
“No, I’ll stay with you. We’ll walk a minute and then continue running, she said.”
I remember despair. We started running again, and — before another mile had gone by — the strangest sound came out of my mouth: something that sounded remarkably like a sob.
I was surprised by the sound. Not that a sob-like sound had come out of me, but that I had somehow let this sound — that so accurately represented how I felt — escape.
I stifled it before another could come out.
“What was that?” The Hammer asked.
“I don’t think I can go another four miles,” I told her. “I really don’t.”
And I looked down and away, because I didn’t want her to see that I was crying. That I was totally beaten.
We agreed she should go on ahead and finish the run, then come back and get me in a car; meanwhile I would try to get as far as I could.
When The Hammer picked me up, I was at mile 16.
I have never been so happy to give up in my entire life.
What is my point? An easy, simple, short one: I think running has made me a better cyclist. Which is to say, a more understanding cyclist. Before, I had been riding for so long that I had honestly forgotten how it feels to be completely, truly beaten by something. To be so tired and sore that you start taking it personally.
You don’t feel an interested, ironic amusement at your tiredness. You feal destroyed.
It’s good — once it’s over — to be reminded exactly how hard something can be.