Sunday, 29 July 2012

Coming 7000th

I wanted to share with you a little story about why I chose my Week 8 milestone. I'll write another post on Tuesday night about the actual milestone, but this is just to give you a little background- I wrote this in 2010 about when I entered the Brisbane to Gold Coast 100km Cycle Challenge. It's a fairly long story, just warning you :) My milestone will make more sense with this. Till later, Coco xx

2010 Goal #23: Get a bike.
2010 Goal #24: Enter a bike event.
2010 Goal #25: Complete it!

#23 was done, #24 was fairly painless, it was #25 that saw me inserting pink streamers into my bike's handlebars at Southbank at 5:30am on Sunday morning, after just 3 and a half hours sleep. The months and days leading up to now had been a mirage of pain, mental games and disbelief in myself- but those exact feelings were soon to be exemplified when I joined 7000 odd riders to participate in the Wilson HTM Brisbane to Gold Coast 100km Cycle Challenge. I had many things against me, including my training plan that I had let taper off. The great thing about personal goals is that they can be rewritten, so I had changed "Complete it!" to "Show up and do as much as I can".

Just the start was already tough, an amateur showing up with pink streamers amidst thousands of who I decided were all elite, pro riders that could rival the Tour de France. (I told you there were many mind games played). But I was determined to tick off Goal #25, so I rode the quiet Southbank streets, and arrived at the start site. After a quick check of my bike chain at the awesome mechanics tent due to some odd sounds I heard on the short ride from my car that sent waves of panic through me, I had the all clear and approached and entered the 'Start banner'. Mini goal #1 completed. I was on my way- now to see what else I could do!

The bus way was closed for the event, so I made my way down the smooth roads fairly easily. It was a nice stretch and I was finding it fairly easy - I started to think that maybe I could actually get to the end! Other cyclists seemed to minimise rapidly out of view- but I didn't think too much of this, I just kept pedalling and enjoying my iPod's music with the wind rushing past. This was easy!

Then right towards the end of the bus way, I had a sneaking suspicion that I was being followed. I turned my head and realised that I had a slight entourage. Just metres behind me was a sag wagon, behind that was a First Aid van, behind that was a police car with flashing lights, circling me was a police motorbike, and appearing alongside me was another police car. The policeman in the car called out to me and drove to my pace. He said that I might want to increase my speed a bit, as they needed to reopen the bus way. As I sped down a slight hill, I had a brief moment that felt like I was on the Tour, talking to my coach in the car alongside me about my form with Contador up ahead. No Coco!! You are not on Tour, this is a police car and you are holding up Brisbane's bus way!

I was almost off the bus way anyway, so after I exited, I kept going for a few more km's on the roads around Eight Mile Plains. I still had my personal entourage surrounding me, and by now I was feeling a bit of pressure. The sag wagon was not pushing me, but having any car edging behind you in any situation creates the feeling that you're holding them up. I kept going, and as the police motorbike rode alongside me again, I made a big mistake and asked him whether I was the last rider at that point. I had guessed it, but it wasn't until he actually confirmed that I was, that it hit me hard. Only 20km-ish in, and I was coming 7000th.

It was not a race, that was an explicit rule- it was a ride only, no race. But the enormity of knowing that I was right at the very back of such a massive event so early on, was hard to deal with. I kept riding but the tears started flowing, and with the mounting pressure of being surrounded by official cars, I pulled over. The sag wagon loaded my bike into the trailer, and I jumped aboard, an absolute mess. As soon as we approached the next last rider, I realised that there was no pressure from the van. They were simply doing their job, trailing behind the last rider. The driver was lovely and he didn't care! The only pressure would have been if people were too slow and not making the road cut off times (like I had done on the bus way!)

My confidence and energy returned as we slowly loaded more people into the van and drove towards the 1st of 2 rest stops at Eagleby, 40km into the route. I decided that I could keep on going, so when we reached Eagleby, I had my bike loaded off the trailer, ate some food supplied at the rest stop, refilled my water bottle and continued on my way. I felt less pressure now, and knew that if I heard the sound of a vehicle edging behind me again, then that would be ok.

Although it really wasn't a matter of if, as to when. The wagon eventually caught up with me again, but this time I didn't mind. I just kept pedalling. When I realised that there was still about 50km to go, I knew that I couldn't last the entire distance. I wanted to push myself though, so kept going.

When I got to the bottom of a long incline hill that I knew I would need to walk up, I succumbed again to the van. I was ok to keep going for a while, but I didn't feel it was fair to make them follow me as I walked for a while in a cycling event. I stopped for the second time that day and the driver and police again bundled me up into air-conditioning. The van was getting filled up quite quickly, there were apparently a record number of people being picked up that day. Our van got filled and they had to call the second wagon to come back to pick up people along the roadside. Our van then went to offload all of us so that they could return to pick up even more people. There were a mixture of issues, some poor cyclists had flats and broken bikes, others just realised the extent of their stamina, many along the 50km mark.

The van drove us to the 2nd rest stop at Coomera, alongside Dreamworld. I wanted to ride the last 5-10km to the finish line, but there were 20km left between Coomera and the finish at Southport. I felt I had pushed the friendship of my driver quite enough already, and he seemed keen to see how I went from the 20km mark, so again, after eating some more food at the rest stop, I decided to give the last 20km my best shot. And it was tough.

The Gold Coast suburbs seemed to be endless- I swear Runaway Bay and Hope Island are each 20km long! Mind games were gathering widely now, and I was studying road signs like I had never done before, trying to find any skerrick of evidence that I was almost done. There was a bit of head wind, I was sore all over, I was tired, I had had enough, I was crying, I just wanted to get there. Cyclists who had already completed the event and were now cycling back to Brisbane (!) were passing me on the opposite side of the streets, and calling out words of encouragement. This helped so much - I was clinging onto anything to help me along. "Keep going!" "You're doing well!" - they were all very supportive. The many Bicycle Queensland volunteers and police who were manning each intersection were also fantastic- so many of them clapped me on and I was astounded that they had the energy to clap for each cyclist as if we were the only ones riding. They were absolutely amazing. I didn't realise how much I would hang onto every single word called out, and every clap. I needed ANYTHING - I was struggling.

I stopped to readjust my painful backside many times. The whole time I was trying to work out how far I had to go. My bike computer wasn't working, so it was all a matter of guess work. When I decided that I must only have 5km to go, I asked one of the volunteers as I rode past how far I had to go, and they said 9km. Almost double what I thought? That almost broke me.

I was in more mental pain than physical pain now, and still crying, stopped to call my friend who was waiting patiently at the finish line for me. I tried to sound upbeat and that I wasn't far away and he was great, just said to take my time, keep on going. That was the first half of the short phone call. The second half was a near frenzied Coco: "I…don't…think…I…can…do…iiitt!" I was a mess. He repeated to keep on going. I tried, I really did. I was secretly hoping that the sag wagon would come again to my rescue. I never saw it again. I knew that if I asked, my friends would come to get me from where I was. But after this whole time, so close to the end, I couldn’t let myself give up. I HAD to finish this last stint.

Despite having no previous on road riding experience, I took no notice of the heavy traffic driving alongside me, no notice of the last few straggling cyclists passing me, nothing. It didn’t affect me. I had only one focus. The only thought in my head was how I could manage to push myself through to the end.

With the endless coast suburbs continuing, I eventually rounded the corner onto Marine Parade. I knew this street! I had been here many times before…driving. I saw the Gold Coast city skyline- surely it was only 2km more! Yeah, it’s just down the road! This was familiar territory! Whenever I round this corner (driving), I’m almost ‘there’. Excellent!

Well, I'm convinced Marine Parade must have been extended in length. It wasn’t just down the road. It seemed like a lifetime cycling down this street. I was still visually grabbing anything possible to give me hope that I was almost there. I soon realised a police car was shadowing me. At this stage I didn’t care, I didn’t realise what it meant, I was just pedalling. I was trying to spot white items in the distance to see if I could see the white finish banner. Random cyclists who had finished and were now strolling the streets called out more words of encouragement. One guy said that it was just 2km to go and clapped for me. He was so lovely but I was a bit crushed, I thought surely it was only a matter of metres now?? I continued to cry.

When I turned onto the Gold Coast Highway, someone called out that it was just 700m to go. Come on Coco! I was struggling so much, the police car was still right behind me. I heard a loudspeaker announcement: “Not much further to go”. I wasn’t thinking straight and assumed it was from the finish site, an announcer speaking to the crowd. I later realised that it was actually the police behind me, using their loudspeaker, speaking personally to me! Brilliant!

I suddenly rounded a small corner and there it was. Gleaming white, still standing: the finish banner. The significant object of my vision for so many months. Actually seeing it was so surreal.

It all happened so quickly. As I rounded the corner, I suddenly heard cheers, people clapping, cheering my name. It was all a blur as there was another loudspeaker announcement. I again didn’t realise until later that it was the police, but this time they called out: “Give three cheers for the last rider!” All I could focus on were my friends, cheering and calling out my name right next to the banner. My friend had worked hard and had finished his ride around 9am. It was now about 1:15pm. He and his wife had waited for over 4 hours in the hot sun with their gorgeous baby, just for me. I cannot thank them enough and still have the image of them cheering for me.

I sped under the finish banner and made a beeline directly towards them, not paying attention to anything or anyone else. My friend ran over and met me half way, grinning, and I semi fell onto his shoulders as he helped peel my bike off me. They gave me 2 bottles of cold water, one went straight over me, and one went straight inside of me! I was very thirsty. I was a bit wobbly on my feet but not too bad, I think due to all the stops I had made. We picked up my ride event T-shirt and they generously gave me time to settle and change clothes before driving me back to Brisbane.

When I went over the finish line, immediately after hearing publicly that I was the very last rider out of 7000(ish) riders, I was very embarrassed. I wasn’t too disappointed that I didn’t manage to ride the entire 100km as I had already come to terms with the fact that I probably wouldn’t be able to early on. My goal for the day was to just turn up and do my best. That I had done. That part was all ok. I was happy that I had entered, started, and rode as much as I could. I was especially proud that I had conquered the final 20km in particular as I really wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment if I managed to pass the finish line. So overall, I was happy.

But hearing the police loudspeaker announce that I was the last rider as I passed the banner, despite my personal achievements and friends cheering, was a little bit crushing. I had heard that this was Queensland’s biggest bike ride. Friends had told me that they thought I could do it (angel wings). I saw other riders- there were kids, grandparents, all sorts of people. I even got driven a lot of the way! And still, out of 7000, I was very last? I knew that it wasn’t a race, but still, the feeling of being the absolute last to arrive was hard to hear.

However after speaking to my friends and family, and reading the most supportive, amazing messages from friends in the hours following the event, that feeling quickly passed. They made me realise that I came 7000th out of the people who actually did the ride. That I kept getting back on my bike unlike some other people who hopped on the bus and stayed there. That I reached my personal goal. My friends and family were so supportive and encouraging that they made me feel like I had actually completed the whole 100km or came through first! In a matter of a few of hours, I was elated, on top of the world, proud of myself and happy with what I had done.

I started enjoying the particular aspects of my experience. Before the ride, I wasn’t expecting to personally hold up Brisbane’s transport system on the bus way! I’ve never before had a personal police entourage or escort! Having a police car use their loudspeaker just for me was pretty cool! Riding through last is more interesting than being 2nd, 3rd or 10th last! Knowing that I hopped back on my bike after almost hyperventilating from crying so much only 20km in made me proud.

Experiencing the whole event in one way or another was awesome and something I had wanted to do. As one friend wisely said later, "Pain is temporary but stories last forever." I kind of liked my story now. :)

I had a lot of help and support from friends and family and I am thankful for each individual one. They gave me my bike and equipment, they fitted tyres and checked my bike, they offered help, they encouraged me all year whenever I mentioned what I was trying to attempt, and they lifted me up after the ride to make me feel on top of the world. Friends and family helped me along the way just as the sag wagon physically helped me along my journey to the Gold Coast. ;)

Without measuring the actuals at the time I can’t be sure, but I studied and measured the map and I think I completed about 44km on the day, which beat my personal previous 42.5km record by a mere 1.5km. :) I learnt a lot throughout this process, about myself, cycling, training, goals...so much more.

But the main thing I learnt was about accomplishment. It’s not about ‘beating’ others. It’s about trying to achieve your own personal goals and mini goals. It’s about learning. It’s about allowing yourself to be flexible with your own goals. It’s about overcoming plaguing self doubts and learning to believe in yourself. It’s about allowing yourself to be proud of your achievements, no matter how small. It’s about trying. It’s about courage. It’s about the process as much as the end goal. And it’s about dusting yourself off when you fall, and to keep on going.

As Maya Angelou quoted: “Courage allows the successful woman to fail- and learn powerful lessons- from the failure- so that in the end, she didn't fail at all.”

My personal rewritten Goal #25 for 2010: “Show up and do as much as I can”, was done. :)

5 comments:

  1. Well done! what an amazing achievement! I am impressed! Can't wait to hear about your week 8 milestone!

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  2. OMG an amazing story to start my day with! Thank you so much for sharing. I am sitting here eating my Special K crying and then laughing out loud and I share your story...... congratulations to you for finishing in the TOP 7000 - there were an awful lot more that didn't even start! Celebrate your success!

    Lisa

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  3. Your story made me cry! What an amazing achievement, you have every right to be proud of yourself - and to enjoy your story! Well done on fulfilling no.23, 24 & 25!

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  4. Oh Tears xx Congratulations. I think you are a star:)

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