56 Miles of Hell

56 miles - I really wanted to smile for this but I didn't have the energy

Home from 56 miles – I really wanted to smile for this but I didn’t have the energy

I started this a couple weeks ago, but got distracted by my trip to Europe and never finished it (look for the epic International Selfie Sunday update this week!)

Last week I did my first half century – a 50 mile ride on my bike. While it was  no walk in the park it wasn’t horrible so when I saw a 56 mile ride (the full distance that I will be riding on my IM 70.3) on my schedule for the following Saturday  I wasn’t too worried. And maybe I should have been.

I woke up feeling really tired.  I got myself covered in sunscreen and anti-chafe goo, dressed, fed and to the bike path, but I definitely wasn’t feeling great.

When I started my ride at 5:45am I thought “I wish I wasn’t getting such a late start.”  Then I immediately thought “My life is different now in many ways.”  Before this if I was up at 5:45am you could be assured that it was because I was still up from the night before.

I got going and was immediately alarmed at how tired and sore my legs felt. At 2 miles in my legs were already feeling tired and that was really concerning, at 10 miles in I was averaging about .5mph slower than I expected to be, and feeling really fatigued – feeling how I had felt at about 40 miles the week before. In that moment I simply couldn’t imagine cycling for another 46 miles.

I should mention at this point that I have been told by a number of people to always, always inflate my tires before I ride. I’d never made the mistake of not doing it so I was just going on faith that it was helpful in some way. Well, yesterday I forgot to fully inflate my tires and I learned exactly why it’s important.  It’s noticeably more difficult to move a bike with tires that are less than fully inflated.  Suffice it to say that I am now a very enthusiastic supporter of the practice!

So I was 10 miles into a 56 mile ride and I really, really, really wanted to quit – and wasn’t even sure that quitting would be voluntary since I couldn’t imagine my legs lasting another 46 miles. I knew at this point that if it was possible to finish this ride, it was going to be about mental toughness.

I also didn’t feel like my “find a way, get it done, gut it out” self talk was working – 46 miles just seemed too far.  So I tried another tactic. In my head I divide my rides into sections.  For this ride it was 4 sections of 12 miles and then an 8 mile section.  I told myself “You can absolutely quit. You can quit now, you can quit 5 minutes from now.  Why don’t you just push 2 more miles than you can decide if you want to quit after the first section?”

I made it to 12 miles, and told myself “12 miles isn’t that far, why don’t you go 12 more miles and then decide if you want to quit.”  The truth was that 12 miles seemed pretty far in that moment.  There was also something going wrong with my stomach. I can now easily eat while riding on the bike (which is an achievement considering that a couple months ago unzipping my bento box and extracting food seemed like a complete impossibility!) but my stomach was being really weird – it would feel ravenously hungry (like, literal hunger pangs) but every time I ate something I would feel nauseated. Sigh.

That’s when a group of three dudes passed me – even though the bike path is two very wide lanes and there wasn’t anyone near us, they passed single file and super close, almost touching me as they went by (and though I heard them coming they chose to forgo yelling out “on your left” or “passing” which most of us do.) No problem, one of the reasons that I choose this path – even though it’s a shorter loop instead of an out and back – is because it’s really crowded and helps me practice my bike handling.  I held my line and yelled “Have a good ride!”  The guy passing me said “Whatever”

This was super weird, typically all of the cyclists are really affable, we all yell “good morning” or “have a great ride” or whatever to each other.  I was having a difficult enough time without worrying about what these guys’ major malfunction was, so I just kept peddling.

I was at about 18 miles and everything was hurting, which is not normal. My stomach hurt, my wrists hurt, my elbows hurt, my knees hurt, my right lower back hurt, my hands and feet and calves were cramping.  I kept telling myself – “Just get to 24 miles and then you can quit.”  I got to 24 miles, and I felt like I was dying.  I was holding my speed but I was still about .5mph slower than I wanted to go and I felt like I was just out of steam.  So I choked down a gel, took a few swigs of water from my water bottle and told myself “28 miles is half way, just do four more miles and then you can quit.”

I got to 28 miles and having made it half way proved to be a nice psychological boost so I told myself “just try to finish out this 12 mile section, there’s no shame if you can’t make it, you’ve already gone way farther than you thought you could.” At this point every mile was just hard, my legs were exhausted and the only good news was that a lot of the parts that had been hurting were now numb.

I came up to the three dudes who had passed me earlier, they were now off the path just hanging out. About a half mile later they caught up with me passed me super tight then cut in front of me and stopped across the entire bike path so that I couldn’t swerve around. If I wasn’t worried about hurting Phyxius I would have rammed into them, instead I slammed on my brakes, jumped off the bike and walked around them as they giggled and one of them said “oh sorry, we didn’t see you there.”  I just said “Keep it classy guys” and got back on my bike. They started to ride behind me.

At 33 miles they pulled alongside me.

Dude:  “How far are are you going”
Me:  “I’m 33 into 56”
Dude: “Minutes?”
Me: (rolling my eyes) “Miles”
Dude:  “No way, prove it!”
Me: (Knowing that they knew damn well that I was out here for more than 30 minutes because they had first passed me 21 miles ago) “I’m actually fine with you thinking I’m a liar, that’s no problem at all.”
Dude: “Aw don’t be mad, we’re just kidding we know you’ve been out here a while.”
Me: “Whatever, have a good ride.”

I rode away, I don’t know what they did but I wouldn’t see them again. Fueled by my ragefire I made it to 36 miles. At almost exactly 36 miles I was passing a little beach stand where they sell drinks and food and rent bikes and kayaks, and have chairs under umbrellas where you can sit in the shade.  It was everything I could do to ride by without pulling in and sitting down.  At this point I told myself, “You only have 20 miles left, 20 miles isn’t that far.”  For some reason I believed myself and kept peddling.

A couple miles later two guys came up along side me and one of them asked “How far are you going?” Bracing myself I said “I’m at 38 out of 56” and he said “Yeah, I was telling my brother over there that you have been out here working!” I said “Thanks, how far are you going?”  He said “not as far as you!” Then he asked “Are you training for something?”  I said “I have a Half IRONMAN next month (I know it’s not a Half IM, it’s  an IM 70.3 but I was too tired to care).  He said, without hesitation “You’ll do it. You’ll do it.”  I actually teared up a little bit, and said “Thanks so much, have a great ride” He said “You too.” and I rode away.  It was a lovely interaction that restored my faith in cycling humanity.

For the last couple of loops I had been passing a woman learning to rollerskate.  She was off the bike path in the parking lot, she had on every pad that exists – elbow, knee, wrist, and a helmet and she was making very slow difficult progress. I felt like I knew exactly how she felt since just a few months ago I couldn’t stop my bike without falling down.  Each time I passed she would look up at me and we would smile at each other.

I was approaching her again (and my car which was parked in the lot where she was practicing.) I was exhausted and I was slowing down, it had been getting steadily hotter, though a cloud cover was helping keep the sun off me a little. The last couple miles had been .7mph slower than I wanted to be, I felt like I had long ago stopped having anything in the tank, I just felt done.  As I contemplated just pulling into the parking lot and being done – finally – she yelled “You are kicking ass!” Bouyed by her words I yelled “Thanks” as I told myself “It’s just 10 miles, 1o miles is nothing” and peddled past the parking lot entrance.

As I came to the last half mile I saw my rollerskating friend, now on the bike path and skating for real.  I yelled “You’re kicking ass!” and she smiled and yelled “Thanks, that really helps!”

I pulled into the parking lot and looked at my mileage – 55.95 miles. Sunofa… Luckily the parking lot wasn’t busy and so I took a couple of loops around until it said 56.  I got off my bike completely triumphant, if I had the energy I would have whooped and pumped my fist in the air. As it was, I wasn’t sure I could lift my bike up onto the rack. I almost couldn’t believe that I had finished, but there I was.

So many days of this training are just another 2, 3, 5 hours of the daily grind – try to go farther, try to go faster, try to deal with the horrible boredom, try to deal with the fact that you spend hours and hours a day doing things you don’t like and aren’t good at. Today was not one of those days, today was a day of pain, exhaustion, and actual triumph.

Before I finish this post, I want to make a few things clear.  First of all, this was not about my health, nobody needs to ride a bike 56 miles for their health, certainly not while exhausted with an upset stomach.  Also, I’m not recommending that anyone else do this, nor am I suggesting that it makes me better than someone who makes different choices about activity – it definitely doesn’t, participating in athletics does not make anyone better or worse that people who don’t participate in athletics.  This is only about me and my goals, one of which was to get out of my comfort zone and see how hard I could push myself. Last week I did 50 miles on the bike and it was hard but I didn’t feel pushed even close to the limit.  This week I did 56 miles and felt pushed far past it. Achievement unlocked. Personal victory won. Bring on the next workout.

The Fat Activism Conference Is Back!  

This is a virtual conference so you can listen to the talks by phone and/or computer wherever you are. Whether you are looking for support in your personal life with family, friends, healthcare providers etc. or you’re interested in being more public with your activism with blogging, petitions, protest, projects, online activism, or something else, this conference will give you tools and perspectives to support you  and your work, and to help you make that work intentionally intersectional and inclusive, so that nobody gets left behind.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff!

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About danceswithfat

Hi, I’m Ragen Chastain. Speaker, Writer, Dancer, Choreographer, Marathoner, Soon to be IRONMAN, Activist, Fat Person.
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18 Responses to 56 Miles of Hell

  1. I am SO glad to read this and I’m SO pumped for you. Congratulations on so many levels for overcoming, and overcoming, and overcoming yet again. It’s hilarious to me how similar our self-talk is 🙂

    I did a ride this past weekend that ended up being 48.88 miles and I didn’t know I could go that far. I say the same things to myself that you wrote about here: that I can quit if I want/need to, but just try to go X more minutes/miles/km/blocks, whatever. It always seems to work. I can also attest to the fully inflated tire issue – my cousin helped me out this past weekend by inflating my back tire more than I would normally fill it, and the ride was so much smoother.

    I am so glad you came upon some beacons of restored faith-in-humanity and I know you will keep pleasantly surprising yourself with all your victories and accomplishments. Go you!!!

    Now tell me, how can I make the first 500m of swimming not feel like hell? 🙂


  2. Bethany says:

    Such an inspiring read! Thank you for taking the time to write this post.


  3. Moniqa Aylin says:

    Wow. I don’t know what else to say. It’s pretty awesome that you now know that feel and how much you can push.


  4. G says:

    Mental game level up 🙂


  5. lsstrout says:

    You are so BADASS!


  6. rabbiadar says:

    Awesome!!! Also a real testament to the way we can affect the people around us. I am sure you are an encouragement to many others as you stick with each day’s plan.


  7. Kathie says:

    Ragen I so connect with you on this. In my marathon training, I’d sometimes have a great 16 mile week and look at the next week and say “18? No problem.” But for whatever reason, that 18 was the most difficult thing ever and it took all of my mental and physical strength to grind it out — at every milestone I contemplated quitting, and used much the same marker-to-marker strategy that worked for you. Then, the next week, 20 miles would feel like a breeze, but the week after that, whatever my distance was would feel like torture. There are so many complicated variables at play! But the real win, I think, (for endurance training anyway) is to continue to be kind but firm with myself — I have goals and the way to meet them is by doing the work. Like you, I wouldn’t advocate this for everyone, and ultimately we need to listen to our bodies and respect them, but what we discover in the process is that we are often capable of far more than we give ourselves credit for, but we don’t learn that when everything comes easily. The hard won gains are the most constructive.


  8. Manda says:

    Fantasic 🙂


  9. karenashg says:

    Congratulations!!! Rides like that are SO hard–but make every ride after a little easier as you learn that you have more strength and ability than you had given yourself credit for.

    One of my favorite things is to compare how far I’ve gone vs how far I have left to go, especially once I hit the half-way point. The best thing about this is that the difference between those two numbers increases twice as fast as then distance you’ve traveled–for instance, if I’ve gone 10 out of 20 miles, I have 10 left to go. I bike just 1 mile further, and I’ve gone 11 miles, 2 more than the 9 I have left to go. Etc. For some reason, that always buoys my spirit and makes me feel like I’m accomplishing a lot 🙂


  10. hnbrown says:

    You’re my heroine!


  11. Carla says:

    Of the many, many things I loved about this post, I will comment on one. Your self talk is a model of compassion. You didn’t beat yourself up. You acknowledged your pain and in the moment, each minute after, made a personal choice to stay through the pain, numbness, and exhaustion.


  12. Karen Williams says:

    Well done Ragen! You broke throught the mental wall. You’ve got this. I can’t wait to track you on race day via the IM website.


  13. Dee says:

    Awesome post! Way to kick ass!


  14. Stacy says:

    I want to say something: You’re my hero.

    A lot of people say that to people and they don’t actually mean it. But you, Ragen, are my hero. And this I really mean. I really look up to you and am awed by your commitment to yourself, your goals, and your ideals. You really inspire me on so many levels. THANK YOU!


  15. Rebecca B says:

    Great ride! I know how hard that distance is.


  16. Alison R says:

    I’m bookmarking this for my next endurance activity. If there was a textbook on how to get yourself through a hard exercise session your method would be it. It’s awesome you (eventually) had so many people cheering you on too!


  17. Rebecca says:

    You’re a great writer, Ragen. Aside from your general amazing-ness as an athlete – I was riveted by your story and really gripped to see what was going to happen in the end!


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