In the time its taken me to mentally recover from PMBAR, Rich Dillen has already blogged about it twice…maybe three times. People actually read his, though, and he’s definitely funnier than I am. Also better at bikes. Also better at consuming beer. And better than me at everything, really. But he took time out of his ‘better than me’ evening to unwrap my burrito at the finish line, because I couldn’t stop crying long enough to do it myself.
So I guess he’s also a better person than me. Meh.
I was running the Asheville Foam Party the night I agreed to do PMBAR. At the time, I had ridden in Pisgah about as many times as I had been on a date in the last decade, but I’m good at bad decisions. I woke up on Monday regretting my agreement to mentally mutilate myself in the woods, so I did what any rational person would do. I drank mimosas pretty much all day. I mean, ‘cross nats consisted of 6 days in party host mode, so why not make it 7? I am an adult.
The months leading up to Eric Wever’s psychotic event were spent in the woods. I haven’t ridden on the road, other than commuting, since November. Do I regret that? No. Do I hate road riding now? Nah. Will I ever ride up to Mount Mitchell or climb 215 or agree to tag along on one of Tay Little’s hundred milers? Probably. I’m a loose cannon, so anything is possible. And I like pain, so I will most likely agree to do any or all of those before the end of the summer. But man, I tasted that yummy purple drank of Pisgah, and now I’m hooked like Lil Wayne. I wanna sip on that sizzurp for as long as I can.
I bought knee pads. People made fun of me. I saw those same people post pictures of exposed leg muscle and knee holes, so I felt good about my knee pad decision. I’ve super glued mine a couple times in the last year, and I like wearing skirts, so I thought it was time to protect my assets. They make me ride faster (dumber), and now I feel naked (scared) without them. Failure to commit on those trails will end you. If you stick it, you win. If you botch it, you lose. I have shot off the side of a mountain more times than I care to remember in the last month. Did you know it’s hard to get yourself out of a tree when you’re upside down, still attached to your bike, and your hydration pack is wrapped around the branches? I didn’t know I could fly.
The other part of my survival equation was focusing my attention on all the strange and sometimes debilitating imbalances in my body. Cyclists are known for being in shape and super strong. I had both of these things going for me, but I was pretty weak in certain areas. Core strength? Forget about it. Upper body strength? Not since high school volleyball and basketball. The last 4 years of riding forward on a bicycle had caused my neglected body parts to fall apart or stop working all together. The back pain I experienced on long rides was enough to make me not want to go on long rides. And let’s not forget about that leg thing I had dry needled during the entire Summer of 2015. Which reminds me, I need to get those needles back into my legs soon.
Nick Bragg tried to get me into this place called MADabolic for months. At the time, I was elbow deep in my first semester of grad school, training for cyclocross season, and experiencing general life stuff that made me want to hide in my bathroom until it went away. I had a membership to the YMCA, and the only time I would use it was to attend the high intensity interval classes. Traditional workouts have never appealed to me, and I always found myself going home after just 30 minutes of weight training. Besides, I was a bike racer. WE ARE STRONG! WE ARE FIT! But we are also broken. I use “we” loosely, because I know some of you ACTUALLY work other parts of your body. I didn’t, so I got hurt a lot.
I finally caved and got my ass out of bed at 5am to drink coffee and hit the 6am MADabolic class. Nick got his wish, and I got more than I bargained for.
As an athlete, I spent my entire life with this little chip on my shoulder, because I thought I was fit and invincible. I had always struggled with my weight, and couldn’t figure out for the life of me why I had a belly in spite of my fitness level. I thought bikes were enough, and they almost are, but not quite. My first MADabolic class was a real eye opener. I wasn’t actually in the shape I thought I was, so I decided to sign up for another class. And another one. And another one.
And then one day it happened. I DID A REAL PUSH UP.
For those that might not understand the importance of that last sentence, I’ve never been able to do a legit, good form push up. Even when I was playing volleyball, I couldn’t do more than one or two, and they resembled a break dancing sequence more than push ups. It took a couple weeks of gut busting morning classes and buckets of sweat, but I started feeling the changes in my body and on the bike. The weekend Pisgah death rides never got easier, but the extra upper body strength and core definitely improved my hike-a-bike endurance. I finally understood the science behind the MADabolic workouts, and saw first hand how it complimented my lifestyle. Being able to ride for 5 hours without back pain is pretty awesome. Being able to balance in a rock garden because I had actual core muscles is awesome. Being able to descend a 7 mile downhill without stopping from arm pump is awesome. MADabolic changed how I viewed myself as a bike racer and an athlete. Focus on your WHOLE SELF.
You will not get fit by sitting on your ass and wishing you were fit. You have to put in work. That also means putting in work off the bike. I get it now.
What does that have to do with PMBAR? Well, a lot actually. Let’s start with Bradley Creek. How many water crossings did we have? 20?? It was slippery and swift, and I’ve never been one to balance my way into success. My upper body was stronger, though, so carrying my bike wasn’t a huge deal anymore. My core and lower back were in much better shape, so I didn’t wiggle around like a snake. Let’s face it. Bradley Creek just plain sucks, but I think it would have been more miserable without the off-the-bike training.
Seriously. I really hate Bradley Creek. No wonder you guys never ride it.
How many times did I have to get off and push my bike during PMBAR? I don’t know. I lost count after hour 9 when I began hallucinating and losing control of my legs. I remember pushing up Laurel earlier in the year and literally falling apart because my arms couldn’t take the heat. While pushing still sucks and makes me want to poke my eyes out, it was much more manageable with legitimate arm and shoulder muscles. All those thrusters, burpees, and kettle bells had a purpose. All those mornings I came home shelled from MADabolic seemed to be paying off. I didn’t look like one of those wacky inflatable things you see on the highway in strange places.
Climbing hurts. There is a lot of it in Pisgah. I’ve always been sort of okay at it, but ran into problems because the only thing I had going for me was QUADS. You can’t survive in Pisgah if all you have are quads. Quadsworth is the ONLY person I know who does this. I don’t think he’s human, though. And he has a mustache. NEVER TRUST ANYONE WITH A MUSTACHE. My point is, after I started developing other parts of my imbalanced, neglected body, climbing became easier and allowed me to try new lines. Instead of feeling back pain at hour 2, I could sometimes get to hour 5 or 6. But at PMBAR? Hour 13 provided me with pain EVERYWHERE. Even my fingernails hurt.
I remember changing my socks after the Bradley Creek out-and-back, and thinking “What have I done?!”. That might have been the first real low moment for me at PMBAR. The realization that we had two more checkpoints to go…the realization I had to ride Squirrel…the realization that I might not make it. All those things were filling my heart with flutters and my head with bad thoughts. I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to get back to the parking lot in under 14 hours. I was sad.
Squirrel wasn’t actually that bad. I think I’m finally getting more confident on the exposed off-camber. I mean, I sort of ENJOYED it this time. Of course, as soon as we hit the Horse Cove climb, I screamed on the inside. I knew my roommate was working a checkpoint, and I desperately needed him to be working THIS ONE. I needed to see happy faces and maybe find someone with a beer. When I heard someone yell “WOOOOOO!” at the top, I knew I was about to see my friends. It was 5pm. We had been out there for 8 hours and still had one checkpoint to go. I found a casual rider with an extra beer. I drank it, ate two cookies, and hugged everyone. I was happy(ish) and also very unaware of how much time we still had before the finish. I heard my roommate and my partner talking. I later found out that my roommate was attempting to change our route in order to keep me from crying. Or dying. Or not finishing. Whichever came first. But I think we went the correct, and more difficult way.
If you’ve ever been on your bike for that long, you know what comes next. Mood fluctuations are insane. You literally go from happy to sad in minutes. You start questioning that thing you said to that guy when you were 19. You think about what you plan on having for breakfast the next day if you make it out alive. You try to compare your current pain to pain you’ve felt in the past, whispering “You’ve felt worse than this before” to yourself, only to find you may not have actually felt worse than this before. It’s a real pain in the ass. Pain in the everything, really. But I kept moving forward. I sometimes had to get off my bike to push up stuff I would normally ride just to switch up my working muscle groups. At this point the race was all mental.
And I was seriously close to losing it.
We turned on our lights once we made it out to Clawhammer. The sun was almost gone and a strange, almost peaceful feeling came over me. I felt like Pisgah was swallowing me. I had never been out there in the dark before, so this was a special treat. The specialness wore off pretty quickly, though, as Maxwell proved to be more work than I could handle at that point. By the time we made it to Pressley Gap, I was holding back tears. The final hike-a-bike made me very angry. I could barely pick my feet up enough to move them forward. I kept tripping on rocks and roots. I started screaming, “Why am I doing this? When am I going to get to the %$&#* top!? THIS IS SO STUPID!”.
And then I heard the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. Mike standing next to his bike where the trail started to flatten out. “We’re here”. By HERE he meant the top of the descent back to Smoker’s Cove. I was going to make it.
I highly overestimated my ability to descend technical trail on 13 hour legs. I bounced from one side of the trail to the other like a ping pong ball. I kept scraping trees and catching pedals on rocks. I held the bars like someone giving a weak ass handshake. I finally had to stop and walk a section I would normally ride with no problem, just because my brain couldn’t function enough to tell my body what to do. Once we got closer to the end, I was able to relax a little, and even found myself popping off rocks and roots for fun. Everything hurt, but I was going to finish. I WAS GOING TO FINISH PMBAR.
We hit gravel and I could feel the tears. My body experienced a crazy rush of adrenaline that almost took my breath away. I could hear music and see lights in the near distance. We rounded the corner and I saw the most overwhelming sight of the day- the finish line. I immediately let the tears fly, crying like someone had punched me in the face. I got a congratulatory hug from Eric Wever and Steve Barker was snapping photos of me crying like I had won a Miss America Pageant. The clock said 13:32. I finished 28 minutes before cutoff, and we were the last team to finish in time. I cried harder. Shanna took my bike from me, gave me a huge bear hug, and asked me if I wanted a beer.
Are you shittin’ me? Of course I do.
Then I see Rich Dillen walking towards me. I expected him to make a joke or say something hilariously profound, but he just hugged me and said “That’s awesome. This is a big deal”. He got me a burrito, unwrapped it, and told me I shouldn’t eat the foil. “Don’t eat the foil. It hurts when you do that”.
PHOTO: Icon Media Asheville
I ate two burritos, a taco, and a piece of pizza. I could only drink two beers before I pulled an Irish goodbye and crawled into the back of my Element. I was still in disbelief that I finished PMBAR. Mother’s Day weekend was my 4 year anniversary of getting my first bike, and my 4 month anniversary of riding in Pisgah. I hurt in places that I never hurt before, and I slept for like 2 hours. The worst night of sleep EVER was trumped by the glory and pride I felt from finishing something that a lot of people are afraid to start. You might not think its a big deal, but PMBAR literally changed my life.
Sunday I was worthless. I don’t actually remember a lot of it, and I’m pretty sure I looked like a zombie. Sorry for anyone that had to look at me that day.
Monday was a blur.
Tuesday was better. I even hiked to the top of Looking Glass to retrieve the PRAR checkpoint from Sunday. By the way runners…I WAS THE ONLY ONE TO GET THAT CHECKPOINT, and I didn’t even do PRAR. I win. You lose.
I’m not gonna lie- I still feel shelled today. How long does it take to recover from this thing? And don’t forget, 111k and 55k are next weekend. Do I have time to train for this? Is it possible for me to feel worse than I did at PMBAR? What terrible things will come out of my mouth then? How the hell do you wake up in a good mood, knowing you have to get on your bike for a second day and ride ALL DA SINGLE TRACK?! Can I sell my entry? I should sell my entry. I’m going to retire from endurance racing.
Just kidding. I’m gonna suffer just like everyone else. It’s what we do.
So far, my goal of finishing the Queen of Pisgah Series is lining up. PMBAR was just the tip of the iceberg, though, and its a long road to Double Dare. I hope there’s enough Kleenex to dry up my tears.
Since this was like winning an Oscar, I have a few people to thank:
- Brian, my brother, for getting me on bikes and getting me off Taco Bell and Papa Johns
- That guy (who shall remain nameless), for taking me to Pisgah for the first time ever, watching me crash into a tree within the first 10 minutes, and telling me I had no business there and he’d never take me again
- Eric Wever. For being, well, Eric Wever
- All the supportive lady gnar shredders of WNC
- Mike Pierce, for being an awesome partner and big dumb ride leader
- All the people who told me to bring a fresh pair of socks
- Steph, Mark, and Jamie from MADabolic- you guys have pushed me in a new way, making me stronger in both mind and body
- All you crazy mountain bikers patient enough to take me out on REALLY long rides- I hate you, and THANK YOU
- Randy and Shawn because they alway fix my bike
- Laura- thanks for riding the last 4 hours with me. Needed that extra push
- And finally, Pisgah National Forest. Thank you for not eating me this time