Thursday, August 11, 2011

CTR 2011: Embracing the Pain

It all started sometime in the middle of last semester when I decided to check out the Human Performance Lab at Mesa State. I figured it would be smart of me to take advantage of the free student services offered at the lab. Most interesting to me was the VO2 max test. It is just like me to decide to do this during the time of year that I am most out of shape. Why not? Maybe I'm some sort of anomaly and I should figure that out sooner than later, right? What I did discover from this humiliating experience is that I am not only not an anomaly but that I must not be doing interval training. Really? This is what I came here to figure out? Does this guy think I don't know that already? From the beginning the experience stunk. I could tell that as soon as my test was clearly not revealing signs that the Olympic recruiting committee would be showing up at my door the next day, this dude was completely uninterested in me and my questions.

I promptly took off after school the following day to do intervals. I'll show him! He'll see what I can really do come next semester after a summer of high altitude and riding and training. Who does he think he is? Two days later I came down with an upper respiratory infection. I guess I showed him.

The thing is, most of my life I have believed that I am slow and not a very gifted athlete. Maybe it stems from a childhood of mean soccer girls telling me to speed up or making fun of me behind my back about how I need to run faster. Maybe it was all those Wednesday night cross country races I used to do in Summit County where no matter how much I rode I could never win. Maybe it's the fact that when I hit a hill I cringe as I hear the crowd of people starting to pile up behind me, desperately waiting to pass. I shamefully move to one side and watch as my competitors, weighing 30-50 pounds less than me, pass by as if I'm standing in place.

Sometime in February I said I was going to do the CTR again, however it wasn't until June that I committed my heart to it. I'm not going to even do the CTR so it doesn't matter. Matt stopped what he was doing and the room became completely still. I don't know if I said it to get a reaction out of him or if I truly meant it. Regardless I wanted something to change, I was looking for some answers.
What do you mean? This is your race, this is what you do, I thought you were all about it?
I'm just tired of being slow and getting my butt kicked, I just don't want to get my butt kicked again. This conversation goes on for several minutes but it comes down to a few simple but profound revelations. Matt leads me to discover that bike racing should be fun and bike-packing is a special thing that I should not lose sight of. He gently tells me that on paper it is probably difficult for me not to get beat but it doesn't matter. He tells me he respects me for the decisions I make and the life I lead and that if I want to focus on winning I need to make more sacrifices. I tell him that I don't want to give certain things up and he reiterates his respect for me but tells me I have to be happy with what I get for what I do.

Something shifted for me after that conversation. It wasn't that I didn't think I trained hard enough or wasn't fast enough or good enough or compared myself to anyone else. It was that I accepted myself for who I was and what I did and I stopped taking it so seriously. I'm training for this really hard race and that is enough. I knew that last year was tough for me, mainly mentally. I did not want to repeat the mental anguish and abuse I put myself through. I wanted to have a race that was my race and I wanted to feel good. I wasn't going to do the CTR if my mind was not ready.

When I lined up on August 1st just outside of Denver for the start of the CTR with 70 or so other racers, my mind and spirit were ready. I had my ride worked out in my head and my goals were simple: finish under 6 days, ride your ride and don't worry about anyone else, feel good, be happy, embrace the pain. Knowing that all I had to do was follow my own little plan left me feeling confident. I read somewhere recently that if you trust you have no reason to worry but if you worry you do not trust. I trained my mind to trust, to stay confident and positive. I also learned an instrumental approach about dealing with pain.

A few months ago I was hanging out with Lynda, Jeny , and Lenore (Mike Curiak's lady), when Lenore said something that changed my life. She told Lynda that she was one of the only people she knew that did not emotionalize her pain. This statement rung in my head for the many weeks to come. What does this mean? How do you or don't you emotionalize pain? I thought this over a lot. I found myself practicing what would be come an incredibly beneficial skill and asset for the CTR. Anytime I felt a twinge of pain over the course of the weeks leading up to the CTR I would catch myself "emotionalizing". I would start to let the pain form my emotions and if I could catch myself I could stop myself. Stop Cat, don't emotionalize, just sit with it and don't let it go further than that.

Anytime during the CTR this year that I started to feel pain, discomfort, tiredness, loneliness, frustration, or even elation I would be cautious not to attach myself to any of these feelings. Maybe it sounds weird but it worked for me.

Day One: I arrived in Bailey and tried to break into the gas station. I did not notice the big yellow sign on the door that read "Temporarily Closed", but quickly saw the doors were bolted shut and the strange stares coming from the faces of the people standing on the other side. The rain poured down on many of us on the dirt road detour before 285, the sun shortly dried it up. I was happy to find myself at the bottom of the Middle Fork hours earlier compared to the prior two years. Aaron, James L., Jeff Rank, Jefe were among the few of us there. When I arrived to the beginning of the West Ridge climb in Breckenridge, there to my surprise was Stefan guiding me to go around and do the detour. I detoured to the Dredge and picked up the rest of the trail there. I bivied at the start of the 10-Mile range but got little to no sleep, evidently a popular trail in the wee morning hours.

Day Two: I was ascending the thorn in my side by 3:30 am, the last two years have proven this segment to be one of the hardest for me. I was happy to have a descent free of falling on the other side and was in Copper by 7:00 am along with many other CTR racers including Zach Guy, Garrett, Jordan and Chris Miller. It was great seeing everyone and I hadn't seen Zach since last year's CTR and barely recognized him. What a fun reunion! I climbed Searle Pass back and forth with Zach, I eventually made it to Leadville riding the last part with Jordan. I stopped and had the worst nachos of my life fully loaded with Velveeta cheese, packaged chicken, and fake everything else. I was irritated that I essentially threw away $8. My goal was to make it to BV by night or early the next morning. It rained on me most of the way to BV and my drive train took a beating (I began to miss my singlespeed). I arrived in BV just after 11 pm, went straight to 7-11 and heated up some microwave-only chicken nuggets, I ate like 15. I wandered aimlessly trying to figure out where to sleep in BV. I unfortunately had to wait until morning when the post office opened to pick up my drop box. This was not good planning on my part and cost a lot of hours. I sort of slept from about 1 am until 5 am in the dugout of the baseball field. I meant to ride back out of town and sleep on the county road but my drive train was not functioning, I had chain suck like I've never seen.

Day Three: Anxious to leave the dugout, I arose and hung out around the bathroom until about 6 am. As I pushed my bike through the streets I see another bike outside of a bakery, it's Chris Miller. We chat a while and he comes out and looks at my bike, he pushes the pedal and magically, no more chain suck! For some reason that did not work for me. We go shopping at City Market together and then Bongo Billy's for coffee, good coffee, as the bakery coffee was terrible and I do not stand for such a thing. Inside City Market at the check-out line Chris decided to "dry out" as he puts it. A mixture of water, dirt and possibly pine needles begins to pour off of him but looks like out of him. It is falling right in between his legs and he is straddling this rather large puddle on the floor. He just stares at it and asks "Is that me?" I laughed so hard I cried which served as great entertainment for the rest of the day. I left BV by 8:30 am after the Post Office. I did not see any other racers today and made it to Marshall Pass around 11 pm. I tried finding a cabin I had heard about as it was threatening to rain but was unsuccessful. I than began searching for a bivy spot under some large pine trees however every square inch was covered in cow crap. I started up the next segment and hunkered down in some trees. I got rained on and wet and cold and woke up shivering.

Day Four: I left "camp" after shoving my wet bag and bivy away around 3:00 am. This was one of the hardest days and I think that Sargent's Mesa is the stupidest thing you can do on a bike. I was tired because I barely slept and when I started to fall asleep I would hear voices and growling animals and I did not know what was real or an auditory hallucination. These next 2 segments worked me over so hard that I promised myself a nap when I got to the beginning of Segment 18. Trail Angel Apple was there and I crawled under the tent and slept to the sound of the rain for the next 2 hours. When I awoke John Ross had just arrived. I asked if he liked that last segment and tried to get him to complain about how horrible it was.
I rather enjoyed it actually! Reminds me of back home.
He says in his happy British accent. Figures he liked it, I had a feeling he would. He than asked if I was wondering why he lives where he does. I was actually wondering how it was possible for anyone to enjoy that section but good for him. We ended up riding together to our bivy spot that night. It was great to have some company, that section is always tough for me and makes me feel super lonely. It was so incredibly clear out and the coloring was spectacular. It did get chilly quick. We got to a camp spot as John Fulton was leaving. I tried sleeping for 2 hours, than pushed on through the night.

Day Five: Riding at 2:45 am, ascending makes it harder to fall asleep but when I hit the descent before the final ascent to Spring Creek Pass I'm falling asleep. It's torture, I remember this same thing happened last year. I have to pull off the road and lean on a pile of rocks so that I can close my eyes, I only need 5 minutes. I am immediately in a dream state but somewhere between awake and asleep. I hear voices, see things. Boom! I'm awake and back on my bike. This segment to Carson Saddle is great, I feel springy and energetic and fast. I see several bikers hiking their bikes in front of me but I can't tell who they are. At Carson's Saddle before the next segment I meet up with Shawn Gregory and he tells me the Carney brothers are in front of us. I get through the next segment one way or another. It never fails that I fall for every false summit. How many times do I have to do this to finally learn the trail? I tell myself to imagine the number of climbs as infinite and then that way when I finally finish I'll be surprised. That didn't work so well. When I got into Silverton, and immediately pulled into the grocery store but at the last minute notice there is a car trying to pull out and my mind's reaction time is a little off at this point so I'm not quite sure what happened except that I went down. Trying to dismount my bike and walk has proven more difficult than riding at this point. The Carney brothers are just watching as they eat their food, maybe in awe, maybe too tired to respond but they see that the driver thinks she has hit me. She rolls down her window,
Did I do that?
Nope, I did that all on my own, that's just how tired I am. The Carneys take off and I stay for a LONG time. I eat, I drink, I organize, I wash my shorts, I buy some more food, I'm tanked. I am having a hard time motivating and even though I thought when I got to this point I'd be so excited to be so close to the finish, I still have 75 miles of some of the hardest terrain to cover, and that feels overwhelming. I finally left Silverton at around 8:30 pm, having arrived somewhere between 6 or 6:30. When I arrived at the top of Molas Pass and decided to bivy a little ways off the trail before I carry on. I have this feeling I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around. First off I knew that Eszter was not that far in front of me and I could narrow the gap if I kept pushing; catching her was a stretch but it would be super cool to be within a few hours of someone like her. I didn't have it in me though, it was weird. I just didn't want to ride that technical section of single track in the dark without some horizontal time. I thought I could do better if I took a few hours off the bike, ate, rested and than started the home stretch "fresh". So that's what I did and when I left at 3 am I still lacked motivation; it wasn't until the sun came up that I gained my fire. I was flowing with the earth, I was one with my bike, my body was tired of course but riding seemed oddly effortless. I was clearing technical rocky sections without problems. I was totally surprising myself. I was dancing to the music blaring in my ear. Before I knew it I was descending the other side of Black Hawk and stopped at my last water source for a while. I observe that I've had very little water and did not seem thirsty. Weird? Why haven't I been thirsty since day one? The water treatment drops I brought are foul is why. They make my mouth taste disgusting and I couldn't stand the taste anymore. I made a decision. The water seemed so nice and clean and I hated to ruin it with those drops so I filled my camel back with fresh mountain stream water and accepted that giardia may be likely; I cared not at that point.

My last afternoon and evening on the bike was something I don't get too often. I was so careful to keep calories and fluids going so that I didn't fall apart at the very end like last year. As I finally reached Indian Trail Ridge my brain was flooded with helpful mantras, inspirational quotes, Zach Guy's perseverance through this section last year with a half functional bike, embracing the pain, what was waiting for me at the finish, and finally my beautiful, supportive, nurturing, ever present EARTH. As the pain pierced the bottoms of my feet from hours after relentless hours of pushing my bike, I made a conscious effort to feel the pain, observe it, and let it go. I can do this. It really works. Did I think pain was not going to be an issue? Of course it was, it always is. If I choose to look at it for what it is and not "emotionalize" it, I'm golden. So I gave my feet and other parts of my body the few seconds of recognition they deserved for their hard work and I moved on. As I slowly but surely made my way to the final summit I received a friendly reminder of why I was there. I stopped, turned around, and gasped at the sight of her. I opened my arms and hugged my mother. I love you universe! You are so beautiful! I shouted out. That was for you Jeny I said. If you've ever ridden with her, you know what I mean. I put my hand to my chest and had one of my last and few "white moments". I thought of how lucky I was to be there and felt sad for those who never get the chance. I felt sad for those who don't love our universe the way she deserves to be loved. Mainly I felt lucky. I was honored. She deserves my reverence.

The final segment was amazing. I road strong and triumphed the hills. If I wasn't riding them I was running them. I was determined to finish before dark. As I meandered through the very tall grass nearing dusk I thought of an article I read in a mountain bike magazine recently about how you should avoid riding at dawn and dusk, the times that mountain lions hunt, and how their habitat is tall grass. It would really suck if I got attacked at this point. I thought. I would be really pissed off if I came this far only to have it ruined. I made some appropriate noises to ward off any predators and kept pushing. If it's going to happen it's going to happen and hopefully it's quick. After I reached the high point before the final descent, I ate and drank something, peaches to be exact. I knew this descent takes energy and I didn't want to bonk. Not far into the descent I am met by a huge, big butted, brown, stupid.....COW! Because these animals lack any sort of intelligence whatsoever, the thing jumped in front of me and decided to run down the middle of the trail as fast as it could (which by the way is not very fast) because I have just become it's herder. I can't believe this. You've got to be kidding me. OUT OF THE WAY YOU STUPID, STUPID ANIMAL! I yell and yell and wonder if anyone can hear this crazy lady screaming in the woods. Of course this is happening, now, so close to the finish, this stupid cow, slowing me down. Why is there a stupid cow on a mountain bike trail? I continue to yell. After what seems like forever I began to laugh at myself and the situation and hear "give up control, gain power". There's nothing I can do about it so I might as well submit. Finally the thing moves over far enough for me to get around which scares the crap out of it and this big ass animal darts up a steep hill on the side of the trail. Finally, you got some sense in you! The next animal to jump out in front of me is a much smarter species, the black bear. It darts up the trail, stops, turns around and stares at me. I obviously keep going and glance occasionally over my shoulder but there is no threat.

These last miles go on forever and the light at dusk makes it hard to see. I reluctantly stop and pull a fresh battery from my bag, strap in on my bike and continue. After I cross the bridge I know I am home free. I'm feeling great, happy, tired, but happy. I am greeted by a crowd of people, well maybe 8 people, but that's a lot for a CTR finish. Usually it's just Matt and Ringo. It was a blissful ending to a blissful ride. Jeff from Rico was there and his wife, Shawn Gregory's wife and girl were there, Joe's girlfriend, John Ross' friend and of course my boys, Matt and Ringo.

It's amazing how far your mind will take your body until it knows it's done. Five minutes after I finished the CTR my mind knew it and I could no longer function. Simple choices became seemingly difficult. Choosing to wear shorts or pants, sit or stand, eat or drink, were decisions that confused me. I can't believe I was able to keep it together right up until the end with maybe only an hour to two hours of sleep a day for 5 days. I had never done that before. The mind really is a powerful thing.

I added a lot here and still left a lot out. I like sharing and telling my experience to those interested in hearing about it. Your body goes through a lot out there and you somehow forget this a few days after you're done. There were moments where food was just unbearable because the taste in my mouth was as if I had gargled with gasoline and rubbed it with sand paper. The pain in my ass became so bad that at times it felt like it had been scrubbed with sand paper as well. There were moments when my own stench made my stomach turn and I wondered what other people smelled as they went by me. Sometimes the only thing I wanted was an ice cube just to soothe the burning all over my mouth and lips. The visual hallucinations remained pretty consistent but you get used to them. I know there's more but sometimes I forget, forget what the pain is like, until I do it again. So, why do I come back? Why do I do it in the first place? I guess because I can. We have these incredible bodies and minds capable of so much more than we do. I want to know what my maximum potential is and I know I'll probably only get a glimpse. There is an inner gut feeling that drives me, I call it my fire. As long as I'm alive I'll strive to keep it lit.

Thank you to all my friends who supported me all summer long. Thank you Holly for your endless encouragement and friendship, Katie F. for the skins and your interest and support, Katharine, my soul bike sister and for a place to stay and acclimate, Sarah, Miriel, and Leigh for always routing for me, Lynda and Dave for your coaching plan and Camp Lynda that started my year with motivation and determination. Thanks Eszter for being an inspiration as a rider and friend, thank you my wonderful sisters Mary and Teresa for being always so mentally supportive, thank you Cynthia for all that you are and give to me. Thank you Stefan for the dream. Thank you Voodoo for the bike and Mike Curiak for building awesome wheels. Thank you Ergon for grips that don't make my hands go numb. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving me my tenacity. Thank you Bennett for loading my MP3 player with some of my favorite artists: Led Zepplin, Bob Marley, and The Grateful Dead....they were the best pain relief I could ask for! To my best friends Julie and Stacy, Julie for telling me to embrace the pain and Stacy for your heart, spirit and sisterhood. And finally to Matt, my love, my friend, my bike mechanic. Thank you for spending endless time, money and energy spent getting my bike dialed to ensure I would have a successful ride. Your support means more to me than words can tell. I'm sorry if I'm forgetting anyone, you know who you are and I love you all.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic job!

Dave Harris said...

I've really been looking forward to this one. Every time I read of your adventures I come away with something new.

You were SO fast from the gun, it was amazing to watch, a whole new Cat. You made Ez earn it.

5 days and change!!! Perfect, inspirational ride Cat. Thanks for sharing so much of it.

Siren Mary said...

"I can't believe I was able to keep it together right up until the end with maybe only an hour to two hours of sleep a day for 5 days. I had never done that before. The mind really is a powerful thing. "

I love it Cat! Great job and nice write-up!

JimL said...

Awesome writeup Cat, congrats on an great ride!

Eszter said...

It didn't save my earlier comment! Dumb blogger, you're worse than the cow!

Anyhow, what I meant to say was that this was beautiful, just like you!

Lynda Wallenfels said...

Huge congrats on delivering such a great race. You did it! 5 days. Awesome.

Love your blog post.

ScottM said...

Wow, Cat, this was a really good read, and you put in such an amazing ride. Lots of nice stuff here, but this part was my favorite:

"We have these incredible bodies and minds capable of so much more than we do. I want to know what my maximum potential is and I know I'll probably only get a glimpse."

Awesome. I really like your attitude and it has been great to see you get faster and faster, and better and better. Many thanks for the CTR stoke.

aaron w said...

Cat, awesome read and huge congrats. I was hoping to catch up to you day 2 but no luck. There were a number of times where I thought of you and knew that no matter what you would not stop. And I figured Cat doesn't stop, and neither do I. I've watched you ride through a fever and through torrential rain storms and at least from my perspective nothing seems to phase you. When I've seen you on the ctr or vapor trail I have always thought watch her, and learn. Thanks for the lessons! Cheers, Aaron

Lynda Wallenfels said...

There’s a quote in Lawrence of Arabia (cool movie) about pain tolerance: ”The secret is not to mind.”

Shaggy said...

Well done Cat. Great to ride with you for a while. I havn't got round to even sorting pictures yet but I'll let you know!

John Ross

KB said...

Way to go! You probably don't remember but my husband (running), my two dogs, and me (on a mtb bike) saw you near Section Point just before Blackhawk Pass. We just returned today from our long trip during which I rode many sections of the CT. What an inspiration you are! It was so cool to see you pushing your limits in that last stretch into Durango. Congrats on a great race!

I agree about Sargent's Mesa. I'm glad to hear that it wasn't "all in my head".

You probably already have a zillion of them but I have a photo of you pedaling up Section Point. If you'd like a copy, email me at kynabear5 at gmail dot com.

Carney said...

WOW!!!! First off, congratulations for lighting the course on fire this year!! Secondly, thank you for sharing your experience!! You killed it out there!!

I too saw that bear just before the finish, he was a curious one for sure but I had my eyes firmly set on food at the finish so I hardly even pulled my brakes.

Cat said...

Thanks to everyone for reading and for your comments! I hope you all know how meaningful your words are to me. You keep me going and inspire me!

Jeff Hemperley said...

Cat, so very inspirational! I'm glad to have seen you at the finish to see the elation in your face. I love the write up. I will be out there next year to conquer this beast.

Becky said...

Cat! I just read your blog and I am so excited for Monday! Reading this should make me dread Monday, but it doesn't. It inspires the adventure!