This post has nothing to do with “Dr. Strangelove” other than the title. I wanted to write about the best things I learned from mountain biking this semester.
It was hella scary from the get-go. I somehow emerged unscathed from my first ride. But on my second, a group ride in our beloved Cameron Park, I took a spill and my chainring greedily took a bite out of my ankle. With some ample steri-strips I was back in action, but from then on mountain biking presented its own special challenge: fear.
On the outside, it seems foolish, piloting a two-wheeled machine up and down rocky, rooty, twisting trails. But I wanted to like it. My heel was really hurting from plantar fasciitis, and this was the only fun times I could see on the trails. So I embraced the challenge. After the nasty ankle cut, it was time to show mountain biking who was boss. I realized, short of a spinal injury or death, which was highly unlikely, the worst that could happen would be a broken collarbone. And then what? Your body heals. It’s not cool to be out, to be injured, but it made me realize you can get injured and still be ok. In running, we are so deathly afraid of injuries because of the toll they take on our performance and training. But I didn’t want to be afraid of the bike.
See, there’s a funny thing about mountain biking, and it ties back to the physics of a rolling wheel. The faster you go, the easier it is to stay upright! The faster you go, the more you can roll over barriers or rocks that would knock you over if you were going too slow. It’s a brutal way to learn the sport, but it’s the only way. You can draw a lot of amazing life conclusions from this too, like learning not to be overly cautious and going for what you want – fantastic article on that here.
My successive rides went alright. Each one was still scary, particularly pitching down the swoopy Vortex or jagged Baseball trail at Cameron Park, but I got to do more races and emerged after each one feeling a bit more adventurous. Although still massively stressed during most rides, I started to enjoy a few portions that made it worth it. The race my team hosted at Cameron Park was awesome. I won my category, because every time we climbed a hill (meaning, hike-a-bike, meaning, walking the bikes) I was able to run up the hill with my bike and pass people. Suck it, non-runners. Winning that race endeared me enough to the sport to scout out my own bike on Craigslist and drop another couple hundred on pedals and shoes.
At my team’s last race, the conference champs at Solavaca Ranch in Glen Rose, I was having a blast. I was scooting over rocky sections and navigating my way through a windy section with names like “Flintstones” and “Spaghetti Bowl.” There were these awesome parts of the course that cut through a field with some zig zagging paths. You could see the guys in front of you and behind you, which hadn’t happened to me in a race before. My bike was my buddy, and together, we would conquer Cat C.
But about two miles from the finish I ate it going up a hill. Not a bad fall, just couldn’t make it up the incline and didn’t get unclipped fast enough. Unfortunately there was a metal sign next to the course, indicating a split in the path, and I caught it with my arm on the way down. It slashed open and it was like a terrible biology dissection, a cross-section of an arm you never wanted to see… particularly on yourself. Fortunately I was wearing calf sleeves (in an attempt to avoid the perpetual shin scrapes from biking. Ha) and I was able to wrap one around my wrist to keep its innards from spilling out on the trail. I sat on the side of the trail and squeezed out a few tears and hyperventilating breaths until I realized the fastest way to get help was to ride the freaking bike the rest of the race.
If you want to see a picture of the cut … click here
It turned out fine. My teammate drove me to the small-town ER in Glen Rose, I got stitches, and made it back to the race site before awards. I hadn’t finished the race, since I’d cut off a loop to get out sooner, but we’d won the mountain bike season championship for D2 schools. The stitches were a pain, but at least I have this:
In a semester where a lot of stuff wasn’t going my way – lingering plantar fasciitis turned stress fracture! Grad school is harder than undergrad! – it was fun to have something that wasn’t so high stakes. Something a little reckless. Something to do with new friends. Something challenging yet manageable. Something I felt like fighting for.
Maybe it was dumb; I wouldn’t have these scars if I hadn’t tried this sport. But I was tired of waiting for my life to reassemble itself while my foot healed. I didn’t want fear to be the reason I stopped biking, and I think that attitude is going to help me be a better runner. Why not take hold of the opportunity right in front of you, and make the best of what you got?
Self congratulatory speech aside / truth confessed… I have not mountain biked since that day in November. And it is still about opportunity the in front of me. I have another year of eligibility for track season, which starts next Saturday. I won’t be racing because my heel is still broken or whatever, but I do believe it’s on the mend. My coaches and trainers haven’t given up on me, and have emotionally and financially invested in me to rep Baylor on the track in 2013. I don’t want do anything that will jeopardize my chances of coming back and racing. In the fall, I figured any injuries sustained in mountain biking could be fixed by now. But now that the season is here, I think I can restrain myself from hitting the trails for a few more months. Instead, I’ll be riding on the roads (dangerous also I suppose but not because I suck at it, unlike mountain biking) and hopefully making a glorious return to running.
It’s going to be a great year for Baylor Track and Field, whether I’m competing or not. The team is talented (as always!) and ready to put in the work. This week we celebrated Coach Hart’s 50th year coaching at Baylor, a tremendous accomplishment and display of commitment to our team. In fact, all of our coaches are former Baylor tracksters, which impresses on me how much they value the program and us. I guess it’s taken me until my last year to realize how special this is, and I want to be a part of it as much as I can.
Maybe I can even get up to running so much that I’ll be too tired to ride a bike. That’ll be the day.