For over a month, I’ve tried to find the right words to describe this year’s Pan-Mass Challenge experience. I had assumed I’d write it as a travelogue, but it’s not working for me. It feels too mechanical, and I’m not sure anyone, including me, cares about a mile-by-mile breakdown of the ride. I’d rather write about the reality of the ride, how it felt and the insights I brought home with me.
The first thing that pops into my mind when someone asks me about my PMC ride is, It was HARD. Physically and mentally, this year’s ride really taxed me. The route was essentially the same, but I really struggled at times. I had a lot of time in the saddle to figure out why, and I think there were several reasons for it.
First, although I knew what to expect, I got lazy about training. I logged a fair sum of miles–only 50 less than last year’s training circuit–but I did it in a lot fewer rides. Instead of starting slowly and ramping up the mileage, I hit it hard and fast. I found out the hard way that it’s not the miles that count as much as the muscle stamina. Thank goodness for Aleve.
Second, somehow knowing what to expect on the ride itself made it more daunting to me. On my rookie ride, I had no idea what would come up next, and making it to each water stop felt like notching my belt–one more conquest on the road to success. Not so, this year. From the starting line, I knew I was looking at 190 miles of rolling hills, a couple of steep climbs, funky winds, and shimmering pavement. Sure, the scenery was gorgeous, but the reality of the ride often clouded the picture. Each water stop became an oasis more than a stepping stone.
That brings me to the real reason I think the ride felt so much more difficult this year: my mental state. I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for the challenge, and I lost perspective along the way. I hit a mental wall before I hit a physical wall. Last year right before the ride, I got to know a few people who seemed to be similarly paced. We intersected several times during the ride, and riding together–even when just for a few miles–gave me a mental boost. This year, I rode every mile alone in the crowd. I now understand better just how much physical achievement depends on the mental.
Lest you think I had a bad experience, I want to set the record straight. I crossed the finish line in Provincetown spent but proud. I committed to the ride, I raised the money, and I FINISHED. Along the way, I heard and saw some incredible stories of people who have fought and are still fighting cancer. Many are winning the fight, but many others haven’t and won’t.
In November, the PMC will present a check to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for $34 million–from funds raised by this single event. I think about the 15-year-old boy who has welcomed riders to one of the water stops since he was 3, holding a sign that says “I am [x] years old because of you. Thanks!” He was treated at Dana-Farber and is one of the winners. Standing in his place this year was only a sign with his picture–because he rode the PMC himself. I’m tearing up even now. My journey was no real feat; all I did was ride a bike for two days.
I smiled a lot on this trip, too. PMC weekend also means spending time with Sally who, in just a couple of short years and over a 900-mile gap, has become one of my best friends. I feel as if I’ve known her and her husband Mark–who wryly introduces the two of us as his wife and his girlfriend–since the beginning of time. We laugh so much together that just thinking of them makes my heart happy. (Besides that, being “forced” to visit Al’s Tiki Bar for a fresh lobster roll can’t be all bad.) And after all, isn’t this ride ultimately about paving the way for everyone to have more moments like these?
As I look back at this year’s PMC experience, I wonder whether I’ll do it again next year. As I crossed the finish line, I honestly wasn’t sure, but six weeks and a blog post later, chances are pretty good.
Thanks, everyone, for your support and encouragement. They kept me pedaling more than you know.