Saturday, July 30, 2011

“What is strong?”
Chicagoland Inline Marathon

If you spent any time at all this year watching the Tour de France you’ll be as tried as I am of this advertising slogan. Over the three weeks of Tour de France telecasts the avid viewer will see the same six commercials hundreds of times. This ad for sportswear being one of them. How sorry I was this month at the Chicagoland Inline Marathon to discover this commercial would be my last mental resort to crossing the finishing line. Let’s start at the beginning.

The week before the race I took a tumble in a pace line. To my good fortune I was a bit hung over so sliding on the asphalt at 20 mph didn’t really hurt. Though the bike that than ran over me after I went down didn’t help. OK, so I seemed fine, the shower afterwards didn’t hurt too much so out I was the next day for team interval training. I did notice my muscles were a bit stiff where the tire marks ran up my back however. On the third interval I was determined to get a good jump so as not to get crowded out of the sprinting. On my second stride after the gun a disk slips out of place in my back and I’m at a stand still trying to quiet it down. I’m able to keep it lose for a half hour of very easy skating to keep the muscles from locking up, but due to the road rash from the day before I’m not able to take a HOT shower.

Well the week goes by and the back doesn’t get any worse and I’m walking upright, albeit gingery. So the morning of the race I’m less then thrilled to be driving to Hoffman Estates in the driving rain. (Oh did I mention the spectacular lightening as well.) Cale lends me four Storm Surge wheels to help with the slippage and off we go. At the gun I combine worry about my back and slipping to get off to one of my worst starts yet, and that turns out to be a high point in my race. Knowing the turns of our course I was able to get into a good pack once onto the frontage road. But when the move came that split the pack my hesitancy kept me from bridging the gap immediately. Suddenly feeling all alone (I failed to look behind me) I took it upon myself to catch up. Catching up I stand up and feel a hand on my back and knew I’d made an amateur’s mistake.

Let it just be said that from that point on pack after pack dropped me, until it got down to individuals dropping me. I have no explanation for it except that something just wasn’t there. As motivation I went into visualizing the Tour. I saw myself as Cadel Evans time trailing. “I can do this, I can do this, I can do...” until I realized I was time trialing more like Andy Schleck and that I wasn’t going to measure up. Really it came to me in a flash, “OMG! I’m not Cadel, I’m Andy.” That took what wind there was out of my sails. Soon after this I’m at the point where I stop to tighten my skates, I change my stride every 20 seconds, I talk to all the course marshals as I crawl by, anything to get through the agony. Then it hits me, “What is strong?” and as the ad says, “Maybe strong is what’s left after you’ve used up all of your weak.” Well I’d used up about all of everything else, why not all of my weak? That somehow kept me going.

I never seriously contemplated giving up, but I sure as hell wanted to be finished. My finishing sprint was only in my mind and I’m not sure I even coasted as far as the chip removal buckets. All in all, if I had been only five or seven minutes slower than my normal time I would have been mad at myself for not trying harder. But this, what was this? A result so different from anything else that I just chalk it up to experience. Experience, and as the answer to that classic advertising slogan, “What is strong?”

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