By Mark Talkington
But I have to be out there. I can’t miss a ride.
No bad weather. Only bad clothes. That’s what I’m telling myself as I round the point at Lincoln Park in West Seattle on my 12-mile weekend loop, facing the most punishing weather I’ve ever subjected myself to for any period of time longer than the trip from our front door to the car at the curb. Anyone around me might have heard me laughing and shouting “Is that all you got?!?!” But there’s nobody around me. Nobody else is out on a 40-degree day in mid-November facing off against 35 mph wind gusts and pelting, sideways rain that seems to be hammering through me like so many liquid nails. Nobody else is battling to keep their legs pumping pedals while balancing 20 pounds of machinery and navigating away from wave spray that seems to be trying to chase me and toss me from the bike.
But I have to be out there. I can’t miss a ride. I can’t alter the routine. I need to get home, review the day’s data, and check my monthly and annual totals. I cannot alter the path that leads me to my goal. And that goal is simply to live longer than the “old me” should have. “Your children can’t be orphans,” the doctor said months earlier, staring me straight in the face during an exam I finally got around to scheduling. “They’re going to need a parent in their lives. If it won’t be your wife, it has to be you.”
“Yep, got it,” I replied and that’s my standard response during stressful situations. It’s my way of saying that my brain has completely understood and grasped what’s being said and I know exactly the actions I need to take. My wife had been diagnosed with slow-growing cancer that’s incurable. We didn’t know how long she had. It could be years, hopefully, decades. I had time to get my body in the best possible shape in order to be there for the day she possibly isn’t. But I needed to start right away. Because even if our teen daughters didn’t seem to need either of us now, there will come a day when they do. There will be marriage advice and mortgage advice to give. There will be cars to repair and grandchildren to babysit. I had set out to change things before. At 5’8″, 307 pounds in 2002 I made my first attempt to “do something about it.” Dieting and walking helped. But it wasn’t enough. Then came the Lap Band in 2006, and I made it from 267 pounds to 212. But it was no panacea. I crept back up to 245 pounds by the time the doctor delivered what I hope was my final wake-up call.
The plan was simple: I would become a runner and get back to tracking every single thing that went down my throat. I would start with a goal to run a 5K, following the Couch to 5K program so many others seemed to have success with. I despised the idea of running. But I was motivated, and watching a friend transform herself I became inspired.
Two weeks into the program, on a routine session around the local track, pain shot through my lower leg like somebody had stabbed me and ripped me at the same time. Even starting slowly I had managed to fuck it up with a grade 3 calf strain and that meant no running for at least a month. My goal 5K coming up only days after I would be able to attempt running again. My training plan was trashed.
Thankfully I have a strong support group. I didn’t need my calf muscles to bike, my friends said. And I needed to do some sort of training if I was going to run that race. The next weekend they cheerfully packed two cars full of bikes and gear (some of it borrowed for me) and we went to the dry side of the state to get me clipped in and out on the trails. As much as I wasn’t a runner, I wasn’t a cyclist even more. From a distance, “Those people” seemed cocky, aggressive, and oddly dressed, pushing themselves to limits I didn’t think were within my grasp. Besides, my attempts at biking before were met with numb wrists and a sore ass. But I had to get some exercise, and this was my best option.
More than 1,700 miles and 65 pounds later, I consider myself a cyclist first and a runner second. I rocked my first Seattle to Portland and routinely breeze through 60-mile weekend rides just to earn a beer or two. Nothing makes me happier than a 32-mile roundtrip commute from Seattle to Bellevue as I pass the “shiny metal boxes” going nowhere fast. I may not know the difference between a down tube and a derailleur, but I know the same peace and relief that pushing pedals brings to all those cocky, aggressive, oddly dressed people I used to mock.
I haven’t “rode in it” much since the summer. But it’s not for lack of desire. I’ve been running through it instead, and later this month I’ll attempt my first marathon. Out on my legs for hours at a time, I see dozens of cyclists on the road. I curse each one of them while I check out their bikes and their gear, and look to see if they’ve matched their bibs and jerseys. I seethe with jealousy while my bikes collect a bit of dust and my biking buddies wonder if they’ll ever see me again.
I can’t wait to cross the marathon off my list of things I need to do to live longer. Not because it’s some sort of grand accomplishment, or because I get a medal or one of those obnoxious “26.2” car stickers. I find it’s simpler than any of that. “What are you going to do after you run a marathon?,” my wife asked me the other day, expecting to hear that I might want to climb Mt. Everest or some other amazing human endeavor. “I’m going on a bike ride,” I said with a smile.
Ed. note: Mark Talkington is currently a managing editor at a big website owned by a bigger software company in Redmond, WA. Find him on Twitter @206SportsFan
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