Thursday, May 19, 2011

Is it ever right to quit?

In the summer of 2004, I decided I was going to do something I had always wanted to do – and that was biking. I had reached an age when it was time either to put up or shut up – if I didn’t do it now, I thought, I’ll never do it.

So I went to the local bike shop and told the young salesman what I was looking for – a basic bike. I wasn’t interested in racing or mountain biking, but more biking around suburban St. Louis and some of the converted trails-from-railroad-beds that proliferate around the region. He put me through the paces, asking a bunch of questions, measuring my height and leg length, and talking about some of the areas that he knew were good for beginning bikers. He ended up selling me what was then called a hybrid and now is called a leisure bike (I like “hybrid” better), and had me test it out in front of the shop to make sure it was a good fit. It was.

I got my new bike home, got my helmet on, and took off for my first official ride on my new bike.

I made it four blocks. I got off the bike and laid down in someone’s yard. I thought I was going to die. I didn’t know my neighborhood was constructed on mountains. It was hard – and my leg muscles were simply not prepared for even that short ride. I got back on the bike and coasted (downhill) home. I almost gave it up right there.

But I kept at it. Four blocks became a mile, one mile became three, three became five. I rode all over the suburban streets in our community, then branched out into neighboring communities. I found that I could ride to an official trail, Grant’s Trail, without too much trouble – it started four miles from my house and ran for an additional eight miles. One Saturday I rode it four times, and rode enough around the parking lot at one end to reach a 50-miles total. A half-century, I thought. Then I rode to the Arch from my house, and then one Saturday rode part the Arch up the Mississippi River to the Chain of Rocks Bridge.

That was a 57-mile roundtrip over varied roads and trails. I knew I was ready for my first century – the 100-mile Flat-As-A-Pancake Ride in southern Illinois. Except it should have been called almost-but-not exactly-Flat-As-A-Pancake.

These century rides go on regardless of the weather. This particular ride started in a cold, light rain, the aftermath of a thunderstorm. I was thankful for the rain-repellant bike jacket I had brought along, although it didn’t do much for my helmet or my biking shoes. About 15 miles into the ride, the sun emerged and the day turned sunny, but stayed cool – almost perfect biking weather.

A good portion of the ride went in an easterly direction – and I was surprised to find that the wind could blow from the east. As the miles piled on, I noticed even more experienced riders struggling with the wind, which I found encouraging.

There were rest stops set up every 25 miles. At the second one, we were warned about water in the road some two miles ahead. As I reached the area with the reported water, I saw that if there had been water it was now all gone. Two miles later, I discovered that the water report should have been “four miles ahead.”

The water on the road was six inches deep – at the highest point, which was the yellow-line median. It was deeper on the sides. A few of us riding together stopped to scout the situation. We could see some bikers plowing through the water ahead of us. But we couldn’t see where the water might end.

Do you know what happens when a group of guys looks at something like this? Does reason prevail? Or do they see this as a challenge, a test, something you’ve got to get through?

The deep water on the road lasted for more than half a mile.

Once out of the water, the road became a series of sharp little curvy descents and sharp little curvy ascents. I’d been riding for about five hours, some 60 miles into the ride. I knew lunch was only 10 miles ahead.

By the time I reached the Lions Club where the lunch (as much pasta and other carbs as you wanted to eat) was served, I was tired, sweaty, chilled, my shoes and sock still drenched from the water. The wind had continued as well. I had ridden just over 70 miles, and there would be 30 head of me.

I was exhausted. I ate my lunch with the other bikers. There was little talking at the tables. We were all exhausted. I had to make a choice: continue on for another couple of hours to finish the century, or pay heed to what my body was telling me and quit.

I decided to listen to my body. I rode another two miles to my car, and went home.

Looking back, I made the right choice. I had ridden a total of 72 miles, the longest I had ever ridden at one time. And that was enough for a then 54-year-old amateur cyclist who had been biking for 18 months.

To see more posts about “quitting,” please visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista.


Bill (cycleguy) said...

I remember my first century Glynn. I had been riding for several years, all on flat Terre Haute, IN land. I had done a week long tour the year before but that 50-60 miles/day. All flat. This ride was called TOSRV and it left Columbus, OH and went to Portsmouth, OH. 105 miles one way and then the next day was the return. Friday, riding with a friend, I crossed 500 miles for the year. Beautiful sunny day. Saturday dawned and it was raining cats and dogs. Yep, we left it in. I was miserable. To make matters worse, my clip on my pedals came loose and i had trouble unclipping. When I fixed it, I tightened it wrong so by the time I finished the day, my left knee hurt. Bad. I made it that day. Cold, wet, miserable and hurting. I made 25 miles on Sunday when my knee and my bonk-depleted body said, "Enough." It is humiliating to quit but sometimes the smartest thing to do. I quit that day but I am still riding...15 years later. Thanks for the ride through memory lane.

David Rupert said...

Well, since Bill the Cycle Guy already weighed in .... I'll try anyway.

I laughed at the part where you rode four blocks and then just laid down in someone's yard.

I have quit at trying in relationships. I have a friend who would not let me reenter his life, no mattter what I did. So I finally quit. I have a brother too. Altho I wasn't the prodigal, I was the Prodigals brother

Michael said...

72 miles is crazy. I can only imagine how grueling that must've been.

H. Gillham said...

I'm proud of you. Period.

I love to ride, but I don't do it very often. I have a million reasons why.

Good for you for going as long as you did -- but "quitter" doesn't compute with me.

Lisa notes... said...

Super impressed. If I could get all the cars out of the way, I'd love to bike more myself. ;-) So I guess I've quit before I've even started since that is not going to happen.

I decided at 47 that I was going to run again, now or never. So for about 6 months I did, until finally my body was screaming at me every day, "Enough already!" I had to quit.

It was very disappointing to me because I wanted to do it but sometimes we do have to listen to our body's limitations. I didn't want to make my life miserable every day just so I could consider myself a runner again.

Thanks for the post, Glynn. Always insightful.

Megan Willome said...

Glynn, I'm proud of you for riding, and I'm proud of you for quitting when you needed to.

My longest so far is 50, and it was so hot at that race that I was in heat exhaustion. Not good. I should have stopped, but I was too $%*& stubborn.

Signed, Lovin' My Hybrid Trek

Louise Gallagher said...

Wow Glynn -- first you take on the ride, and second, you have the wisdom to listen to your body.

now that's courage and grit!

I think it's one of the hardest things I've had to learn -- I have nothing to prove by proving I can 'take it' when my body is screaming, stop!

I'm listening more and more to my body -- and now it's telling me, get back on your bike and get riding!

Thanks for the inspiration.

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

I love how you laid down your bike in the neighbors yard. That's me! My husband is more serious. He's doing a ride this weekend and wants me to stay with him overnight Saturday. The other day he said, "You know I haven't really trained for this." I gulped. We're getting a second bike rack for my car this week. I'll be ready if he needs me :) Men!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post--here's what you taught me: it's OK to want to quit. Sometimes you have to kick yourself and keep going, sometimes quitting is sensible and smart. But it's always your choice and your growth decision. Thanks for that. And for that wonderful view of a 4-block ride that made you lie down!

JimmyNick said...

I'd say you didn't quit -- you took a big step toward finishing your first century. It wasn't your last chance. Next time you'll know what you're getting into, so you'll have a realistic goal. Most folks have no clue what they're taking on when they attempt a century, and they do it completely unprepared. You now know it takes physical training and mental preparation. Absent that, you're not "quitting." You're being a realist.

Maureen said...

You didn't quit; you made a choice right for you. Talk about Iron Man!

While in Key West last week, I had occasion to meet the second place relay team that won a 100-mile running event (to raise money for prostate cancer research) that concluded in KW in 90+-degree heat. They were still smiling, wearing medals, and chowing down heartily. They all ran minute-miles to reach second place, so imagine how fast the first place team was. The next morning, other teams were still trailing in. All the participants deserved kudos.

I admire anyone who can discipline a body to bike as you do or run as those relay teams did, and know when to make the right decision to stop.

Patricia said...

I'm in trouble if you call that quitting! Quitting would have been stopping at the 1/2 mile 'puddle, or never getting on the bike in the first place. I liked your phrase "surprised to fun!" Maybe you intended "find," but it sure sounds like you had fun with that wind blowing in your hair!

Anonymous said...

you have come a long way from four blocks.

as the song goes...
ya gotta know when to hold 'em... and know when to fold 'em...

Anonymous said...

Good for you! :o)

S. Etole said...

I was thinking of the same song Nance mentioned as I read ...

good job!!!

Michael Dodaro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Dodaro said...

This is one of those questions that brings out all the contradictory aphorisms:
Winners never quit, and quitters never win. But, discretion is the better part of valor.
Live to fight another day. But, the captain always goes down with the ship.
He who hesitates is lost. But look before you leap.
The only reasonable conclusion is:
The pedaling will continue until morale improves. (And if you misspell a word, quit or delete the comment.)

dosh said...

The line "I thought I was going to die" after you rode four blocks made me laugh hard and i'm proud of you for riding 72miles and even more so because you don't regret going home.
I haven't ridden a mile in my life by the way, bless you

Courtney said...

Oh my goodness - yes. 72 miles is fantastic. Especially because you knew yourself. Powerful lesson, and a great story.

A Simple Country Girl said...

At least you didn't crash and fall into the yard. A purposeful rest is always good. ;-)


Anne Lang Bundy said...

It's not the body telling me to quit. It's this raging battle between head and heart. So far, the Lord has echoed the heart, so I'll keep going.

But I do appreciate you affirming there's a time to appreciate a milestone and take a needed rest.

Jeri@GodsDreamsForMe said...

That was some riding you did there. Woohoo!!! So awesome that you listened to your body. What touched me most is that your conviction was sure and you stood on it. I love that!

Bonnie Gray said...

Glynn! I am so impressed -- and encouraged. Maybe in the future, I have a chance at starting biking -- after the boys are older? :) So awesome you won conquered not quitting after 4 miles, to gain your 72 (crazy!). I can't even imagine. Thanks for sharing both reflections on not quitting and quitting. LOVED having both in one shot of brew, Glynn.

Virginia said...

Great story Glynn! You should try. RAGBRAI in Iowa. It is the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. I hear it's a real blast for cycling enthusiasts!