Sunday, April 9, 2017

Following my own journey: Tony Serrano ride recap

Okay, so mark this one in the column of "posts that sort of scare me to post" on account of feeling a bit vulnerable within it. But hey, it's wrapped up in recap of a long bike ride, so it's all good, right?

Yesterday was the Tony Serrano bike ride in Monroe, Georgia. It is one of the many organized group bike rides throughout the year nearby to Atlanta that many people I know in the cycling and triathlon world take part it. I have done two other organized rides in my training over the past year - one last year at the Georgia 400 Hospitality ride and one earlier this year at Tour de Pike (when it rained all day before the Publix Half Marathon!)

These group rides are fun and a nice mix up of the normal training ride but also a little bit of a challenge because unlike the normal group bike rides I have been doing, you don't necessarily stay together as a group. Although there are a ton more people out there in general and lots of support, people are all doing different distances and don't all stay together. The route is marked on the road and with cue sheets, but you can also usually just follow whoever is in front of you (unless it is raining like at Tour de Pike and nobody comes out!)  and there are rest stops every 15-20 miles where they generally provide snacks, water, and Gatorade. They are interesting from a training perspective because you don't usually stop so much for cookies during a triathlon (if there is a race out there where you do, please someone let me know!) but it makes it less intimidating to tackle a new or long And they're just fun!

The Tony Serrano ride had options of 10, 39, 60, or 100 mile routes and I had heard so many wonderful things about this bike ride from my friends before Saturday. It was said to have really scenic and beautiful routes, paved smooth roads, not a lot of car traffic, and most importantly - the most amazing snacks and food at the rest stops! I have been hearing about the cookies, brownies, peanut butter balls, and sandwiches for weeks and was really looking forward to the ride to experience all the hype for myself.  I heard people saying on Saturday that Tony Serrano ride is the one bike ride where you will finish having gained weight due to all the good food along the course! After some debate (which I'll get to in a minute), I planned to do the 60 mile route and if I was feeling good, add some miles on to the end of it.

I decided to meet with a few other people from ITL to caravan together to the ride. I knew that I didn't necessarily need to do that and could opt to go right there - but I made the decision the night before to make the ride as positive as possible and to fit in as much time with the group. So joining the caravan was an extra way to add more time to see friends, even if it was at 6:30 a.m. in the parking lot of a gas station!

I was glad I chose to caravan because it meant that I was parked close to the group as we all arrived at the same time, were able to check in and get bikes ready together. At 8:00 a.m. a small group of riders who were planning to do the century ride went out, and not long after at 8:30 a.m. the rest of us took off. I had heard rumors that the start of the race could get really crowded and I was a little nervous for that, and I was also uneasy because I hadn't been able to connect with a number of people that I was planning to see that day at the race. There were a lot of people there and it's hard to tell who everyone is while we're covered up in bike gear and with helmets on. It was a chilly at the start and most of us were bundled up pretty well.

While I wasn't able to locate the person I thought I would be riding with for the day, while we were waiting to start, I made plans to stick with one of the other ITL athletes, Kevin. I was a little nervous because I think he is a bit faster than me (although he is kind and said the same about me) but I know that he is super supportive and encouraging so I was all for it. Any time I have a friend to do a workout with makes for a better day!

The beginning of the ride was a bit chilly and we spent a little time just getting into a groove and with the pack of people riding thinning out a bit. It turned out to be an awesomely beautiful day once the sun warmed things up a bit, fingers began to thaw and jackets came off. The sun was shining all day and a perfect day to ride.

In addition to the gorgeous weather and route, there were so many other ITL athletes, Atlanta Triathlon Club friends, and cyclists/triathletes that I know out on the course that every rest stop felt like a party. And oh man, nobody was exaggerating at all when they talked about how good the snacks were! At the first rest area at Mile 20 I ate cookies, a brownie, and a whole bunch of their "peanut butter balls" and wanted to go back for more of the yogurt, granola, bananas, banana breads, cakes, candy, etc. that they had. It really was a spread like no other! Throughout the day we made our way around the course, stopping at the various rest stops along the way - sometimes sticking around to socialize a bit and sometimes just using the bathroom and then moving on.

I felt strong throughout the whole day and was really happy to have a good day riding where I felt comfortable, strong and in control on the bike. I worked on trying to use my gears more while going up the hills and using my little ring of gears on my bike. I had just been told that I needed to do this more by my friend Brad at the Atlanta Cycling group ride and I had also been told that by my coach that I need to use my gears more previously. When we started riding, Kevin told me that his goal for the day was to work on improved cadence, so I figured I would hop on the bandwagon and use the extra focus of trying to use my gears more. I think it helped and I felt strong until the finish, but then again one of the ITL coaches had said before the race that the first 50 miles of the route are a net down hill - so perhaps that helped me to feel good as well!

It seems silly but I kept reminding myself also just to have fun. Ever since I got into triathlon, I have sometimes had a hard time being the silly/goofy/light hearted person that I am when I am out on my bike. I think it is the intimidation that I still feel at times since I don't feel comfortable that I know what I am doing, or the fact that it is just hard for me, but I get nervous and anxious and don't end up being myself. I consider when I am "being myself" to be light hearted, laughing, smiling, happy, and not taking myself too seriously. So throughout the day I just kept reminding myself to be myself. Tell stories! Ask questions! Make jokes! Laugh! Smile! Don't take everything so seriously! I have never been one to have social anxiety AT ALL but put me around cyclists and it's a totally different story for me so I really tried to work on that yesterday at the Tony Serrano ride.

I went into the ride on Saturday a little more on edge than usual as lately I have been feeling a lot of frustration around not feeling like I am where I want to be in training. I have had a hard time identifying any progress being made on the bike. I haven't been able to run as much because my hip is hurting me. I haven't hit any new milestones lately in terms of distance or pace on the bike, etc. After my really big high of a weekend in March, I've felt a little bit let down getting back into the routine-ness of training. Nerves have started to pick up because my race is coming closer into the picture now that it is April and we are a month away.

A couple weeks before this past weekend's ride, I'd had the idea planted in my head that maybe I would try to do the century option for the ride. I knew that a number of people would be doing it and it kept coming up in conversation with people asking me if I was planning on it or asking me why I wasn't doing it. Which was a little hard for me.

I am naturally a "Yes!" person. I like to say yes to things. My friends know this and often love this about me because they can count on me for things... whether it's a partner in crime to do something silly, a vacation buddy, someone to run an extra mile with, or just tag along doing errands they don't feel like doing alone. I am usually always game! Saying "Yes" has led to some amazing things in my life.

Me saying yes even when I have been unsure if I was ready to take on the challenge has led me to so many life-changing things. It is how I agreed to run my first marathon. How I agreed to go to Half Ironman World Championships in Australia. How I agreed to attempt a sub-4 marathon. And so many more examples - both athletically and personally - that have come from me saying yes. So when people started talking about the century ride... I very much wanted to say yes! I like taking on hard things. I like challenges. I like trying new stuff. And because I had been lacking a milestone on the bike lately, I thought it would be good to tackle a new distance.

When I brought this up to my coach, he suggested I hold off on a century until later in training. For perfectly smart and logical reasons. Reasons that come from being an experienced, trained athlete and coach, who is looking out for MY best interests and MY goals I lay out when we first started working together. We talked about the ride and my feelings around it and although I knew that I would ultimately listen to what he was recommending - I still felt uneasy saying "No" to something. Plus, I can be stubborn and independent and have been used to making my own decisions for many years. Sometimes someone telling me not to do something makes me want to do it more, and yeah, even when I ask for advice, sometimes I get frustrated when the answer isn't what I want to hear (even when I know it is the right answer.)

"Saying no" is something that I actually wrote about on this blog at about this time last year. This isn't the first time I have dealt with it. It's something I have talked about with my friends before and how I need to be better at it. About how sometimes it is more courageous to say no than to say yes. And Brickney has told me when I say no to things, to focus on the things I am saying "Yes" to when I do turn something down. Unfortunately for me, I totally forgot about all of this stuff until today when I sat down to write this. And now I am wondering why I didn't just reread my own words about a week ago? **Insert shaking head and/or palm face emoji**

This blog is often sobering for me because I have rosy-colored hindsight. I forget that I have gone through things in the past. Some people may have partners, friends, training buddies, coaches, etc. who act as mirrors for them and reflect back their former pains, thoughts, or words. And for me, my blog has always very much been that and it's a reason that I still keep it alive even though I don't write in it as often or as thoughtfully as I have at times in the past. But it is always great for me to reread how I was nervous before a big race and what I did to calm myself down, what went well in training, when I had similar pains or injuries, and how I prepared for events. I write for others who may be going through the same thing, but also for myself so I can reflect back when my memory doesn't.

Ultimately, I know (and always knew) I made the right choice in following the guidance of my coach. I know that I wasn't being rationale and didn't react well to saying "no." I knew all of this in the moment too, but had a hard time stopping myself from reacting, which goes to show that I need to continue to work on mindfulness and meditation.

Another friend helped pinpoint it for me as well, reminding me that sometimes, I'm so focused on the destination of where I want to be, I forget to enjoy the journey. I think that has been very true in some of my training lately. I have never been very good at being patient, nor have I been very good at being/feeling left out of things and right now in my training, I am surrounded by people who I strive to be like - but I am just not there yet. Even just writing that is hard for me. I don't like admitting "I am not there yet" because sport and triathlon is my way of feeling strong. But I am getting so caught up in wanting to be somewhere I am not, I am forgetting to enjoy all of the steps along my own path and all the fun things that are a part of the journey to get stronger.

I feel that same way sometimes as many of my friends are going through bigger life changes like getting married and having kids and I'm not there yet. While that situation is a little tougher to solution (i.e. I am not going to be going and getting knocked up any time soon just to keep up with my friends) I think I felt I could make that quick jump in triathlon thinking, "Let me just jump into where I want to be! Let's do the harder stuff!"

So on Saturday, I did the 60 miles route with Kevin the whole time and I had so much fun. I added another loop of 10 miles with another ITL athlete Kimberly and finished it off with 5 solo miles on my own to end the day at 75 - a number I felt really, really good about. I focused the day on having fun and on being myself. I focused on enjoying the sunshine, the scenery, the overall ride and my goal that I had on hand. The day was so gorgeous and there were so many friends out riding that we'd run into, that it was hard not to have fun. I made sure to take everything in including the perfectly blue sky and bright green trees, the what seemed like perfectly smooth roads, the good conversation, and the fact that I had an awesome riding buddy in Kevin who I think we were very simpatico in riding together, pushing each other the right amount at different points. It doesn't happen so often that I have a person to run or ride with that we set out to do a workout together and stick together, so I really enjoyed that companionship and support.

I finished my 75 miles feeling strong and ended the day with a 2 mile run off the bike with Kimberly. It was a fantastic day all around that I felt so happy all around - with the sole exception of the fact that my hip started hurting at the very end of my 2 mile run, after a full day of not feeling any pain.

I stuck around for a while afterwards - partly because I was tired and didn't feel like getting in my car and driving home. And partly to see others finish and celebrate them as them came in. And partly because I was just having fun and enjoying being outside and with friends.

The weekend was a little bit of a wakeup call for me to remember to stay focused on my myself and to take things less seriously and remember to have fun. Moving forward, my goal is to focus on enjoying every. single. step. of MY process and MY journey. On Saturday I biked my longest distance I ever have at 75 miles. That is SUPER far and a LOT of miles! I felt good and I felt strong throughout all of it and I am happy that I was able to celebrate this distance milestone for me. Whenever I do get to 100 - well that's another day and another new distance to celebrate. Why rush to do that now? More things to celebrate = better.

I mentioned before, that sometimes I feel like I have not fully been myself around the cycling and triathlon community. I want to keep working on getting there. On being sillier. Being less serious. I want the Katelyn that was dancing in the streets with India and Ayanna cheering on the Publix Marathoners to be the Katelyn that shows up to triathlon events. I love being supportive of other people and I have called myself a "professional fan" for my friends as I will cheer for them in whatever it may be that they are doing. I love to be able to celebrate and see others accomplish new things and love being there to cheer them on. The more comfortable I am, the more that side of me comes out and it makes me happy. I want to keep my focus on my own path but also continue to support and celebrate everyone as they take steps forward in THEIR journeys, whatever they may be. I loved this weekend for all the big milestones people reached... both all the people at the Tony Serrano ride taking on centuries, and my other friends who are at earlier stages and looking to take on more intimidating next steps in cycling (clip in shoes!!)

It was an awesome weekend for biking and the Tony Serrano ride lived up to the hype. I'm really proud of myself and thankful for my coach, friends to train with, and friends who remind me to not take life so seriously (... and sometimes this can all be the same person!)

Side note: The Tony Serrano century ride is put together by the friends and family of Tony Serrano, a cyclist who was hit from behind and killed by a car in 2014 while training for an Ironman. The mission of the ride is to promote safety and awareness for cyclists.  All of the amazing food is made by the family and the proceeds from the race go towards different causes related to bicycle safety. This year, money from the race went towards new "Share the Road" road signs to go out throughout the community promoting the GA law that cars need to leave 3-feet between cyclists. It is an amazing community effort to put on this ride and continue to drive safety for cyclists, in memory of a father, husband, son, friend, and brother who tragically lost his life too soon.  You can learn more about the Tony Serrano ride and the mission here:

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