It is midnight in my heart. The streets are dark and the shops have all closed long ago. I am alone and I can taste salt in my mouth. Salt from my own sweat. The taste of copper pennies are on my tongue. I am on the corner of two streets: Vomit or Pass Out. Neither one is an option that suits me. I am in the middle of a functional threshold test.
I want to be still. I want to stop. I see my number and it is dropping. The point is to increase the number. The point is to get a high number, but my legs are heavy. It is the sixteenth minute. The sixteenth minute is the hanging hour. It is the time when hope dies. When hope is taken out back and shot in the head. This is brutal writing, but it’s how I felt.
The functional threshold test is a twenty minute test on the trainer to see how much energy, or watts you can put out. Twenty minutes seems like nothing, but in the test, time is greedy and bloats. It seems to consume more seconds than sixty. It is the dinner guest who stays too long–the one who eats the last piece of warm bread, who stays well past dessert, requesting a glass of wine and then belches, eyes drooping. Time in the functional threshold is a slow form of torture.
So, I do the test. I get my score. It is a low score. You are not surprised. I am not surprised, but for a glittering moment, I thought that I wouldn’t have to work for it. That I just might be naturally good. In this sport, I am never naturally good, but that’s why I’m in a love affair with hard work. So, I think, “I’m going to improve that score.” I text some of my Nickel City teammates. They text back encouragement. One of them says, “Don’t put a frowning face!” (referring to me texting my score with a 😦 face) They reference that I am doing better than anyone on the couch. They say I’m trying. They say I had way too high of expectations for my initial number. They are right.
Take a speeding train to later in the week when I am at Campus Wheelworks’ back room and I am sweating on my bike with my teammates and some others next to me. I am more than glowing with sweat: I am melting butter. I am doing fast feet and one leg spins and I am watching my teammates legs next to me. She’s flying. She’s all energy and she’s talking some of the time. Talking. It’s insane. She’s joking with me. I am having fun. Fun. Training and having fun. We are laughing and we are training and I feel strong. I can feel it in my muscles that I am improving. I can feel it in the molecules of my body that I am getting better. I am pushing harder than I’ve ever pushed: reaching deep inside to the beautiful dark abysss of Emily Dickinson hope and Mia Hamm inspiration. It is an abyss that I draw from every day of my life because to live without hope is not a meaningful existence for me.
And this is what it means. This darkness and this lightness is what it means to do a sport. It means tear and repair. It means suffering and reward. It means good days and bad days. It means looking over and seeing that you are surrounded by a room full of women–on my team or on their own teams and we are all working toward something. We come here on a cold and snowy night to train in this back garage. We do this because this is what it means to be a woman cyclist. It means to care about your body in a way where you must push it harder. It means coming to something and sweating. We are not on bloody stair masters. We are not jazzercising. We are cyclists who are training to compete with each other. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: we want that smooth, sweet, brie and wine, cocoa and raspberries taste of victory. We come here because we are training for something bigger than ourselves. We come here for collective and individual victory. We are united in our adoration for this race of legs, heart, gut, mind, wheels. We are riding so hard we’re nearly flying.