I am tired, emotional, and physically bereft. Today's ride took in two of south-east Queensland's best climbs, and was long, lonely and hilly.
It was my longest day in the saddle to date in my current training program; the first of more to come this time around. It felt reminiscent of the first long training ride I did for my first Ironman, a ride which my friends and I still look back on with pain, pride, and disbelief.
My first Ironman predates this blog, and I haven't spent much time tripping down memory lane. This story deserves to be told though, because it has become pivotal in forming not only my training mindset, but also my friendships with Annie and Jill (my fellow "Ironmoles"). It's one of our favourite war stories.
It was our first ride of more than 100ks in preparing for the Australian Ironman in 2006. About 15 of us from Phoenix Triathlon Squad were training for the race, and four of us set out for our ride exploring Mt Cotton and Redland Bay.
Miriam was the only one who knew the exact route we were to take, but early in the ride had a mechanical issue and had to be picked up. We wondered then if we should continue or also call for an early rescue? We decided on the more admiral path, so Annie, Jill and I got a quick overview of the directions from Miri. We'd all ridden out this way before, just not this particular ride.
Lesson number one. The value of knowing your route is not only in knowing directions, but also in planning refreshment stops. We sailed past a servo, all running low on drinks, thinking there would be another one around the corner. Wrong. It wasn't life-threatening - we were after all in the greater Brisbane area on reasonably main roads - but it took us a while to reach the next stop, by which time we really needed water. You have to maintain a healthy respect for Queensland's long hot summer.
With that problem solved we continued. We were still fairly sure we were on the right road, and knew we had to turn left somewhere to head back towards Brisbane. We started looking for the correct road, and failed miserably. Sure, the sign said "Brisbane". And Miri had said something about a roundabout. This had to be it. Wrong. We must have been 5ks up the wrong road before we started getting the feeling it wasn't right. But if we turned around, then what? At least we knew we were heading towards Brisbane. So, we kept going.
Jill started panicking about now, because we were taking longer than we'd expected and she had to be somewhere for lunch. It was a bit like the crew from Gilligan's Island, who'd headed off for a three hour cruise... Five hours later, we didn't know where we were or when we would get home.
As a stronger rider, Jill set off ahead but before too long, second guessed her sense of direction and called us for a second opinion. Neither Annie or I could help all that much. We knew we had to turn right somewhere, but didn't know what the road was called.
Lesson number two. It's OK for one person to take the lead in planning rides, but knowing the route is important for everyone. We really should have all taken responsibility for knowing where we were going.
Annie and I followed our nose through to the back of Mt Gravatt. We decided to pull over for more drinks and were astounded, and relieved, and very emotional, when we spotted Jill sitting on the steps of the corner shop we'd chosen, helmeted head in her hands, having a bit of a quiet cry.
She'd already called her Mum for a pickup. Annie and I were keen to do the same but we soon struck a dilemma. KKB wasn't available and Annie's boyfriend probably wouldn't be amenable to picking us up. I was going to ring Dad but the way Dads worry about their daughters, this is always a last option. Instead, Annie rang the manager of one of her local retail stores. We piled our bikes into the back of the delivery ute, piled ourselves in as well, and got the store manager to drive us back to our cars at UQ.
It was all just a little embarrassing.
When we regrouped a few days later though, we got over that shame. We'd learned our lesson, and from then on were better prepared. We'd gained a strength that we didn't know we had in us.
Today I experienced the same range of emotions. It was a long ride, a long way from home. At different times I felt confident, even exhilarated. At other times, I felt lonely and fearful. And at some point, not far from the top of O'Reilly's, I even shed a tear in sheer frustration.
Unlike that day back in 2006, I was alone today. I missed my friends - but thoughts of them gave me the opportunity to reflect on how far we'd come since that day. Our friendship really was cemented that day, through a shared experience that we still talk about.
At the moment, I'm predicting that I'll look back on this ride as a defining moment in my training for Ironman Regensburg. Maybe, though, there's another greater challenge ahead.