I’ve never felt as bad on the bike as I did three quarters up Sa Calobra this week. Involuntarily tears fell down my face. I used any energy I had left to convince myself that stopping wasn’t an option. I had nothing left in my body but somehow it carried on going. Pedal stroke after pedal stroke till I finally reached the top where my shaking legs managed to dismount before collapsing to the ground. I’d pushed myself past any previous limits and reached new emotions in a sport I thought I’d experienced everything.
It all started 90 minutes before.
ALL THE COLS. ALL THE COCA COLA
We’d already cycled two cols. I’d taken them steadily with the rest of the group in order to savour some of my leg strength for the main event – Sa Calobra. But, it had been a long morning. We’d stopped a few times. We’d eaten lots of sugar but nothing of real substance. At the final cafe before we were to take on the beast, I quickly downed a full fat coke, crushed a pack of heavily salted crisps, stole a few pistachios from Ang and then hurried up Plum because my nerves were fuelling my inpatience.
I’d rode Sa Calobra for the first time 12 months ago. But in 2015 I took it steady. I had Kanye West playing in my ear and my ambition was just to finish - never going fully into the red and pacing at a safe speed that was well within my comfort zone. Not this year. I’d already quietly committed to giving it everything I’ve got. That’s why I was riddled with nerves:
- I knew I was about to experience a huge amount of pain.
- I knew I had put a lot of pressure on myself.
- I wanted to know that 12 months of training was worth it. I was scared of the disappointment if that wasn’t the case.
WHAT GOES DOWN, MUST GO UP
It was just after lunch and the sun was beating down on our helmets. I began to understand why the cool kids of yesteryear used to climb without one. But I’m not a badass nor am I stupid – we had the small task of a 20 minute descent to tackle first. For those who haven’t experienced Sa Calobra, you have to descend the infamous snaked roads before climbing them. 50% novel. 50% a pain in the arse. A mind does not thank you for that sort of panic fuelled time.
“How much further?!!” Plum, who I was descending with, was beginning to accept our fate. There's no way out now. Our hands began shaking and cramping from all the braking. We then made it to the end. Which was only the beginning. Looking at each other with a knowing ‘holy shit!’, we shared an energy block, put our headphones in and, with limited amount of faff, we began to climb.
SO FLY LIKE SPOTIFY
Sean Paul – Temperature.
That was the first song up on the spotify playlist we had created the night previously after too much booze. It shut my mind up and set me into a steady pace. I was feeling good. I mean, it had only been 30 seconds, but you’ve got to milk those moments before it all turns south.
In the mountains, your world closes in. It's you, your legs and your thoughts. Never is the world more silent yet haunting. It's a constant mind game and instead of your head, you have to make sure the beat is the only thing that drops - which was now The Ting Tings, That’s Not My name. Like I said, there was a lot of booze whilst creating the playlist.
I overtook three sets of people. Really? Last year I was overtaken, but I never passed anyone else. Maybe they’re doing reps I thought. Onwards I climbed.
THIS IS YOUR LIFE
Run Boy Run, Woodkid was next on the playlist. There’s a reflective nature to this song. I began thinking about the previous 12 months in an emotional ‘I’m in a music video of my life’ kind of way:
The early starts. The embarrassment of being dropped when riding with groups stronger than me. The nights and times missed with loved ones because we had an early cycle in the morning. The moods I was often in because of being over-tired. The foods I chose to eat because I was told they were better for cyclists (and the frustration when I chose not to). The obsessive planning to make sure I could make the most of every morning of every week. The ironing on a Sunday evening to have enough clothes in the office in case I had a last minute training session. The money spent on coffees. The new routes I pushed myself to try. The travelling on a train with a bike to avoid missing a weekend of training (even when at a wedding). The suffering. The testing. The failing. The learning. The commitment to a cause which constantly dangled a rewarding carrot yet was always only a corner away from disappointment. I’d given everything to this sport over the past year and here I found myself, a tenth up Sa Calobra, getting emotional at how it had changed my life and how far I'd come.
No time for that soppy shit though. I've got a mountain to crush. Onwards I climbed.
THE TURNING POINT
Legs felt strong. There were fake flats that altered my mood but then momentum building switchbacks that raised me up. With my Wahoo ELEMNT in my back pocket, I had no idea what my time was. But I knew time was consistent and true. The same couldn’t be said about my emotions.
I turned the corner to see just how far I had left to climb. At the same time, my Spotify playlist stopped. No 3G on the mountains apparently. Without music, I only had the sound of my self-doubting thoughts. I turned back to see the bright orange jersey of Plum making her way up. Spotting her reminded me that through the pain and peaks, we were in this together. Onwards we climbed.
That’s when it turned ugly.
In what felt like a very quick amount of time, my body was as empty as my bidon. It’s in those lonely moments where you hope that the hours of training you’ve put yourself through have given you not just legs but an ability to cope with such extreme emotions. I was struggling to turn the pedals, the sun was beating down and there was no 3G or Kanye West in sight. I began thinking about how I would tell the others that I fucked up. That I went off too hard. That I ran out of fuel and water. I had so far to go and even with every effort to tell my body to get a grip, it wouldn’t. The tears began to fall. I wouldn’t even call it crying. It was an involuntary reaction to how empty and exhausted my body was. Onwards I climbed, just.
I began to see the summit, but unfortunately that knowing wasn't giving me the energy it normally would. I was truly empty, but full of pressure to get the time I desperately wanted. The only way out of this pain filled pit, was to carry on. I had no idea where the official segment finished, but I knew I wouldn’t stop till I was at the very top.
'I’m going to make it'. A thought I never entertained till I finally moved my bike onto the gravel, unclipped and collapsed to the floor. A guy cycled past, stretched out his hand and gave me a high five. Commraderie of cyclists. I’m not sure how long I was lying there before picking myself up. With shaking hands, I whatsapped my friend and boyfriend to say I’d made it. A car then drove past and shouted out the window ‘She’s on her way’. Plum and I had matching tops on, not planned, and so this stranger made the correct assumption we were together. I quickly changed from 'exhausted and emotional cyclist' to 'social media manager' and grabbed my iPhone to capture the moment.
SHANDY, SALT AND STRAVA
Whilst I was lying in that glass cage of emotion, my body thankfully recovered enough to cycle, very steadily, back to the garage to meet the rest of the squad. We had a heroes welcome with beer and yet more salted crisps. 40km to home.
After stretching back at the villa, drinking a chocolate milk and eating a large amount of peanut butter, I uploaded the ride to Strava.
45 mins. Shut the front door! I couldn’t quite believe it. 14 minutes less than last year and only a few minutes behind a rider and friend who I am constantly inspired by. With a flash back of the past 12 months of training, suffering, self doubt and a shit load of chamois cream, I nearly teared up again. Hadn’t even had my first gin. I truly left nothing on that mountain (maybe some sweat and swear words), but this passion always has a way of repaying those who dare to depleat.
As the Ironman athletes descend onto the island this weekend, we pass on the Mallorca mountain baton.
We all suffer, but onwards we all climb.