By Cheri Felix
There was this one moment during the race on Sunday and I can remember which moment it specifically was, because I can remember the blades of grass I was rolling over. I can remember the wet grass that had just the right amount of moisture to slow you down but not so much that you’d call it soaked grass. But just enough that you look down and you check your tire because you are sure you have a flat because why else would your bike slow down to the speed of a slow motion part in an otherwise action packed film? And a thought occurred to me that sometimes comes to me in races and sometimes it never even crosses my mind: what would it feel like to pull off right now and just not finish the race. Go get a paper and a cup of coffee. Because it just felt so hard. And I knew that the grass or wet cement or whatever you want to call it, was like that friend who always talked you into bad ideas in junior high. It wasn’t going anywhere. It would be waiting for me on the next lap.
“What was I thinking?” This can cross the mind before, during or for some, after a race. I’ve never pulled out of a race. I’ve been lucky. And although sometimes I wished for a mechanical, I’ve never had one. Never a crash-ending race. Yes, crashes. But never race-ending. I’ve been very lucky in my ten years of racing. It’s not that I think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with pulling out of a race or that it says anything about me as a human being. It’s just that somehow I always seem to find that gear. That extra gear that I didn’t know was there. It’s like driving a stick shift when you were 16 and realizing “Oh wait. There’s a fifth gear.”
And somewhere around the second lap, I was coming around the grassy area doing S-turns and I started thinking about how I’ve buried two parents. And yes. I’m actually having these thoughts. I’m having this whole conversation in my head. I do that. I ask myself questions like “Is this all you’ve got or can you give more?” Back to my dead parents. It was really hard. The parent thing. I remember four years ago asking to borrow someone’s bike so I could try cross only to call them back and tell them my dad died that day so I didn’t need the bike after all.
I’ve buried two parents and survived worse things. There’s no race I can’t get through. That’s not to say that life doesn’t have more curve balls for me. Of course it does. And by now you’re either wondering if this is a metaphor or if,å like Dorothy, this has all been a dream. And I’ve proved to myself that my pain and suffering is entirely temporary and every time I suffer through something whether it’s a race or a death or finding out my dad wasn’t my bio dad after all, that’s when this muscle memory I have seems to get stronger. It’s like it says (cause muscles can talk), “No, remember last time, you thought you couldn’t get through it and you did.” And a cross race is nothing like losing a parent or a child or your house but it’s still that same muscle you have to exercise, that you have to poke and prod and get through the very uncomfortable crappy bits. That muscle that will remind you (because it has memory) that you’ve got this. You may not do it beautifully, you may not do it gracefully, you may not do it well, and maybe no one will compliment you after you’ve finished, but you one hundred percent entirely got this.
And before you know it. The race is over. You found the fifth gear.