During the last weekend of spring break 2017, I competed in the Race Across America (RAAM) qualifying bicycle race in Marble Falls, Texas. The race consisted of 400 miles in a big loop around the Texas Hill Country. Only 10 individual cyclists started the 400, most opting for the “short” 214 mile route. Six of us finished.
By the numbers, it took me 28 hours and 57 minutes to cover the course, including stops for food and a 20-minute nap. My bike computer tells me I burned more than 12,000 calories as I climbed and descended nearly 23,000 feet, higher than any mountain in our hemisphere. I sweated through 97 degrees near Leakey and grit my teeth through a low of 41 in the wee hours of the morning. I had one flat tire.
One of the most beautiful things about the race was the chance to be supported by my wife, Margaret, and our older son, J.D. They were in a support vehicle that followed directly behind me during the night and leapfrogged past me during the day, handing up food and full water bottles. They were every bit as tired and glad to finish as I was when we hugged at the finish line on Sunday morning.
People ask me what I think about when I´m on a bike so long and I think I can best describe it as a very long prayer. The enormity of the task makes me ask God for strength and safety. The discomfort brought on by the hunger, fatigue, cold and heat invites me to commune with Him. I am profoundly thankful for the health and opportunity to do something so challenging; so much of the prayer is joyful praise. I take advantage of the time and meditative state to pray for my friends and family, whispering their names and mentally offering up their images. And I sing.
The magnitude of the long race requires me to not worry about how many miles I have left to pedal or to agonize over how many miles I already have in my legs. I do everything I can to focus on the mile I have to ride at a given moment and ride it as strongly and comfortably as I can. That freedom from anxiety over what lies ahead and the ability to celebrate and relish the moment are great life lessons for when I´m off the bike. They are ultimately precious gifts.
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