I lost it in West Central.
I knew my mission to beat the Bloomsday sprinters was a long shot. That surely I was too slow, they were too fast, the course too long, the hills too steep. But somewhere around Sharp Avenue and Lindeke Street, with nothing but flat land between me and the finish line, I knew it was over.
Is shock the right word for it, knowing that these men and women are the best in the running game? That they can run 4 1/2-minute miles? That they can keep up that pace – faster than just about anyone in Spokane can run a single mile – for more than 7 miles?
Considering I was on a bicycle with 27 gears, yes. I was shocked. And beat.
First of all, I don’t pretend to be an athlete. While quite pleased that I once rode my bike across the state of Washington and over the Cascade mountains, I was more into watching the scenery than grinding the gears. I commute by bike most of the time, but wear my work clothes, including these shiny dress shoes.
I lined up, solo, at the race’s starting line on Riverside Avenue and Lincoln Street this week, feeling confident. There was a wind blowing in my face, but knowing the race is a loop, I knew at some point the wind would be at my back. Cars lined up with me at the red light, their drivers unaware of my imminent, monumental task.
Before me faced 12 kilometers of ups and downs, twists and turns and, thankfully, fully paved roads. Soon enough, 40,000 or more foolish people without bikes would follow my path, and I, I was so sure, would vanquish them all.
Even the Kenyans.
At the green, I engaged the stopwatch on my iPhone’s clock app and was off.
What is it about riding a bike that’s so fulfilling? Is it the freedom and independence, knowing that your body is the only thing powering you along? The fresh air? The friendly motorists cheering you along?
What it’s not is the stiff headwind. This day, it was winning the head game. It felt like I was riding through cobwebs, or stretching an increasingly taut rubber band attached to my saddle.
Then Riverside got steep, and joy returned. As I approached the bridge over Latah Creek, victory was mine. And I only had 6 miles to go.
It was around this time I passed two cyclists trudging up the hill to Government Way. Like a hero, I passed them with nary a nod. Then I downshifted. Then I did it again. Then I was probably going walking pace. There was a headwind.
But I persisted.
Up Government Way, past the cemetery, I wanted people to see Lance Armstrong, but my dawdling pace probably made me look more like Neil Armstrong. On the moon.
I thought back to my previous Bloomsdays at this point in the course. Stomping on those thousands of little paper cups, throwing water in my face in slow motion. Drinking. So I pulled over and drank from my water bottle.
Back in the game, I turned onto Fort George Wright Drive and crested the hill. I wish I could say it was that inner drive that propelled me to greater and greater heights. But really, it was the four lanes of rush hour traffic that scared the bejeezus out of me. My flight instinct is strong.
Again, down I went. Like the Trojan Hector or Joan of Arc, nothing would stop me. The gravel-filled bike lane, with its faded and nearly imperceptible strip of paint, only made me laugh.
Then … Doomsday.
A pillar of smoke came from the top of Pettet Drive, red lights flashed from fire trucks and, yes, I took it as an omen. I didn’t know how much time had passed, but I knew it was too much.
I’d like to brag that I passed two more cyclists on the hill – which I did – or that I rode like the wind, as coined by Christopher Cross. But that slog up the hill was anything but brisk. Did I mention that my bike is steel and the view was great?
Passing the smoky scene of some brush fire raging somewhere down by the river, I cut into West Central. If I had a leather riding crop, I would’ve used it, like a jockey to my own horse.
Instead, on the pleasant strip of Lindeke, I got that feeling. I’m losing this. The elite runners don’t suffer from hills or headwind. They don’t have steel weighing them down. They probably don’t get distracted by the view. I’d lost.
Nonetheless, I turned onto Broadway and, like a beacon, saw the tower of the Spokane County Courthouse.
The wind was gone, the road was flat and for a brief moment – with just 2 kilometers to go – confidence returned: How can these pedestrians keep up with two wheels? They can’t.
But they could.
At the Monroe Street Bridge, I pulled over and opened my phone. My time: 32:28. I could’ve cried. I didn’t lose after all. I beat Micah Kogo, the Kenyan long-distance runner and Olympian who still holds the Bloomsday record from his finish in 2008. With his time of 33:51, I’d beat him by 83 seconds.
But shouldn’t I have won by so much more? Could I have tried harder? Why was there a headwind the whole time? Why does my bike weigh so much? Should I have juiced myself with more caffeine?
These questions swirled in my brain, like they do for any elite athlete. Nonetheless, with the best time in Bloomsday history, I was proud. And ready for sponsors.
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