There’s nothing more gruelling or rewarding than doing battle with a headwind, finds Margot McGovern.
Lately I’ve been spending far more time on my commuter than my roadie; however, one recent, unseasonably warm and sunny Saturday, I couldn’t resist donning my Lycra for a spin along Melbourne’s foreshore from Port Melbourne to Mordialloc and back. A group of male friends were doing the same ride but, given they’re much more diligent about their weekend riding, I said I’d go at my own pace and meet them for coffee after.
Though it had been months since my previous big road ride, I felt unexpectedly strong as I set out, my speedo reading 45km/h as I flew along the flat. Even when I was really fit, getting up that kind of speed would have left me wiped for the rest of the ride; this day it was almost effortless. The esplanade is relatively flat, but it felt as though even the few rollers had been smoothed out into one long, gentle descent. My deceptively cruisy commute had clearly been building up my strength and conditioning on the sly. This was going to be a cakewalk.
However, before I could dwell too deeply on my new-found superpowers, the sharp slap of an invisible hand interrupted my self-worship and sent me swerving towards the kerb. Regaining control of my bike, I looked at the trees lining the road: trunks slightly bent, their branches straining south towards Mordialloc. The riders grinding north appeared to move in slow motion, pain and grim determination scarring their faces.
With great effort, I reminded myself that quitters don’t deserve mug-sized, post-ride coffees. Quitters aren’t entitled to spend the afternoon lolling on the couch with a good book and bakery treats…
A seed of dread planted itself in my gut and grew with every fresh gust of speed. By the time I reached the turnaround point, the train seemed like the smart return option. With great effort, I reminded myself that quitters don’t deserve mug-sized, post-ride coffees. Quitters aren’t entitled to spend the afternoon lolling on the couch with a good book and bakery treats. Quitters don’t get that happy-exhausted high that comes from pushing yourself beyond your limits to triumph over the elements.
I tucked in and headed back onto the road. It was like slamming into a concrete wall then pushing that wall, revolution by revolution, back to Port Melbourne.
The first 10km I was still almost fully fuelled and the road wound and rolled, with the brief east-west stretches and minor descents offering a slight
reprieve. My spirits remained high: I could do this. However, at Black Rock, the wind launched a direct assault, a relentless blast from the north. My shoulders instinctively hunched against the onslaught and my muscles seized in painful rebellion. My legs were liquid fire and, despite the rush of air, my breath came in half-choked, wheezing gasps. The demoralising certainty that I would not make it set in. I was barely halfway and had already burned through most of my energy reserves. I tried to draft off a couple of groups as they passed, but was too slow to hold the last rider’s wheel for more than a few minutes.
I started thinking the guys must already be at the café enjoying a well-earned breakfast, while I lived up to the stereotype of the weak girl who couldn’t keep up, who would give up and eventually have to be rescued.
With this in mind, I dug deep to find an extra power reserve that was not so much energy as stubborn determination. I started ticking off the suburbs: Elwood, St Kilda, Middle Park, breaking the route into manageable chunks and urging myself to push on to the next and then the next. At last, the café rolled into view and I practically fell off my bike face first into the extra-large latte the guys had waiting for me. Nothing has ever tasted so good.
Despite being one of the more challenging rides I’ve done, it made me keen to get back on the roadie and build up my strength so that the next time there’s a big wind, I’ll be ready.
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