I continued to think about limits and reserves today on my bike rides. I couldn’t help but to think about the topic, since I couldn’t seem to stop myself from pushing a bit harder than was likely prudent, given that I have one more day left to commute this week.

Yet I can’t regret the extra fatigue. It is fun to push hard, plain and simple!

And I experienced what felt like a victory, both fleeting and thrilling, when a variety of circumstances conspired to have me keeping up with and even passing traffic on my worst (and best) road I travel on.

I was pushing it a bit, holding maybe 20mph. I’m not a speedy rider, so this was definitely pushing it for me. I was in my “battling” position, which is low over the handlebars to cut wind resistance, and to get my legs into their power position, but isn’t quite in the drops position. I call it my “battling” position, because it comes in handy when I battle headwinds and hills, not to mention when I battle my own typically slow progress!

It was in the sweet spot of the road, as far as traffic speeds and patterns are concerned, where having just taken off from one light, and already needing to slow for the next, my 20mph is mostly fast enough to keep up with the traffic.

Today there was a somewhat slow queue of cars in the left lane, and a big space in front of me in the right lane. I tucked down and hit the pedals hard. Prudence? Who is that? This was a race! And I was catching those SUVs in the left lane and passing them!

It was thrilling, and the neat little adrenaline spike from that excitement continued to carry me.

From the spectators at the bus stop, I heard that sweetest of sounds: “You go, girl!”

I didn’t last too much longer in my racing state. Those legs petered out a bit, and I ended up doing the rest of the bad portion of the road a bit slower than normal.

But in that portion that I rode a bit slower, I started thinking about something else.

Remember in Princess Bride when Westley (aka The Dread Pirate Roberts) is bluffing Prince Humperdinck, and issues a challenge? “To the death, I assume,” the Prince says with something like disdain. “No,” says TDPR, “to the Pain.”

He goes on to describe what he means by this, and the Prince gives it up, able to face potential death but not potential pain.

Avoiding pain is a natural, and generally healthy, response, but it hinders us when we’re trying to accomplish certain physical things. Fighting Windmills commented on my last post about limits and reserves, and how much it reminded her of childbirth.

This reminds me of what it feels like to give birth. I didn’t know I had it in me, and then the adrenaline made me feel like it wasn’t that big of a deal once I was finished. It was great, especially the second time when I knew how to handle my reserves and how to use my energy.

Childbirth is an excellent example when these topics of physical challenges, personal limits, our reserves, etc, are discussed, because frankly I think childbirth sounds frightening. And, ignoring the potential of powerful pain medications that are now available, it is a very painful endeavor. If I think about it, it sounds a lot more like quantum physics. At least, quarks make more sense to me than something that big fitting through an opening that small. Yet where would we be if women went to lengths to avoid all pain?

Not here! Clearly the earth would be in much better shape than it is right now, but that’s not the point I wanted to make! None of us would actually be here if we (and more specifically, our mothers) always avoided potential pain.

Physical accomplishments require, to varying degrees, pain. The acceptance of it, and maybe even the embracing of it, is necessary.

Of course there are limits, lines between pushing our bodies and injuring ourselves.

As I lost energy and speed and as my legs felt tired, I realized that I did actually have more in me. I was losing speed because pushing harder made my legs burn, and I automatically backed off. There are times on my commute when backing off the burn is not possible – I have a lot of hills, and they burn – and I think I’ve gotten in the habit of trying to take it easy when I’m not going up hills or trying to go as fast as possible on The Rude Road.

I’m going to try to embrace the burn, though. The burn isn’t bad. The burn is more like an alert that we’re switching to our reserve tank. It doesn’t mean we’re empty.

When I was almost home, I have a long gradual hill. Today a bike went by just before I turned onto it. It was a guy (I always assume they’re faster than me, especially when they’re wearing superman suits) on a road bike. I sort of tucked in behind him, expecting … nothing, really. I figured he’d power on up that little hill and that would be that. But he was going slower than me. Slower than me! And sometimes it actually hurts more to go slower up a gradual hill than otherwise.

So I put a little oompf into it, and almost booted myself off the bike from the shock of the power spurt, I had that much left. I think I surprised the guy. I surprised me! But hey, I ride this mini-hill every day, and maybe that’s starting to show.

Maybe he was just avoiding the burn.

By the time I got home, my legs really felt like they were done.

Can’t wait to see how they surprise me tomorrow.