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Out There: My Band Of Brothers

  • By Mario Fraioli
  • Published Aug. 12, 2011
  • Updated Mar. 15, 2012 at 5:09 PM UTC

I swear, if I ever get around to growing up, I want to be exactly like them.

Written by: Susan Lacke

When I was a child, I used to pester my older brother relentlessly. Everything he did, I wanted to do. I’d beg and plead for him to let me tag along when he played with his friends. He’d begrudgingly say yes, not because he wanted his annoying little sister around, but because he knew I’d tattle on him if he didn’t. Even though I was a giant pain in the butt, he was always good to me.

My brother was the best. I swore that when I grew up, I wanted to be exactly like him.

Though those days were 20 years ago, I’ve recently discovered I haven’t quite shaken that little-sister role.

Endurance sports have a strange way of bringing people together. There’s a kinship that comes with sharing hours together while training and racing. A team or club often will tell you their group feels like a second family.

That’s why, when the big brothers of my triathlon team planned a training ride this past weekend, I wedged my way into the paceline like the annoying little sister I am. Jason, John, and Owen, three teammates who often get stuck with putting up with my idiocy, are faster than me in almost every discipline, yet are kind enough to let me join their training rides.

Let’s clarify one thing: By “join,” I mean “they take a leisurely ride while I try not to die.” They’re fast cyclists — I’m not. But they believe in me and want me to get faster. So, like good big brothers they are, they beat the crap out of me on our rides every weekend.

Jason and John took the lead, setting a comfortable warmup pace. Owen stayed behind with me, riding on my left to protect me from traffic. When we got to the foothills, I struggled to hit their pace on the climbs, while they scampered up hills like billy goats on Jolt Cola and methamphetamines. After the first climb, Owen waited for me to finish, red-faced and puffing.

“Mind over matter, Susan. You can do this.”

Sigh. What an awesome, supportive, motivating thing to say. I vowed to stay with the guys on the next hill. We quickly approached the next climb, one I hadn’t seen coming. Once again, the guys took off. I struggled.

I’ll be damned if I let these guys drop me. I got up out of my seat and climbed, and climbed, and cl…WHOA-A-A-A!

Instead of making forward progress, I toppled over. I could see the guys waiting for me at the top of the hill, shaking their heads and laughing. I began walking to the crest, lifting my scraped elbow high in the air so the guys could adequately view the hand gesture I was making.

“Jason, promise me there’s no more hills on this ride.” I whined.
“I promise.” Jason smiled. “It’s flat from here on out.”

We continued the ride. This time, John stayed by me, and asked how I was feeling.

“Good.” I lied. My internal monologue begged to differ: This is hard. But I’ll be damned if I let these guys drop me.

We rode some more, then turned off the road at a gas station to fill our water bottles. Jason got off his bike and walked to me, a look of concern in his eyes. He took me by the shoulders and gently asked how I was feeling. I shrugged. It was hot and I was tired, but I wasn’t about to admit that.

“Susan, I’m going to go inside now.” Jason spoke slowly and gently, knowing he had to choose his words wisely, “While I’m in there, I’m going to buy you a Coke.”

I hung my head in shame. I had been working so hard at the “not-getting-dropped” thing I had completely neglected the “eat-on-the-bike” thing. I was bonking. The guys saw it coming, but I missed it completely.

“It’s okay, Susan,” Owen cooed, “Mind over matter. You can do this.”
“Just try to stay with us. Buckle down and do it.” John chimed in.

We fueled up, got back on the bike, and hit the road again. Within ten minutes, the guys began pulling away, and I struggled to keep up. I had flashbacks of my childhood, riding with my older brother and his friends while frantically pedaling behind, crying “GUY-Y-Y-YS! WAIT UU-U-UP!”

I’ll be damned if I let these guys drop me. I pedaled harder. I’ll be damned if I let these guys drop me.

It was to no avail. It was 100 degrees, I had been riding hard for three hours, and my legs were dead. There was no way I could continue on with them. John dropped back and rode with me, sharing words of encouragement, but nothing was going to get me home. I told John we could stop right there and the guys could go on while I called a cab, but he wouldn’t let me. Instead, he put his hand on the small of my back and pushed me as we rode together.

I smiled. “You don’t have to do that, buddy.”
“It’s okay,” he responded, “It’s not hard for me. In fact, I haven’t even gone hard at all during this ride.”

I weakly gave him the same hand gesture he got on the hill 30 miles before.

I wanted to give up, but they wouldn’t let me:
“You can do it, Susan! Mind over matter!”
“We’re not that far – only six miles left!”
“Come on!”

I didn’t want to let them down. So I rode, albeit slowly…and while whining loudly.

Finally, Owen had had enough. My sweet, supportive riding partner looked me dead in the eyes. I braced myself for another “mind over matter” talk, but instead what came out of his mouth shocked me:

“Susan…quit being a little bitch.”

That was it. I was going to make it home. We rode, and though it wasn’t pretty, we eventually rounded a corner and saw the parking lot where we started almost four hours earlier. Jason patted me on the back and grinned.

“Nice work! I knew you could do it.”

Just like that, any bad feeling about that ride went away. Rather than beating myself up for being slow and clumsy and weak, I began to get excited about the next time I could ride with them.

You see, that day made me realize something: I want to get better. I don’t want to be the annoying little sister who only gets to come because they have to let her. I want to be at their level. Not only are they amazing cyclists, they’re amazing people. Even though I’m a giant pain in the ass, they’re good to me.

My big brothers are the best.

I swear, if I ever get around to growing up, I want to be exactly like them.

FILED UNDER: Out There TAGS: / / /

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli

Mario Fraioli is a senior editor at Competitor magazine. A cross-country All-American at Stonehill College in 2003, he now coaches the Prado Women's Racing Team in San Diego and was the men's marathon coach for Costa Rica's 2012 Olympic team. His first book, The Official Rock 'n' Roll Guide To Marathon & Half-Marathon Training (VeloPress, 2013) is available in bookstores, running shops and online.

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