Out There: Chemoed

This man kicks my ass -- Every. Single. Sunday.

I don’t get chicked. I get chemoed. Every weekend.

In endurance sports, there’s a prevalent phrase, “getting chicked”, that refers to an event where a woman beats a man to the finish line. It’s a huge motivator for both sexes; women want to avoid the label of “the weaker sex”, and men…well, they pretty much want the same thing.

I don’t get chicked. I get chemoed. Every weekend.

A few months back, I wrote about my best friend, Carlos, a thirteen-time Ironman who, after being diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, decided he wanted to become a fourteen-time Ironman. Because friends don’t let friends engage in such what-the-<bleep>ery alone, I put my Boston Marathon ambitions to the side for one year to train with and race in Ironman Arizona this November.

I’ve questioned that decision every weekend since.

On most Saturday afternoons, we haggle about our training. The text messages usually look something like this:

SUSAN: Riding three hours tomorrow on South Mountain. Leave at 9 AM.

CARLOS: I’m leaving at 7 AM.

SUSAN: C’mon, it’s cold at 7! We have all summer to get up that early! 9 AM.

CARLOS: It is not that cold. 7 AM.

SUSAN: How about we compromise and meet at 8?

CARLOS: How about you quit whining and we leave at 7?

SUSAN: You’re such an asshole.

CARLOS: I love you, too. See you at 7.

And so it begins. After dragging myself out of bed early on Sunday mornings, chug several cups of coffee, meet Carlos in a parking lot, and ask him to take it easy on me as we clip in to our bike pedals.

He never does.

You’d think two rounds of chemotherapy and several intensive surgeries would slow a man down. At least that was my logic when I decided to train with him: He’s been through a lot, but hey! Silver lining! He’s probably slow enough that I can finally keep up with him on the bike! (Yes, I am a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad friend.) 

As it turns out, my logic is not sound. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to join us for three hours on a mountain, where you, too, can have the honor of getting chemoed by my best friend.

Our Sunday rides are humbling for me. Sometimes, they’re so humbling I seriously consider getting off my bike and throwing it off the side of the mountain. Though I love triathlon and riding my bike, it’s not something I’m particularly good at. I’m a runner, and as such, I would rather hit an incline in a pair of trainers than on two wheels.

After one particularly rough Sunday on the bike, I came home to several text messages from friends, all of whom had qualified for Boston at a local marathon that day. Though I felt bad for admitting it, I resented giving up my marathon training, something I enjoyed immensely, for getting chemoed every Sunday. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had made the right decision by signing up to do another Ironman triathlon. Though I was ashamed of my selfishness, that night, I browsed marathon websites surreptitiously, the way a husband looks at pornography websites after his wife goes to bed.

The following weekend brought another exchange of text messages and another early-morning meetup in the cold. Carlos and I rode our familiar route, and I huffed and puffed as he pulled farther away from me on the mountain. As always, the ride became a game of hide-and-go-seek: I’d turn a corner, and there he’d be, dancing on the pedals effortlessly a few hundred yards in front of me.

When I finally reached the top, Carlos was waiting for me. He pointed at his watch and shrugged quizzically, as if to say “What took you so long?” I pointed, too, with my middle finger. He laughed as he rolled out towards the descent.

If you’ve never ridden your bike down a mountain, you’re missing out. It’s hard to describe, but the contrast of the pain going up and the effortless speed going down creates pure joy. You can’t help but have a big, stupid grin on your face. There is no better feeling in the world than flying down a mountain on a bike.

That is, until you get to the bottom and see an identical grin on your best friend’s face – a grin you once feared you’d never see again.

Suddenly, I remembered why I was doing this. This decision has nothing to do with Ironman. It has nothing to do with bikes, nothing to do with humility, and certainly nothing to do with Boston.

It has everything to do with Sunday mornings and big stupid grins.

As we headed back toward the parking lot, the sun warmed our windburnt cheeks and numb fingers. I looked to my left, where Carlos was riding alongside, still smiling.

“Hey, sir?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m glad we’re doing this.”

“Me too.”

“Next week?”

“Yes. 7 AM.”

“9 AM.”

“7.”

“You’re such an asshole.”

“I love you, too.”

****

About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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