As a longtime runner, I’ve experienced the special bond the running community shares many times. At the end of the New Jersey Marathon just last week, I found myself in stride with another runner who told me I was, “Doing great” around mile 25 — probably about the time I was ready to give up, and definitely around the time I did not look like I was doing great.
It didn’t matter though. I responded, “You are, too” and from there, I learned it was his second marathon, he was from New Jersey, and he thought he could qualify for Boston with his finish time. I told him about my recent train wreck of a race in Boston, and, crazily enough, I was back for more. We then encouraged each other for the remainder of what must have been the longest 1.2-miles of my life, straight through the finish line — where we fist bumped to celebrate our victories.
This is just one example. There was also the man at the 2014 New York City Marathon who picked up my iPod after I’d dropped it in the first 5k of the race (where it’s crazy crowded and going back would have disrupted others). Without missing a beat, he handed it back to me and gently pushed me forward so I wouldn’t get in the way of the other runners. It’s moments like these that make me appreciate what being a runner is all about: In between the black toenails and tight hamstrings, there’s a strong, supportive community.
Now, some would say the relationship between cyclists and runners is not so hot. I’ve experienced this many times, especially running in the city. I don’t understand how cyclists going over the Queensboro Bridge don’t get that they should stay in the DESIGNATED bike lane, or why some runners on the West Side Highway can’t figure out that spreading themselves across the entire pathway is not only dumb, but dangerous. Irregardless, until I got my first road bike last June, I was largely unaware of what the cycling community entailed. That all changed yesterday, though, when I found myself spending nearly a full day of riding with a complete stranger.
I wasn’t supposed to spend the day alone. I had plans to ride to Rockaway Beach with a group of friends from The Rise NYC. We’ve been riding together quite regularly, and it’s a great group of people. I was stoked to ride my new bike — an Alias Tiagra from Specialized Bikes — and set out to meet my friends with a positive attitude. However, due to a string of unfortunate incidents — my clip-ins were new, and making me nervous; I have been overemotional the past few weeks and had let it effect me deeply the night before; I was nervous about riding in traffic — I ended up telling my friends to go on without me, then instantly regretted my decision and told myself I could catch up to them at some point along the ride.
I plugged in my Google Maps and kept my phone in my sports bra so I could hear the directions, and started making my way to the Rockaways solo. Part of me was annoyed with myself (why would you tell your friends to leave you?! so you could sulk alone?!) and the other part of me was embracing the challenge of catching up to them. After a solid hour and a half of riding, I knew I was getting close to the beach. Another cyclist and I kept hitting the same stop signs, and we exchanged niceties. At the third or fourth sign, he asked if I was going to the beach. I told him yes, and he said he was too. It was then I asked the creepiest question, ever:
“Can I follow you?”
Nervous about my phone dying and getting stranded so far away from home with no directions, it didn’t seem like such a crazy request. Apparently, he didn’t think it was weird, either, because he agreed.
At first I felt a little weird, riding behind a stranger. But after awhile, we fell into comfortable conversation. I learned his name was Todd, he lived in Brooklyn, he worked in the music industry, and he got into cycling after a bad Achilles made it hard for him to run. It was nice to be with someone who didn’t know me — who didn’t know I had just gotten my heart broken and was only being nice because he felt bad for me. He was just being nice to be nice. Isn’t that something?
When we got to the boardwalk, I watched his bike so he could use the bathroom and he did the same for me. I called my friends, hoping to surprise them at whatever cafe or eatery they chose to rest at before heading back, but all my calls went to voicemail — they were still riding and unable to check their phones. When I looked back to my phone screen, I was astonished to see that my battery had dropped from just under 50 percent to 8 percent. I let out a heavy sigh: I was screwed. Without a phone, I wouldn’t have directions or be able to contact my friends once they were off their bikes.
I asked Todd if he could direct me to the subway, but instead he encouraged me to ride back with him. He was going back to Brooklyn, anyway, and if I was training for an Ironman (yes, that had come up in conversation), wouldn’t I want the extra miles? Plus, he was enjoying the company.
That pretty much sealed the deal, so despite the wind picking up and the droplets of rain starting to fall from the sky, I followed him back to the base of the Willy B, where I thanked him profusely and gave him my number (no, not like that) to invite him on future group rides — before I sat on the ground for 20 minutes to catch my breath and eat the snacks I had been too freaked by the traffic to eat. When I got back on my bike, I realized I had a flat tire. Wonderful.
I toughed it out over the bridge, and took the subway the rest of the way home. My legs were jelly, but looking at my my GPS watch, which totaled about 38 miles, gave me a sense of accomplishment.
While I know I didn’t make the smartest decision (re: embarking on a solo cycling adventure where I could have gotten a flat or fell without support), I did turn what could have been a day of me sulking by myself into a day that I visited a new place, and embraced the power of the cycling community. The view on the Marine Park Bridge going back into Manhattan is one I’ll never forget — nor will I forget the kindness a complete stranger showed me when I really needed help.
That said, I still have a bone to pick with the bikers in the running lane on the Queensboro Bridge.
Seriously guys, stay in your lane!