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It’ll be OK if it doesn’t rain.

That was what I thought when I looked at the weather Saturday morning at about 5:05. The wind was blowing at 17 mph from the northwest. I could hear the trees outside our window as the leaves rustled, loudly with gusts, more quietly when the wind momentarily subsided a bit. Windy. Heading out for a 112 mile ride on a really windy day is not so much fun. I planned the route to go northwest, directly into the wind on the way out so that I could have the wind at my back on the way home.

For the last eleven years, a late September Saturday would be pretty laid back. Ironman Wisconsin would have been run a week or two before and it would be another week or two until the Twin Cities Marathon. In athletic terms, it would be a good day to do not all that much. But this year was not like the others: No Ironman Wisconsin, no Twin Cities Marathon. This year was my chance to take all that I had done and learned in my years at those races and wait. It wasn’t time yet but there was time for one more big training day and this was it, windy or not.

It was pitch black outside and would not be light for almost two hours. In the meantime, I ate as much dry cereal as I could, pounded down some orange juice and set up my bike bottles with Infinit Nutrition, the powdered product I use on long training days and during races. It’s not bad stuff but I wouldn’t choose to drink it if it did not serve the specific purpose of keeping me upright and moving.

I spent an hour and a half on the indoor trainer reading news magazines, then extracted my bike from the trainer, hauled it upstairs, reloaded my water bottles with more Infinit Nutrition and headed out onto the road. My fears about a windy day were justified. I had taken an elastic race number belt and snapped it on across my chest over my jacket to keep it from flapping. It had to look odd but I congratulated myself on how well it worked. The jacket and my long sleeve jersey were warm enough but only just. I wore toe warmers, little neoprene half socks that fit over my bike shoes and did not regret that for a minute. I wore Gore Tex gloves and those helped, too. When the wind gusted, my helmet lifted a little and skewed to the side. I got chilly.

Even after riding an hour and a half, I had at least four and a half hours to go. When I thought about it, I couldn’t quite picture it all. It’s hard to think all the way through a 112 mile course, even if you have traveled the first 27 miles in your own basement.

In just a week since my last ride into the country, everything had changed. All of the sumac had turned red. The maples were turning orange and a number of elms and ashes were turning to bright yellow. North of St. Bonifacius, several fields of corn were fully harvested. The farmer there wore a brown jacket, hat and gloves as he tended to a wagonload of corn. A dog ran around the field nearby.

The sun rose into a solidly steel gray sky and while it was light enough to see, it was not bright or clear. Instead, it was a blustery fall day, more like the end of October than late September.

I rode through Watertown and stopped at the Fuel and Food. I bought a flavored water to make more Infinit Nutrition. The woman behind the counter asked how it was going.

“Windy,” I said.

I told her that this was likely my last ride to Watertown for the season. I had seen her most weekends since May and we were acquainted from my training rides over the past ten years or so. I said that I had one last race of the season, then it would be all over until next spring. She asked me where my last race would be.

“Hawaii,” I said.

She looked surprised. She raised her eyebrows and said, “Hawaii!”

I could tell that Hawaii seemed like a very exotic destination to her. I guess that when you work in a convenience store in Watertown, Minnesota, Hawaii really is a long way away. She wished me luck and I zipped up my jacket, headed out to my bike, put the bottles in their cages and left the Food and Fuel for last time this year.

I rode north along the Crow River valley. The wind had picked up. I got to Delano, a town I had never previously seen. The town bustled at the perimeter with the Shell and Holiday gas stations and the car dealerships. The small central business section of town bordering the river was quiet with its 19th century brick buildings housing mostly modest restaurants and bars. The Catholic Church was the largest building I saw as I rode north past the vintage town baseball park with plaques designating it a historic place.

I wound through more farm fields and small housing developments before calculating that I had reached my turnaround point. It was time to take advantage of the wind that had mostly fought me so far.

Heading toward home, the wind helped me maintain my speed without so much effort as before. The sun had peeked through the clouds and warmed me. I felt good.

This 112-mile bike ride would be the season’s last big effort. While it was a challenge, especially with the wind, it did not impose the heat, humidity and cross winds that Kona would likely throw my way. With the wind at my back and about 38 miles to go, I was well on my way to doing all that I could in Minnesota that day. I reflected on how much I had done, not just on this ride or this year but for 11 years to train for Kona. Kona would be the culmination of over a decade of effort.

Even so, I understood that Kona was indeed a very long way from the now brown and gold corn fields of the Crow River valley. I hoped that what I had done to train here in this fertile farmland had sown the seeds that I could harvest on a lava rock wasteland thousands of miles away in the Pacific Ocean.

Pulling off my gloves and jacket in the driveway before my hour and ten-minute run, I remembered that it hadn’t rained after all. The sun shone brightly as I pulled on my running shoes and hat. I pressed the “start” button on my watch and began to run.

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