One of the things that has caught me off guard is how people see participants in the TransAm and other cyclists and athletes as some kind of superhuman entities. For sure, those winning the races are incredibly talented people in peak physical shape, who have found a sport they excel in. I don't mean to belittle theirs or anyone else's accomplishments. Instead, the average person might be more of a superhuman than they'd think.
One of the challenges of any sport is knowing your weaknesses, physical and otherwise. I've got a list as long as my arm that I could rattle off at the drop of a hat of my own limitations.
I've struggled for years with allergies, asthma, and anxiety. I've actually spent about half the last four years sick with complications from these things. It took a long time for me to realize that (a) I needed medical treatment to get a handle on them and (b) it was worth the time and money to figure them out (American healthcare system eat your heart out). I have lots of environmental allergies, including seasonal, dust mites, and fire ants. Great for someone who loves to spend time outside, and a big part of why I decided to move from Savannah—to be able to be a healthy person.
(Hell, great for someone who chose to do woodworking for a living. I had chronic sinus infections bad enough where an ENT recommended sinus surgery. I eventually gave that up, since I would have a swollen face and eyes even under safety glasses and a respirator, and using a dust collection system.)
So I've spent a lot of money out of pocket figuring out asthma medications and getting allergy shots. My fire ant allergy used to be bad enough that if I was bitten on my foot couldn't fit it in a shoe the next day; eventually it got bad enough that my throat would tighten up within the hour. I carry an EpiPen and lost days at a time in a sleepy haze of Benadryl. Now, with allergy shots, I only get small welts around the bite. It's taken a year to get that far and I'm proud of it.
I still carry an EpiPen, allergy medicine, Benadryl, a daily inhaler, and an emergency inhaler with me. I joke about how living in Savannah was allergy resistance training. Any time I ride there I have to use my emergency inhaler, but I used it only a handful of times during my two-thousand-mile TransAm effort, mostly for high-altitude flare ups around Hoosier Pass. That should give you an idea of the swampy coastal Georgia air; I feel like a million bucks everywhere else, pretty much. But even the West isn't perfect: I was glad to have what I did during the race, as cottonwood trees seem to be another trigger, and I woke up several mornings with my eyes swollen almost-shut. But the allergy medicine got me back on the bike.
I guess what I'm saying is that acknowledging your weaknesses can actually make you stronger. I learned to take care of myself and made a strong showing in a race I never thought I'd be physically able to participate in.
Ultimately, it was another chink in the physical armor that cut short my effort. I live in low altitude and didn't anticipate that my feet would expand a whole shoe size. I cycled for a week in too-small shoes before I could be refit at a bike shop. I stayed the course and managed the swelling for another week, but the Achilles damage was done and I decided to scratch before causing permanent damage.
But now I'm back on the bike, waiting for my new (larger) shoes to arrive, already evaluating how to come back even stronger and more prepared next year.