Confession time: I am a reformed runner.
I spent the better part of my high school days hustling through neighborhood streets with a gang of long-limbed girls, singing oldies at the top of our lungs. We hurt each other good in those days, pinning it as we crested hills and punching it around the track during speed workouts. We loved to beat each other but – more importantly – we loved to love each other.
Turning yourself inside out has a way of making you vulnerable and vulnerability has a way of making you either compassionate or defensive. We trended toward compassion.
No one understood why we ran (especially us), but we showed up to work outs with religious intensity. We listened to our old Norwegian coach with a special kind of Rêverence. Running until you puke is not the most popular activity you can choose as a 14 year old, but we made it look good – even when it looked bad. When the gun went off, our brains went to battle with our hearts and lungs to see who could hurt us more for 19 or so minutes.
There was a lot to hate about the sport: the dated skimpy uniforms, the pre-race nerves that nearly you brought you to tears, the injuries, the hill repeats, the start gun elbow wars. But what I loved most about it was something that outsiders often forgot about entirely – in the sport of cross country, you're only ever as fast as your fifth runner. Despite the emotional isolation that characterized much of our time in motion, we ran with a united spirit. We ran as a team. Separate bodies propelled toward a single goal.
When it came time to count points, the placing of our first five runners were totaled. The team with the fewest points wins. You're only as fast as your fifth runner.
Sometimes this meant picking Sarah up off the red cinder track after she'd lost an elbow battle. Sometimes this meant Sarah touching my lower back as she overtook me in a race, whispering with precious oxygen she should have been keeping for herself: "C'mon Swift, let's go. Stay on my shoulder."
The Rêve Grand Tour is not a race – it is a very long ride – but it shares an important quality with cross-country: we will only be as good as our sixth rider. We will only be as good as we are in whole. Sure, we'll sit on separate bikes and battle individual demons, but at the end of the day, this project is a success if we are successful as a team. Everyone together. Every one.
Rêve rider Susan Peithman just completed the Rapha Prestige Race in San Francisco, California and she was part of the team that won. This event also shares the unique approach of truly honoring the team as a whole: teams of six must finish with all riders and bicycles in order to be officially counted. You win these races by being fit and fast and calculated and a little lucky, but you also win them by taking care of your fold, by sheltering weaker riders, by talking each other off the ledge, by training together early and often, by believing – in bikes and beauty and pain and each other.
This week, the complete Rêve team will come together in Portland for a training camp. Many of us are meeting for the first time. We will meet sponsors and get fit to our Cannondale SuperSixes. We'll get sized in Capo clothing and Giro accessories. We'll shoot videos and stills and do interviews. But – more important than any of this incredibly taxing logistical stuff – we'll have a chance to be together as a team. To ride together and tell stories and climb hills and share bananas and laugh and lay the foundation for relationships that will coalesce in 80 days when we see each other again in France.
In July, strangers will become family. Teammates will turn into sisters. Women that I've only just met will see me at my worst and best. We'll break ourselves down and shed pretenses until we're raw and open and vulnerable.
Vulnerability has a way of making you either compassionate or defensive.
We'll choose compassion. We'll choose camaraderie. We'll choose to win. Together.
We're only as good as our sixth rider – and, whoever she is, we already know she's amazing.