Normally I go for a ride every Saturday. It's a sort of tradition I've created for myself. I get up early, drink only black coffee, and go for a long ride before eating breakfast with my family.
Two weeks ago, my Saturday ride was put off until Sunday. That should've been my first clue that things were not entirely well. But I tried to redeem myself. I got up early on Sunday. But Sundays are race days.
Usually, I'm pretty unaware and immune to races. Sure, there was that one season a long time ago when I raced three or four races in a year. I think I was 16th in the "fat guys in New England" category. Uh, that would be Novice Clydesdale in the New England Championship Series. And that one time I got third at a race near Phillips Exeter. But that was kind of a technicality. I missed the start because I was in a porta potty, so they timed me on my own sort of time-trial.
Anyway, back to the present. I may have been harboring some sort of pseudo-guilt for missing my local Weeping Willow race (I finished dead last there in 2015. Not in my category—in the entire race.) I rode the NEHSCA race course the day before, and considered that enough.
So I was rather susceptible that Sunday to the urge to prove myself somehow. I've lost a bit of weight this spring, and I guess I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, racing wouldn't be so gut-wrenchingly hard anymore. You know how they say if there's a gun on the mantle in the first chapter, someone will be shot with it in the last chapter? Remember that.
So on a whim, I checked to see if any races were happening that day. One was. At a place called Moody Park. I'd never been there. If only I had...
I had about 2 hours to make the Clydesdale race—if I hurried, I could make it! Run home, tell my wife what I'm doing, into the car, program the GPS, and off I go. Fool.
I'm challenged at math. You should know that. Not unable, but . . . unmotivated. So here's what I was working with. GPS said 90 miles to the race. I had a little more than an hour and 45 minutes. So, if I drove above 60, I'd be giving myself extra time. I think. I thought. What I didn't imagine, though, is that not all of those miles were highways. In fact, quite a few of them, at the end, were rather small roads. Where you can't go above 60. Or 60. Or 30. This would prove to be my undoing.
I had what I considered an important family event that day---my nephew Nick's graduation party. But that wasn't until 3PM! The race was at 9am. How could that be a problem. I knew it would be 10 miles, so if I went close to 10 miles an hour, it would take an hour. Let's say 1 1/2.
But what if I just arrived as the Clydesdales were starting? What then? Then I'd have only one other possible class to race in---the singlespeed open. Meaning anyone could race in it. Experts, Pros, Legends. And it would be twice as long. 20 miles. I haven't done a 20 mile ride on dirt yet this year. And it is raining. And this park looks rather..... hilly. And most ominously, it doesn't start for another hour.
Delayed start + race that's twice as long= eats into my buffer time before I need to be home.
|Looks easy enough, doesn't it?|
|I don't recognize this place. Probably because its dry.|
Don't get me wrong---the people were very nice. They cheerfully signed me up and took my cash. In return, I got---a number plate. Fine, whatever. I mean, I usually get a t-shirt, but I don't even really like them, and I was entering very late, so whatever. (Also, I hadn't eaten, remember? Anything.) [they'd later give me a packet containing a gel and a mini Clif bar. After the race. No bad feelings, fellas, but I sure could've used those WHILE RACING.] In their defense, most people arrive prepared at these things, so I'm sure they assumed I had race food I'd carefully bought the week before. And yes, I normally would have that. I was trying to be spon-tain-you-us! Never would spontaneity bite me so hard.
So, enough foreshadowing. The gun goes off. The experts (and the one single speeder) are off like a crack of lightning. And in the first 100 yards, I think. Oh, Crap. I hate racing.
This can't be good. Not even to the first hill and I'm dreading what I'm doing. Get out of this hole. Yeah, this will go OK. I'm not the same person! I've been setting personal records on Strava all month long!
Then I get to the hill. The first hill. The endless hill that I'll walk EVERY lap. All four laps. I try to ride it that first time, though. And the mud is more slippery---truly---than any I've ever felt before. I can't climb, because even sitting down (because this sometimes happens when you stand up, but never when you're sitting) my rear wheel is spinning. Tractionless. I've been riding mountain bikes since 1993, and I truly don't understand how the rest of the field got up there. And so, I walk. Halfway up, I get back on and ride the rest of the way. And then comes the downhill.
This is the fun part. The best of the course. Mysteriously, though wet, this dirt has plenty of traction. I just don't get it. This section is full of berms and jumps. My legs start to cramp from standing up to get behind the seat.
And then it happens. I get to the main part of the course. And it's unsane. Not insane, but something beyond that. It might be fun, if I could breath. If. At one point, I come to what I swear is a vertical drop off of about twenty feet. I'm so brain dead I lock up the brakes, and let 'er rip. I do this twice. Then, for unexplainable reasons, it seems impossible to me. It's much harder to walk than ride. A little later, I come to the Gravity Cavity. Imagine a halfpipe. Like in skateboarding, or snowboarding. Here's what it looked like in 2011. Now they've added a much better bridge, but narrower, and with rails. Also, there's a jump just after the bridge. And they've added pavers to make it faster. See?
Now imagine it covered in mud, when you're covered head to toe in mud, and with your front brake not working. And you're exhausted.
I would go on to miss my family event, finish 2nd---exactly one HOUR behind first place, and come in as the organizers were CLEANING UP the race. They gave me a pint glass, a nice saddle ("because you were in the saddle the longest of aybody") and some nice wool socks ("you looked cold!").
And I swore I'd never race again. That was the purpose of writing this last year, then saving it as a draft. To remember why I was never going to race again.
Late last fall, I entered a race and won, for the first time ever. Except that the organizers didn't keep track of times, results, or award prizes.
You see, this was the bike-only part of a duathlon. They kept track of the running section separately, just not the bike section. Which I won. Of course they didn't keep track. So, why did I pay an entry fee, again?
Still, I know I had the guts to take the lead, and I held it until the end. There were only 6 guys, but those 6 were racing, they knew what was up. And I came in first.
Which brings me back to this week. The first race of 2017. I've ridden all through the winter. Just yesterday, I did a 13 mile ride. The race is only 8 miles. With only 125 feet of climbing per lap. I will arrive plenty early. I will eat ahead of time. And I will be sure to be caffeinated.
And maybe, finally, I will not stink at racing. Do I think I can win? I doubt it. But I'm not going to defeat myself at the beginning by letting everyone else get ahead of me at the start and trying to catch them. If I can take the lead at the start, I'm going to do it. And if I get passed, so be it.