I’m sitting here six or seven hours after my race ended and I’m still mildly nauseous, with an occasional chill washing over me, a mild headache, crampy, and my frigging eyes hurt.
It’s possible I’ve dug deeper at a race but I don’t know when.
The race started okay. I had a nice spot in the fourth row, which put me about six or eight rows up from the back – probably 90 riders started the B master. Going up the 250 yard uphill start – my cup of tea really – there was a real scrum with a lot of pushing and shoving. A guy half wheeled me and cut in, my front tire rubbing severely on his rear. There was more pushing through the second and third turns, then it settled into a long line. A few guys whizzed past me – maybe a half dozen guys who had bad starting position and who knew they had to fight desperately, right now, to move up. And around we went for a while.
The course was in lovely shape today. It was a bit slippery on the turns, but the last 12 months of mountain biking are paying off. I felt really comfortable hanging it out and getting loose in the turns. I would get gapped on anything going uphill – this ain’t the midpack C’s, the midpack B masters generally have some holes in their games but they are also smart enough to spot your holes, and exploit the heck out of them. But then I could make up the gaps in the turns, with lurid, foot-down, rear-wheel slides. This wasn’t enough to keep me from losing composure dismounting at the uphill barriers when a guy cut me off, and I had trouble unclipping, but it kept me in the game for quite a while.
Through about two laps I kept this up. The field started to get really strung out at that point; the long string broke going into the third lap, and instead of two and four bike gaps, there were 20 yard gaps in places. Going into the third lap I started to have some trouble. Some people had attacked off the front, or maybe just figured out the course, and the field was destroyed, along with my legs. Coming down off the hilly section and onto the cobblestones, I decided to soft pedal a bit to try to regain breath and composure. Onto the tarmac, down the off-camber into the grass, and onto the tarmac I attempted to keep smooth and just light pedal. After this 25 second rest, I figured I was ready to stand on it. So I stomped as hard as I could to violently accelerate and open a gap on the guys a little ways behind me.
The acceleration was barely perceptible. The cupboard was bare.
I hung on as well as I could for that lap. A few guys passed me on the long grass straight and I pulled it closer in the technical bits, but that string broke pretty quick going up past the pits and into the tarmac. I mentally retrenched, tried to find a power output level that would be potentially sustainable and just cranked it.
I rode alone for the rest of the lap and the next, passing a bunch of guys, including lapping a few. It was really lonely and I was hurting bad, barely able to get up the starting straight. I think one guy passed me through here. Then it was into the last lap. Up the hills, around, and down I came. I got down the hill and headed toward the pits, still working on keeping steady pressure on the pedals, as much as I could do. My inner voice was screaming at me to go harder, a couple guys were only 5 seconds back. As I pedaled down past the pits my stomach started heaving and I started coughing a bunch. At first I thought it was an asthma attack. Then my lunch started coming up. Mmmm… sooooo dizzy. I skidded to a stop just before the tarmac, and yakked and coughed up chunks into the weeds. I thought about bailing but decided to get back on the bike and go. I took a couple quick hits from the asthma inhaler - the cough was gone after I chunked, so the cough wasn't asthma, it must have been breakfast struggling to crawl up my throat and go sunbathing - but I wasn't thinking too clear just then.
So back onto the bike I went, and if the cupboards were bare before, they were spinning and quite possibly on fire now. I pedaled as hard as I could go up the tarmac road, but there was nothing going on and I was dizzy as hell. I navigated through the semi-technical bits, did the runup as a walkup, and basically kept swooning all the way around. As I came up the road past the start finish, I was having real trouble keeping on keeping on. So I pulled off, went and sat in the car, and let the world spin for a couple minutes until it stopped spinning.
The verdict? Hard to say. I rode pretty strong, right up until I didn’t. If that had been a typical 40 minute race, +/- two minutes, I’d have finished strong and been alright. Instead, I rode up to about 48, and had to stop. It was clear to me that I had ridden past my limits. I’m getting pissed at myself about my habit of DNF’ing when I’m out of it, but jeebus… the frickin’ car was spinning. That's the one hand. On the other hand, I rode right up to my limits and blasted through them. I'm here to tell you, life in Justpast Yourlimitsville is not all it's cracked up to be. All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.
That was six hours ago. I’m still not quite right – is this some kind of lactosis? The headache is slowly dissipating. I’m being stricken with random cramps, not least of them in my hand when I was fueling up the car. My body feels like it’s divorced from my mind right now – I can see and hear and write, but my body feels like it’s living in a separate zip code right now – 10257, to be precise. I’ll be paying for this tomorrow.
So why do I do this again?
Oh yeah, that’s right. Because I like it.
Like the song says, I’m down with the sickness.
As usual, if it's a demented part of the human condition, Dostoyevsky has a passage summing it up.
I bet you think I am writing all this from affectation, to be witty at the expense of men of action; and what is more, that from ill-bred affectation, I am clanking a sword like my officer. But, gentlemen, whoever can pride himself on his diseases and even swagger over them? Though, after all, everyone does do that; people do pride themselves on their diseases, and I do, may be, more than anyone.
- Dostoyevsky, Notes From the Underground
And oh by the way, did I mention - my eyes friggin' hurt?
Many thanks to CityBikes MTB club, Matty D and the other promoters, announcer Bega, the Dutch pancake artists, the Belgian embassy-sponsored pommes frites, and the many, many friends who made it a really special day. The race was great; the event overall was beyond great. See you all at Rockburn.