24 Hour racing is an interesting endeavor. I go through the entire range of human emotion, from tears of pain to tears of joy. My body hurts, my mind gets tired, I question every decision I have ever made. But I am not suffering.
I was riding along the smooth, fast stretch of dirt road after “the bitches” just before sundown when randomly I thought of my Aunt Rita. She died 2 years ago after a battle with cancer. I wondered for a moment why she was occupying my thoughts, at that moment and in that place. Then I remembered.
Just after her diagnosis I found myself in Moab, racing my first 24 hour solo. I remember thinking how hard it was, how much pain I was in, how much I was suffering. Then I thought of her, in the midst of intense radiation therapy. I realized that what I was doing was not suffering. If anything, I was thriving. I was experiencing life in a way most people never get to. I picked up my pace a bit, glanced down at the yellow LiveStrong wristband like the one I had bought for everyone in my family, including her, when she was diagnosed, and learned a bit about myself and what life is really all about.
So there I was last weekend, watching the sun sink low behind the tall cactus and vast desert of Arizona. I smiled at the memory of my aunt. She is missed, but not forgotten. She taught me a lot about how to face challenges, how to smile through them, and how to love life.
I am happy that I can go out and “suffer” through a day of bike racing. That I can experience the gritty wind in my face, or the dull ache of numbing feet. A 24 Hour solo is hard, don’t get me wrong. There is physical and mental pain, but it isn’t suffering. It’s experience. And that is why I think I do it.
A few things are emerging from this year’s OP race. For me the theme was consistency. I wanted to be constant in my eating, pace and attitude. And for the most part I did that very well. I made a few mistakes, I didn’t eat or drink enough, but it was leaps and bounds better than I have done in the past. Mentally I felt really good all day and night. I was having fun out there, despite the dusty headwind.
Physically things went well also. I fought off “mini” cramps early in the race. that was a new one for me, but after some extra electrolytes and some chicken noodle soup I was able to put those to bed. Arms, legs, neck and shoulders all felt good.
The major hiccup came on my last lap. It was a hard one. I wanted to be done. I was having trouble getting food and drink down. I think all the dust I had inhaled over the course of the race wreaked major havoc on my mouth and throat. For whatever reason it made it hard to swallow anything, even plain water. So I started trailing off quickly. I pulled over to let a group of faster riders by, and I fell asleep leaning on my handlebars. I took an 8 minute nap. I remember distinctly dreaming that I was with my wife and we were picking out a couch for our house. We couldn’t decide which size we wanted….I have no idea where that one came from.
I rolled in eventually after that lap, and although there was time to start a 14th lap, I called it a day. In hindsight I should have gone out again, but at the moment I was spent, and the lure of being finished was too strong. Next time however, that lure will not be so strong.
Life goes on now, and there will be another day to race, another day to explore the limits of the human mind and body. Another day to go out and enjoy the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle. Underlying the competition (which is important to me) and the strategy and the lap times, is the foundation of living life to the fullest. Part of doing that for me, is racing my bike. Not a lot of people outside the sport understand why I would do it. But then, I can’t really expect them to. For them, it might take years to feel what I feel in one day on the bike.
Tomorrow I will comment on my light set up and few other gear choices. In short, the PT Switchbacks were amazing. For the first time in a 24 hour race I felt like lighting was not a liability. They were bright, light and extremely versatile. More on all that tomorrow….