Seven days before the race, I had just finished freaking out in the heat at Pat's Peak, and I checked the forecast. Sunday was the hottest day of the coming week -- 84 degrees predicted in Andover, CT.
Gee, I thought, that's gonna be tough, I don't think Pat's Peak even broke 80.
Three days before the race the forecast was up to 91.
Two days before the race the forecast was up to 95. Tough doesn't even begin to describe it. I started hydrating Friday. I drank a Pedialyte Saturday. I picked up some Hammer electrolyte pills. I was prepared... and terrified.
Somewhere along the line, I forgot that I needed to prepare my bike as well as my body. I showed up at the start line on the Scalpel with a bunch of parts I threw on the night before and rode for all of ten minutes before the race started -- a new Reba Race and a crappy old crank stolen from Linnea's old bike. Two minutes to start and I notice that my headset is a bit loose -- so I borrowed an allen key from Ben Corbalis and tightened it while we were getting instructions. Generally not a good sign.
The Reba ended up working great, after I correctly guessed the psi that would give me "race stiffness." The crank... not so much. I must have gotten some grit on the spindle because that thing was LOUD! And not shifting very well, neither up front or in back. Getting out of the big ring required dropping all the way to the granny and then back up, for example. At the last minute I packed a giant 8mm allen key in the event my crank decided to fall off.
The plan for the day was to start super slow and try to survive. Such a simple plan, and yet so impossible to follow. I took it out in last place, which was great, but I couldn't convince myself to let everyone ride away. Nick Bartow took a wicked header on the first monster log, so I picked up a place and the race was on. I tried to ride easy, stay relaxed, but the heat and sharp climbs made it impossible. I saw 193 on my HRM repeatedly throughout the lap, that's way higher than I've ever sustained before. I thought I should probably slow down, but I was still riding at the back, and my legs felt ok.
So what's the deal here? I was at 186-193 bpm for most of lap 1. Given that my max is about 195 (or so I thought...), does this mean I should have slowed down? Had it been cooler I know I would have been down around 180 for that level of effort, which is pretty normal. Except for feeling like my head was in an oven, things seemed to feel ok. Seriously, any of you real athletes out there, is a super-high HR always a sign of impending doom, even if it's being caused by extreme heat?
So yeah, there was some impending doom. Lap two started off pretty well and I was motoring through the field for a while, and it looked like my dawdling lap one strategy was going to pay off. But then I realized I had to pee. There was no way I could hold it off for another hour of racing. My super-aggressive hydration strategy has some downsides. What to do?
I've had discussions with some people who are more serious than I about what to do in this situation. The answer seems to be, piss your shorts. This seems pretty repulsive to me, but what do I know? If that's what you do, that's what you do.
I couldn't do it.
I was already so hot. My HR was still through the roof. I just stopped, faced away from the trail, and let it rip. Got a nice 20 second break, and didn't have to soil my shorts. I'll take it.
The problem was, that 20 second break turned off my ability to race. I got back on the bike and I was cooked, smoked, toasted, burned. My heart had tasted a respite from the torture chamber and it wasn't going back in. Suddenly, it was like I had two brakes dragging. I started hemorrhaging places.
Lap three was utter misery. It took me almost 20 minutes of soft pedaling before I could get back to the scalding, sustained suffering that qualified as racing today. The interesting thing was how many other people on the course were going through the same transformation -- I was going back and forth with so many guys as we alternately blew up and recovered. Just to name the guys from my category, I traded places at least twice with Sean Daley, Eric Carlson, Matt Green, Keith Berkoben, Mukunda Feldman, Randall Jacobs... probably more guys, too. The whole group of us were all within 2 minutes so there were lots of places getting swapped -- and plenty of reasons to keep trying to race.
The course went by a nice, big 15-foot wide stream each lap. I'd been consider jumping in it from the beginning of the race -- by lap three I was ready to try it. I was in the mix with the aforementioned guys, so it was possibly a bad idea. Twenty seconds at least, but what would happen when I hit the icy water with fiery legs? Instant cramps? Losing the will to race (again)? I didn't know. But I wanted to find out.
I ditched the bike and ran into the water, predictably slipping and falling on the submerged rocks. Ahhhhhh, so nice. I flopped onto my back, unfortunately straight onto a big rock which kept me out of the water. I rolled off it and got my torso underwater. The cold made me hyperventilate, and it felt amazing!
I emerged from the water in time to get laughed at by Mukunda Feldman. I don't blame him... but man, how that changed my race. I should have done it on lap two. Somehow it just reset my body heat enough that I could hammer once more. I was legitimately hammering once again -- instead of feeling incredibly hot, I was able to think about how much my legs were hurting. Which is how you're supposed to feel in a bike race.
Lap four was madness. I rose from the ashes, but I only had twenty minutes left to salvage my race. Luckily, we had a fairly dense group of riders, and I was making places fast. With five minutes left, I caught Eric Carlson for the third time today, and it was time for some Winsted Woods revenge. I tried to do the old pass-and-dust but I couldn't get it done, he was tenacious and my technical skills were going down the tubes from the effort. He stayed right on my wheel as the pace picked up. Soon we rolled up on Randall Jacobs in some hard singletrack, and I continued to waste energy by riding his wheel super-close and dabbing repeatedly when he bobbled. I couldn't get by him, and then we hit the last climb on the course, before the fast downhill and flat sprint to the line.
I hit 198 bpm trying to pass Randall, the highest I've ever seen. It didn't work. I cracked at bit near the top, but I was sure that our drag race had dusted Eric. I looked back and he was right on my wheel. Oh crap.
We had a brief fire road descent to recover. On the flats, I finally got that last-60-seconds-of-a-cross-race burst of adrenaline. I went nuts in the big ring, staying seated as my bike ghost shifted wildly. I passed Randall, hung onto the last corner, and exploded 20 yards before the finish line. I had just barely enough of a gap to limp across the line, one second clear of Randall and Eric.
I crossed the line and didn't touch the brakes. I rolled straight back to the car, right past the car, down the embankment, into the stream, where I lay for 20 minutes.
Now that's my kind of cooldown.
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