Allen and I ride one morning a week at Umstead. It’s typically a mildly competitive ride where we save just enough air to chat about bikes (lot’s of debate about whether to go the 29er route), rides (mountain centuries that Allen does and I talk about), juicing (Allen is obsessed with making fresh OJ). And, occasionally, why we suck.
This morning was my turn to suck. Sunday I’d done a mountain bike race, the 10th Annual (and last?) Huck A Buck at Lake Crabtree County Park. I was the fist to sign in in my age group (Cat 2 50+) and thus at least still in contention for first place. Fifteen minutes later I saw 55-year-old Rich Wetherald and suddenly dropped to second (a distant second). A few minutes after that I ran into 59-year-old Peter Hollis (third), who mentioned he had just seen Steve Rogers (fourth) and that a buddy of his from Down East was riding. “He’s pretty fast,” said the pretty fast Hollis. Fifth.
That others more capable than I had shown up wasn’t the problem. I didn’t care that I would be coming in fifth; no matter how prepared I was I wasn’t beating these guys. (Asterisk: I did beat Steve at HAB 2010 — his seat broke midway through the first lap and he had to ride 15 miles standing.) They’re better riders: better technically, better physically, willing to take more chances. I just wanted to ride well, to ride hard, to keep from dropping off their slipstream for at least half of the first lap. For half a lap I just wanted to be able to still see them up ahead, to feel part of a race.
That delusion lasted about 30 seconds, until I hit a small tree that I’m guessing felt sure it was a safe distance off the trail. For the next 19 miles, the next two hours, I rode alone (except, that is, for the seven Cat 1 riders who lapped me). My race quickly turned into a ride, then a leisurely tour, and finally, survival. It was hot (99 at neighboring RDU at race’s end), I had exhausted the 100 milliliters of fluid in my Camelbak (plus a 16-ounce bottle of hot strawberry electrolytes) and for the last half hour or so it was all I could do to turn the pedals. I had nothing left, and worse, no apparent reason for having nothing left. I hadn’t gone out too fast (the tree), I hadn’t been clinging to the back of the pack for a ridiculous amount of time (again, the tree), I hadn’t partied until 4 a.m. the night before (I was in bed by 10). I sucked, and I couldn’t figure out why. Which is where Dr. Allen came in.
“So … did you avoid the heat last week or embrace it?” Good question. If I’d hidden inside during last week’s brutal 100/100 (heat/humidity) days, I would have been more susceptible to Sunday’s steam bath. But I hadn’t: I’d run twice (including seven miles midmorning at Umstead) and ridden for 70 minutes at Lake Crabtree.
“Eat anything funny?” Not funny for me.
“Injuries?” I wish.
“Bike issues?” Tempting to blame the , but no.
Finally, Allen got around to the obvious, which he would have started with had it not been so obvious.
“How much have you been riding?”
A lot! was my initial reaction. Last week alone I’d ridden … hmm, just once, for an hour and 10 minutes. But the week before … OK, the week before there was a spin class, but no actual saddle time. Allen let me connect the dots. My perception, it turned out, was far from reality.
In early spring I had vowed to be doing a weekly three-hour ride at Umstead; It had been at least a month since I’d ridden two. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers was doing regular centuries on his road bike to build stamina. I hated to think what the others in my age group were up to.
Not that it matters, because, again, it’s not a pair of 3rd place socks that I’m after. As Peter, who always makes the podium, puts it, “I’m here for the fitness.” I’m doing this for myself. Next race — Aug. 21’s Race at the Reactor, at Harris Lake — I don’t want people looking at my lap times and thinking, “He must have flatted on that lap.” I don’t want my last lap to be seven minutes slower than my first (I could live with a two-minute difference). I don’t want guys passing me and saying, “Are you OK?” while I’m still upright and moving. I don’t want to wind up being on the course so long I end up drinking hot strawberry electrolytes. I don’t want to simply survive: I want to look at the results, check out the guy who finished ahead of me and think, “Maybe next time.” (OK, maybe I am a little competitive with the other boys.)
As we rolled back to our cars, Allen said, “I’d like to do some extra credit, but I’m afraid that’s it for me.”
I looked at my bike computer: 1 hour, 40 minutes, 23 seconds. “I think I’ll ride a little longer,” I said, pulling a u-turn and heading back into the woods.