Last week marked the start of my cycling racing season. The event was early Saturday morning. A 5.5 mile uphill time trial. I had been training for it for the past 6 months. My equipment was state-of-the-art. I was in the best shape of my life.
I never made it to the starting line.
Now as background, the race was held in Montague, NJ, just over the Pennsylvania state line. Since it was nearly a 5 hour drive from Bethesda, and the race kicked off early Saturday morning, I decided to drive up the night before, pre-ride the course, stay overnight, and attack the next morning.
Problems started on the drive up. Mental problems, that is, as you have to drive right through the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. Now, I don’t know what it is about that part of PA, but whenever I go there, the weather is the same: “Overcast, not a hint of sun, cold, windy, depressing.”
That immediately put me in a sour mood, as I don’t mind the pain of time-trialing as much as I hate cold, windy days. They literally suck the life out of you.
In any event, I put my “don’t let it bother you” hat on, and arrived at the race course about an hour later. I knew the topography, but wasn’t prepared for the exact route: while the last 2.5 miles were through a beautiful state park. The first 3 miles…..were on a 4 lane highway!
Yes, take your local 4 lane road with cars whizzing by at 50 mph. Then imagine riding a 12 lb bike on the shoulder for 15 minutes. Fun, huh?
Now with an uphill time trial in cold weather, you have one of two bad choices. You can park near the top, warm up, and ride down to the start, getting a little chilly before you go back up. Or, you can park at the bottom, warmup, start with loose muscles, ride up, then freeze on the way down. But, at least when you’re freezing, you’re done racing.
For my pre-ride, I chose the latter. Big mistake. One, I had to park in a strip mall parking lot, as there aren’t many parking spots along a highway. And two, I had no place to warmup other than riding back and forth through the Burger King drive-thru.
Even worse, the wind was blowing at 15 mph, making the windchill about 32 degrees. And oh yeah: still no sun.
But, still wearing my “I’m an idiot hat” I set off amongst the traffic, and finished about 25.5 minutes later. I was going at about 85% effort, so I estimated my race time might have been just north of 22 minutes. Most likely a podium position, so I wasn’t unhappy.
On the ride back to the car, though, things really went south. The wind was even more severe, cars seemed to be going faster, and I was freezing my a** off. It then occured to me: I was having ZERO fun. In fact, worse: I was hating it.
Back at the car, I opened my Ipad and checked the forecast for race day. More of the same….only colder. The thought of spending a lonely night in a hotel room, then getting up at 5Am the next day to do this doing this all over again was depressing.
It was then I made an executive decision: I’m 54 years old, and if this isn’t any fun, why in the h*ll was I doing it?
I phoned Nancy, though, and if she said, “stick with it, it’ll be fine” I was going to plow through. To her eternal credit, she said to come home. Immediately. She felt the same way: the whole thing was just nuts.
So I started up the car and drove 5 hours back. Did I have any regrets? No, not one. I didn’t quit during the race (that’s something I’ve been tempted to do, but never had the nerve), but just decided that my hobby should at least be a bit enjoyable. “Persevering,” “being tough,” and all those other athletic bromides could wait for another day.