About 20 minutes after leaving home for the first cross race of the season, I received the following text from my wife.
I knew I was going to be off my game but forgetting the two most important components to a day at the races was a new low when it comes to being unprepared. At the time, a 40 minute detour seemed like a fool’s errand but in retrospect I should have just gone home and spent the day on the couch.
Taking place at the institutional sounding Prado Regional Park, the day’s course was a flat, non-technical affair (save for a billion gopher holes) that offered about 20 feet of shade from the 90 degree heat and the soothing sound of gunfire thanks to a range across the street.
Not returning home to fetch the chips and beer meant I had a solid hour to train before race time. The ability to go 10 miles without a taking break or getting severely winded gave a false sense of hope that lasted up until I was called up to the front row on the merit of being one of the first to pre-register.
That’s when the gravity of the situation set in.
I couldn’t come to grips with asking the USA Cycling official if I could decline my front row spot and I couldn’t pretend I wasn’t there thanks to the call up catcalls of teammates and friends.
In the anxious moments leading up to the start, I sat in the front row doing my best to act like I belonged there. Heated, heavy breath of the serious competitor behind me tickled my neck. I was doomed. I said a silent prayer asking that when he ran me down to please do so in a way that could be as painless as possible while inflicting race ending (but not too costly) harm to my bike. If he could be so kind as to let the air out of a tire while passing, I would be forever grateful.
The moment the official said “Go on the whistle,” the part of my brain that remembered what it was like to race cross (and not completely suck at it) miraculously Quantum Leaped its way to the controls. Everything was maybe, possibly going to be OK. The whistle chirped and my bike lurched in the right direction. It only took a couple of tries to get clipped in and by time we hit the grass, I almost felt like a real cross racer.
I slotted comfortably into the top 10 as we flew through the opening lap. It felt great running with the big dogs who boasted more leg veins than backfat. With each corner, confidence in my freshly glued tubulars grew and I started calculating how many points daddy would be adding to his series coffer when things were all said and done.
The next calculation happened as we crossed the start/finish line for the second lap.
There was still 33 minutes of this shit to go.
To the uninitiated, the best way to describe the pain the sport provides is that it’s like trying to sprint a marathon while simultaneously giving birth and getting kicked in the balls. It is a truly unique sensation that has no peer.
The rest of the of the race would be a slow and merciless descent into misery and despair.
Even as speed steadily declined, heart rate stayed sky high except for that part where I slowed to a crawl in a desperate-as-Uncle Ned attempt at getting lapped.
On the upside, I did make it onto the YouTube when I was passed by one of the 45+ leaders like I was standing still.