Friday, July 24, 2009

Race Across Oregon-- Mind vs. Body

Brain failure came approximately 376 miles and 34 hours into the race--I will not count my longest ride by 131 miles and 11.5 hours as an actual failure failure.

But let's back it up.

Date: July 11th, 2009. 0500 hours.
The plan was to wake up at 0400 hours, eat a Skinny Elvis, and roll to the race start in front of the beautiful Best Western in Hood River, OR.

That all went as planned, except I hadn't been asleep, a requirement for waking up. I was up all night with my stomach twisted in knots--a feeling I haven't had since racing on the swim team my freshman year of high school.

Hours earlier, Race Director and multiple RAAM finisher, George Thomas, asked me if I was nervous.

"I only get nervous when I have to go fast," I said. Don't ask me where I pulled that out from. What an asinine thing to say.

At that point, let's say 6pm on the 10th, I wasn't nervous. Nervous hasn't been a part of my race vocabulary for years. Excited to kick ass, yes. Nervous? No.

I got nervous the instant I lay down to sleep. Even Stacy and Clinton from TLC's "What Not to Wear" couldn't calm me through makeover magic.

And so I rolled up to the start in my pink arm warmers, bright blue hand-me-down jersey, and Frankenbike aka Silver Bullet ready for a nap.

Let's back that up even more.

I'm addicted to endorphins. And while my muscles and right knee very much appreciated and very much needed the three week taper I took after the Boggs 24-hour mtn bike race, my brain reeled from endorphin withdrawal.

Mr. Thomas led the pack of solo riders out the first 9 miles of the course in a neutral start. Evil, self-defeating thoughts that have never, ever entered my brain during a race were at the forefront of my mind the instant my right knee started to hurt like a biotch whenever we went uphill.

I was almost dropped on the little HC climb in the first mile.

However, the neutral start offered some happy-inducing perks, like picking handles for my fellow cyclists that these riders would unknowingly carry throughout the entire race: Mr. Pee-Bag, a young guy with a suspicious tube coming out of his pants, taped to his leg with an opening by his foot, and Bananaman, an older man on a recumbent with a huge yellow fairing.

A self-proclaimed Doctor riding to my right told me he did not find Mr. Pee-Bag's decision medically favorable. I agreed.

The peloton's camaraderie and the gorgeous, forest scenery began to pick up my spirits.

Then Mr. Thomas stopped, and the race started. Straight up a mountain. For over 20 miles.

When I spotted my crew for the first time, around 7am, I was ready to ask for a prescription-only dose of Advil. Not the best way to start any race. I took my mind off of the evil knee by studying other people's crews, their vans, their setups, and their peeps. The riders were still close together at this point, so there were crews cheering everywhere.

(My van & Crewmember Tom)

I pretended to be Lance on Mt. Ventoux, cutting through the crowds. Except this climb was probably hors cat├ęgorie n├ęgative--like so gradual it wasn't a graded climb. No matter, the endorphins were kicking in for the first time in 3 weeks, and I was rocking out.

(My crew on 1st climb: Coachubby, Robyn, Tom)

Then came an almost 40-mile descent during which I was crushed by everyone who lagged behind me on the climb. I pointed out one, VW Bug-sized pothole in the beginning, only to be skunked seconds later by at least 4 people. And I thought I had made my Bullet so stinkin' heavy with its aerobars and a honkin' 11-28 cassette.

I was sad, which was a huge surprise; why did I suddenly care where I was 4 hours into a 48 hour race? I'll be the underdog who comes from behind to take the win! No, you won't, you're descending like a slug! Stupid brain! Stop it!

I had told my mom, who drove to Oregon with me, that the race was going to be all mental--that it could only hurt so much, and we were all physically capable of finishing, but the mentally toughest would persevere.

She kindly listened to my pre-race babble, thinking I was a nut job mentally and physically for entering.

But I sincerely believed I was as mentally tough as they come...until this moment; my brain was being a twit and it was only 75 miles into RAO.


  1. I am so impressed you don't normally get nervous. I have been in how many races in my athletic career and I get stomach twisting nervous for every single one of them...and I am nervous for the Grand Teton as we speak. You rock!

  2. Ha! It was definitely a learned approach to racing. I had to do something differently after I spent my entire freshman year of high school puking minutes before every swim meet--or right after I raced! Super gross and super not helpful. And super embarrassing at any age, particularly at awkward 14.