Disclaimer: This post contains a few graphic descriptions of gastrointestinal related distress.....if you are squeamish about such issues, best to skip this one. ;0)
Aw, snap. It's 3 a.m. and I am up tossing and turning. One week exactly to my next race and I'm ruminating on race day prep, nutrition, strategy and results. I slide out of bed, grab a banana and a sip of water and sit in my kitchen for a few minutes relishing in the serenity of the early morning. I can hear the frogs croaking in the nearby pond, and I try to quiet my mind before returning to bed.
Despite racing a dozen or so times before, and posting some solid results, I still get those jitters. Generally, the crickets that jump around in my stomach, making me a little anxious start about a week before a big race. The more I care about the outcome, the more nervous I get.
It's been a couple of months and I am all healed up from the broken ribs, back to doing what I love. I've been lucky in some recent races, and unlucky in others. This year has been a mixed bag, but I'm slowly gaining the experience that I need. My last race, The Bailey Hundo taught me a lot about myself and my determination as an athlete.
I could tell that within the first mile, my stomach was upset. Truthfully, it wasn't just my stomach, my entire body felt a little weak. During the first five miles of the race, I tried my best to hold a pace that I knew was both conservative, yet aggressive. Unfortunately, my pace wasn't good enough. Rider after rider passed me, and with each one an ounce of my confidence went with them. It's difficult not to listen to the negative thoughts that haunt you in a bike race, especially when you know you're not riding well.
Mile after mile meant me falling further and further behind the other racers. At about twenty miles in, I knew I must have been last place in my division. I began to question my motives for attempting to race in the professional category, my ability as an endurance cyclist, and also to question my ability to finish the race.
Thirty miles in and at the base of one of the largest climbs, I could sense the enemy troops gathering at the base of my colon. This was going to be a lost battle on my account. Climbing up, I began to have those cold sweats that one might get before an epic elimination of the bowels (my doctor friends would say the word for this is diaphoresis).
Just make it up the climb, Ashley, just keep pedaling. This was my only conscious thought, holding in the inevitable, digging deep to find the motivation to continue, hoping that I would at least win a part of the GI war. At the rate it was going, I was afraid that I would not only lose the war, but get convicted of crimes against humanity.
I made it to the top and, thankfully, there was a bathroom. I remember the aid station volunteers looking at me funny and asking if they can get me anything. Emphatically, I said no, but I need that bathroom over there, and urgently rode past them. Almost throwing my bike to the ground I ran in and well, to put it mildly, let nature take its course. It wasn't much, and it definitely did not take too long, but I felt relieved and unfortunately, a little depleted.
I decided to get back on the bike and hopefully make it to the next aid station. If I still felt bad, I could quit. The nine miles that I completed after the epic emptying were perhaps the worst both mentally and physically. I just forced myself to drink more electrolyte mix and eat as much food as I could handle. All I wanted was to quit. I felt so ashamed at this point. Ashamed for yet another failure, and ashamed for what happened. It was stupid really; what did I have to really be ashamed about; had I done something shameful?
I made it to the next aid station, which I thought was the one that had my dropped bag with extra food and water. The revelation that my bag wasn't there was a little depressing, but I decided to keep riding so that I could at least make it to eat the pretzels that I packed for myself. So, fueled by a need for more salty carbohydrate filled snacks, I continued.
Mountain biking on well designed single track can be magical. With perfect fluidity the rider and machine are one. In these moments, every corner is cut with precision, every obstacle is faced and conquered with confidence. At some point between miles 45 and 50, I began to feel the magic.
I realized that I did not enter into these events to quit. If I don't end up in an ambulance or the medical tent, I really don't have an excuse. I made a conscious decision to enter into the world of cycling. It is a passion, and my desire to succeed in this sport is deeply seated. I will not give up.
For me, these realizations were paramount to finishing the Bailey Hundo. In a dark and, frankly, disgusting hour, I found that grit that brings me through hard times. Maybe it was all the food that I consumed, maybe it was the electrolyte mix I drank, or maybe it was the salty pretzels, but that girl that I know so well who is strong on the climbs, confident yet daring on the descents, that girl was back and it was magic. With each rider I passed, I felt stronger.
Success is subjective. I did not win this race, but I feel that I was highly successful. I managed to take third in the open/pro category, something I am proud of. This race was an experience that I will not soon forget. I know that I cannot always win, but I hope that I will find that strong girl inside me again.