It is also one of the hardest races of the year. With 5,000 feet of climbing, August heat, and a blistering pace, it is incredibly challenging, which I also appreciate.
The morning of August 4, I was ready. I put in a lot of miles of training, as many feet of climbing as west Michigan can offer, and a good taper to insure a great ride.
Here is what I learned… some days just don’t go as planned. You can ride all the miles, train in the hills, hydrate, inflate your tires to perfection, tune the bike, fuel your body… and some days will not play out the way you wanted them to.
For me, it started with a front brake rubbing (discovered literally moments before the start of the race). I was able to adjust on the fly, but only enough to prevent the rubbing as long as I didn’t use my front brake. I can avoid using my front brake in a peloton for 90 miles, right?
Then, within the first mile, I hit a pothole that caused one of my water bottles to fall out of the cage. In a large group, there was no retrieving it. I was short a bottle on a day that promised bright blue skies and 90 degree temps. This was not adding up to a good ride, but I shook it off.
Not even 10 minutes later, a rider in front of me lost his water bottle… and I not-so-gently rolled over it… almost causing me to crash. While this was only a minor issue, I started to feel a bit off. You know that feeling? I felt like I lost my edge.
Still, I carried on… trying not to be concerned about if/where I could replenish my diminished water supply. Then, shortly before the first really challenging hill, someone in front of me slammed on his brakes (trying to avoid something?) and I had to slam on mine. While I stayed upright, I had to use my front brake… which meant it was now rubbing. As the peloton charged up the hill in front of me, I watched my heart rate climb as I fought gravity and the rub of my tire against the brake. I tried, but couldn’t reach down and adjust it while climbing and soon, I had fallen off the back of the pack. I spent the next 20 minutes adjusting the brake on the fly while trying to catch on to the group. But, it didn’t take long before I realized I wouldn’t catch them. I watched my competition roll away and felt any resolution I had in me melt away in the growing heat of the day.
Riding along, pushing my pedals to release the frustration and disappointment that filled my head, I knew I had a decision to make. I could cut the ride short and take the 60 mile cut-off, or I could chance becoming dehydrated and pushing my body past it’s limits in the 90 mile race. The question was not, “could I finish the 90 mile race?” Yes, I could. I knew I could. The question really was, “Am I too proud to know when to call it a day.” Can I realize that the wind is out of my sails, my legs aren’t feeling great, the sun is hot and my mouth is dry… and even with all the training I did, today is not my day.
So, I swallowed my pride and turned toward the finish rather than turning north to finish the 90 mile race. It was hard. Harder than I care to admit. I have NEVER dropped out of a race… and it doesn’t feel good. But, it was the right decision for me that day.
Part of training and racing is knowing when to call it a day. Whether training or racing, everyone has a bad day(s) – and learning to listen to your body, your heart, your mind is one of the keys to longevity in sport. I learn… and re-learn… it is alright to let it go.
Did I mention that I also got stung by a bee on my inner thigh?