Several weeks ago I wrote a post about racing my mountain bike in the pro division of a local race, the Beezley Burn. Growing up, I heard the phrase “Don’t bite off more than you can chew” countless times. I received a firsthand lesson in this phrase over the past weekend.
The race was actually a two day event, with a short half hour sprint race on Saturday, and a 32 mile epic cross-country race on Sunday. Saturday dawned beautiful, although it was a bit on the windy side. The race was at 5PM so I had all day to think about it. As race time drew near I began to wonder about my decision so many weeks earlier to attempt this double header of races. Although I had ridden the full 32 mile distance on the cross country course a few weeks earlier, I did not have as much time to train as I would have liked, and I had been sick the week prior. I just did not feel my best. Nevertheless, here I was about to attempt what I had set out to do.
The short track race started promptly at 5 o’clock, and right away I was in last place. It felt as though I was peddling through molasses. Half of the course had us riding into a powerful headwind and this did not help. I managed to pass one racer, but after that I was only passed, in fact the winner of the race double-lapped me. The course was about a quarter mile loop, so lapping happened quickly. I finished the race, looked around, and rode home hoping I had not expended too much energy. I ate a large dinner of lasagna, bread, and ice cream, potentially my undoing.
Sunday rolled around and I headed to the starting line with around 12 other guys who were racing the 32 miles. Another group lined up behind us, this group was racing 24 miles and starting 2 minutes after we did. I began to wonder if 24 miles was more my style. Too late, the gun sounded and we were off down a gravel road, dust churning into the air and down my throat as I settled into last place. It was hot, and unlike Saturday there was no wind. The race took place on a sagebrush covered hillside with no hiding from the sun.
As the first lap flew by, I kept up a pretty rapid pace. I was by no means keeping up with the leaders, but I was doing alright. Lap number two started out well and passed pretty much as the first one had, up and down dusty, rocky, and treacherous terrain. I gulped down Gatorade and Clif bars attempting to refuel my rapidly diminishing energy stores. As the beginning of lap three rolled around, I felt the first sensations of cramping. No big deal I thought, I’ve ridden through cramps plenty of times. I kept riding, but slowed my pace to try and keep the cramps at bay. Lap three took forever. I had to stop several times when my legs cramped from top to bottom and made peddling impossible. I began to slowly eat all the food I had with me as slow as I could, but keeping something continuously going down my throat. I peddled into lap 4 in this manner and began the last 8 miles of the race. As I neared the section of the course where the hills began in earnest, I ran out of food and Gatorade. Almost simultaneously I was hit with a double leg cramp that knocked me off my bike. As I tried to regain control, I realized that there was just no way I would be able to make it through the last 8 miles. I did not want to be dragged off the course, and so I made the decision to turn around and get back while I still could. I slowly made my way back to the finish area and submitted my DNF, a humiliating experience, but better than being drug out on a stretcher.
As I think back over this experience, the words “Don’t bite off more than you can chew” kept popping into my head. I truly had done just that. I knew several days before the race that I was not feeling my best. I was tired and worn down, and had just been sick. “No excuses” I told myself, “Go out there and power through it”. I learned that some things just can’t be powered through. I will try again next year, train harder, ride faster, and actually finish.