Cyclocross makes her gag. It makes me hack. The only thing that brings a halt to the heaves is being inside the starting grid box painted on the grass, for both of us. Normally telling someone you nearly yucked up your breakfast is a little TMI, but among teammates it’s a revelation. My teammate Gerry and I in the midst of revealing our pre-race jitters discovered we both get to the brink of barf before races. It’s so bad that both of us have a hard time shoveling breakfast down the food hole in the morning, can’t tango with a single piece of toast and convulse at the mere thought of light brown steaming thick oatmeal. On race day we can only wish to be like Mikey and eat our Life cereal. I’m all but ready to ask my wife to feed me with an entertaining food on a fork show while making airplane noises.
I’ve been told to think of important races as just another ride. I can eat just about anything before a ride or for a race I don’t care about. Ham and egg sammiches on a bagel (and I spelled that correctly in my book) is a favorite. While it wasn’t wise or fair to my teammates, I once downed double cheeseburgers before a summer weeknight Ault Park crit. For races that I really care about however, nothing causes the retching reflex more than the sight of a gooey snot-like egg swimming in a frying pan. However, that’s not all true. At 5am before the Mohican 100 this year, I rolled up a ham, egg and cheese breakfast burrito no problem and had my best race all season. Before a mountain bike race a few years ago where the series win hung on the result, I pounded down a pear, a Clif bar and a few other pre-race favorites on the drive to Shawnee State Park. So obviously I am capable of not getting nervous, or at least being calm enough to eat a substantial meal before a big event.
Sometimes it has helped to eat the moment I get up in the morning. The trick, however, is not making any pit stops between bed and buffet. One look at a skinsuit hanging on the back of the door, a bike magazine on the table, or a backpack bursting with cycling gear and the cough starts. Consequently, going from bed to fed is an exercise in futility. There are always water bottles chilling in the fridge to remind me of the race and feel the itch at the back of my throat. Maybe a mini-fridge nightstand would work. Yeah, that’d look good in the bedroom. The sad thing, it’s not like I’m trying to win an Olympic medal. It’s a regional Cat 3 master’s 35+ cyclocross race. In reality it’s the cycling equivalent of my father’s Thursday night bowling league. Maybe I should start packing all my gear in a bowling bag to put things in perspective.
Outside of seeing a sports psychologist, we just deal with it. Know your body I guess. I’ve found foods that I can pound down the pipe in small doses like raisins, Frusion smoothies, bananas, Odwalla bars, fruit roll-up strips, Shotblocks, Sharkies, orange juice, Gatorade and Gu’s. Knowing that an egg sandwich and a glass of OJ packs about 800 calories, I start counting my way up in stuff I can swallow: smoothie 150, raisins 100, shot blocks 200, and so on. I don’t eat everything at once in a formal feeding frenzy. Instead I’ll start with a Dan Active yogurt drink, a vitamin and a smoothie. Then I’ll start packing my bag and down the raisins and OJ. Do my dootie, and then hit the raisins and half a banana. The whole time I'm coughing my way through getting packed. On the road to the venue I’ll nibble away at the Odwalla bar, Berries Go Mega please, and fruit roll-ups. During warm-up and registration I’ll hit the Shotblocks, slowly stoking my stomach before the start.
Yesterday, I stopped twice to hack and heave in the 300 meter ride from my truck to the staging area. I’m sure I scared some little kids. No doubt anyone within 100 yards could hear the unmistakable sounds of a stomach turning inside out like a tube sock. I never actually spew. Spit and drooley ooze, that’s common. I wipe my eyes and the protoplasmic slime from the corner of my mouth and ride up towards the rest of the boys. I may cough a little milling around before the start. As soon as my name is called and I roll onto the starting grid I’m fine and focused.
So what’s the big deal, I finished 3rd on Sunday. The deal is that the races I’ve done remarkably well at, I was never nervous before the start and felt completely confident pre-race, almost like I knew I’d do well and there was no need to be nervous.
Race Video of Cat 3 & Masters from OVCX 2009 #2 at Louisville: