|Me in 1/2/3's courtesy Jeffrey B. Jakucyk|
It reminded me of an Outside Magazine article about Free Diving, “Open Your Mouth and You’re Dead.” On the cusp of death via drowning, free divers report a soft transition from swimming into an almost blissful dreamlike state (see inset). I’m not going to romanticize death and it would be preposterous to think one could drift off into dreamland while riding a bicycle and stay upright, but with my heart rate pegged at 184bpm the third time up the Cliff Road climb in the OSRS Race #3 at Harrison's Tomb in Cleves, OH I didn’t feel panic but instead a letting go of sorts. Someone at the front surged and I sunk through and below the surface of the peloton.
A few months ago, while on vacation in St. Maarten, the diving instructor at the reef pulled me aside and said, “You look like a good swimmer, confident and comfortable with the snorkel and fins.” I nodded. “If you want to see some of the better reef,” she added, “go to the other side of the peninsula and swim through the chop about 75 meters to where the buoys start the curve.” She pointed. “Just stay to the right of the buoys to avoid the red stinger coral.” I hesitated at first. Stinger coral? My wife and I walked the dirt path and stood on the rocky beach as the waved thunderously crashed on the shallow reef. Ka-whoosh! It was intimidating as hell. She wasn’t going. I stood there for 10 minutes wondering where the stinger coral exactly was. This is how tourists drown.
Back on the climb with riders cresting the top, I got this, I thought. I’ve been dropped before. I’ve been dropped and clawed my way back to the surface before. You gather your wits, tell yourself the group will let up, take a drink, hit a GU, put your head down and drive it smooth and steady until you make contact with the main group or a few others in a row boat. You think of getting dropped as a violent abrupt end, but it’s really not. It’s sort of like drowning. The lights sort of dim in your mind with lack of oxygen and you never feel the water rush in. Seeing the riders flood around me at the last little punch the third time up the climb, I was at ease. I wasn’t dead.
Maybe the calm comes with knowing that you’re giving it your all. Isn’t that what death is sort of like anyway? As I look back, like we all do on races, and look for some blame, I realize I did do everything I could have to save myself. I’ve done long and hilly training rides with the fastest guys in town. I ate a good breakfast. I arrived with fresh legs. I was eating and drinking. I never hit the wind and always had a wheel. Judging from the size of the group cresting the climb in front of me, I wasn’t the first to let go. At least a third of the original peloton was already below me. I simply wasn’t strong enough to keep treading water and that’s okay with me. I gave it my all as a 44 year old Cat 3 in his first 1/2/3 road race. Like my decision on the beach in St. Maarten, I didn’t waste my opportunity.
I was in tropical paradise, a good swimmer, incredibly fit from racing the Cyclocross Masters World Championships, with good gear and the one and only chance I may every have in my life to see the coral reef in St. Maarten. My thoughts turned positive to “No Opportunity Wasted,” the mantra of Phil Keoghan of the Amazing Race, his ride across America, the book and resulting NOW website. I kicked off my shoes, geared up and waded in. With waves crashing over head, I went under. I held my breath and ducked my snorkel underwater and swam through a 4 foot gap between some red coral. I surfaced, blew out my snorkel, ducked under the choppy 3-4 foot waves and kept swimming along the right of the buoys and out to an incredible little reef. It was nearly euphoric.
|Me At Masters Worlds CX Jan 2012|
You see, I didn’t enter this hilly 1/2/3 race to do well. I did it because I had the chance, an opportunity to better myself, to test myself. I didn’t enter it blindly. Like in St. Maarten, I considered my abilities and the risk. My first 1/2/3 road race as a 44 year old Cat 3 rider, what am I stupid? But, it’s that sort of thinking that holds people back. Why pass up an opportunity to do well in a Cat 3 race for a chance only to hang in a 1/2/3 race? For me, every cyclocross season I struggle staying in contact with the Cat 1 level masters aged racers. Every year I feel like I’m just a pinch too slow. So this year, I’m making a concerted effort to put on my big boy pants and ride with the fastest guys in town in hopes of being on par in the fall. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to learn that I can average 23.5 mph in a 1/2/3 road race and the guys who finished with what was left of "the pack" averaged 24 even. It was worth the risk. Getting dropped is nothing but riding alone. It sure the hell isn’t drowning.