Rachel explains some reasons behind her first DNF in today’s Interlocken Cyclocross Race. No bike mechanicals, just mechanicals of the mind. Don’t worry, she’ll be back at it tomorrow.
Is a DNF still considered for a race report? Even when I quit pretty much in my first lap? I’ve had plenty of DFLs, a couple DNSs due to injuries, a couple of time cuts as well as some lackluster results in the 8 years of bike racing. But I have never had a DNF so I feel it deserves some explaining. Especially since I encourage all of our women to never quit a bike race no matter the circumstances. So this is not an unpacking of excuses as to why, but rather offer a comparison to life, losing and other “L” words. Don’t worry, it won’t be a diatribe either. But it will be heart-felt. It would be easier to accept my first DNF if it were due to a broken bike or mechanical of sorts, but unfortunately it’s due to a broken heart coupled with a mechanical of the mind.
This hasn’t been the best week of prep for a weekend of fun cross racing. Having consumed less than 1000 calories and getting less than five hours of interrupted sleep in the last three days and throw in a great deal of waterworks adding to the dehydration factor, I didn’t have stellar expectations for today. But I did expect to have a top 5 finish. This course was perfect for me and it was fun. My first two pre-laps of the Interlocken course, I rode the sand and was darn close with my first attempt at the mud pit. I was confident. I was tired and weak, but yeah, I was confident and looking forward to forcing pain upon my body, making it hurt as much as my heart. I choked a Gu down and couple swigs of Naked Juice as the only calories I had taken in that day despite riding an 1.5 to the race and it was approaching almost 3 pm. It was tasteless and hard to make myself eat lately, having lost 6 pounds in 3 days according to my Withings. Weird how the mind does that to the body.
I’m a very private person with regard to my relationships or my family life. Though I’m very active socially more for my profession, most people would never know that I’ve even dated or anything about my family other than superficial info since living in Colorado unless you’re a considered a pretty close friend (not the Facebook, Strava or Twitter kind-sorry). I’ll spare details but it’s been a long time since I’ve suffered a broken heart. Around 12 years for it to hurt this much to be exact. Yes, I’ve been in relationships since then and have loved other partners since then, but this was a different type of feeling. I was beginning to question if I were capable of having emotions that would even remotely bump over or under a flatline until this person was in my life. Let alone have tear ducts that worked.
Anyway, this is a race report. Got my usual very back of the pack, last row call up and lined up behind my super fast starters of teammates Amanda and Emily. Also, had my usual bad start but was able to pick through the crowd of racers in front of me. I rode the sand but slowly through the congestion and got stuck on the hill behind some other riders. I still pushed, picking off riders knowing where my ranking among the other racers would be if I kept this pace as I had done in all my previous races. It felt good and my heart rate was stable but certainly at threshold. But then I saw THE person. I wasn’t sure if they saw me. I had never seen said-person at a race before because our start times are very different. We’ve never even crossed paths when I’ve raced, unless it’s intentional and long after my race is finished. Why was this person here this time?
And at that precise moment, I proceeded to fall a part. My mind completely shut off, and I forgot how to ride my bike. That has never happened before. Ever. In looking at my heart rate, it was the highest it had been all year and it wasn’t even a difficult part of the course. It couldn’t come back down and then…I nailed a root driving me into the tape and knocking my chain from my bike. I struggled even getting off of my bike because my body didn’t want to work. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t swallow. My chest felt like it was going to explode, and I was going to spew that Gu everywhere. An eternity passed while trying to get my chain back on my rings with hands that weren’t working. Then I was quickly the very last person in the race. I thought I could give it another try, and passed three more folks to charge my way back. Heart rate still through the roof and getting higher, I then rounded the corner through the sand (terribly might I add) and at the top I saw that person on a different part of the course. Cheering me on. Why? Why now and never before? Was it an accidental crossing of paths? A lot more why’s ran through my head in the 1 minute it took for me to get out of eye shot. Heart rate hit 182 which it hasn’t done since moving to altitude. Once out of sight, I slipped through the blue tape and told my kind teammate I needed to go home but to finish strong. She understood.
I returned my timing chip and left quickly with my tail between my legs, tears streaming down my face. Thank everything holy that cycling isn’t my job because I would have surely been fired from the team that day. I’ve always prided myself on strength and determination. Why had my mind told my body to give up? I remember talking my teammate earlier this year through a tough experience, and she had the mental fortitude to push through and challenge her body and mind in a way she had never done before on much more technical terrain. How hypocritical of me that I can’t eat my own dog food? Perhaps this experience will provide me more empathy for others who have a bad day on the bike, no matter the circumstances.
In any event, I’m certain this won’t be my last DNF. It won’t stop me from riding or racing again either. I love the bike and all it provides: freedom, experiences, transportation, memories, career opportunities, exercise, camaraderie, passion, opportunities to give back. My heart will still be heavy, but I will go back out tomorrow, and I will finish that bike race, even if I’m DFL. I will also love and likely lose again. But that’s a part of life. It won’t stop me from giving 100% and allowing myself to be vulnerable again (I just hope it’s not another 12 years). Breaking up is like a big fat DNF – the probability that it will happen again is high throughout the course of your life or racing career. It’s how you choose to deal with it, learn from it, and grow from it that matters.
From this experience, I am also thankful that I “get” to feel this way. No longer do I walk the flatlined life that I had thought was going to be my eternal purgatory. I get to experience excruciating pain because that means I truly felt the opposing yang. The same could be said for a bike race, especially the grueling cyclocross style of racing. How amazing does it feel once you’ve finished the hardest race you’ve ever done in your life: your body hates you, you want to throw up, and you’re already thinking about your next race? I’ve been reading a lot of Rumi lately and am grateful his words are still relevant nearly eight centuries later. This one excerpt in particular really sticks out, especially as it pertains to the season and the roots that knocked my chain from my bike 🙂
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”