There seems to be a 3-week gap wherein I did not compete in any races. It’s possible that I raced in some sort of not-locally-sponsored run that I can’t remember, but I doubt it. Instead, near the end of May, I got a sore throat and started feeling really worn down, but decided to go to Syracuse for a full race weekend anyway. Let’s check in on how that went, shall we? [Scrolls back through race report.] Oh, my back cramped up and I finished 19th in the road race. Then during the criterium the next day, we collectively almost ran over a 4-year old before I dropped out with a mechanical.
I had definitely blocked out that near-miss of a child.
After feeling like a phlegmatic slug for the rest of the week, I returned to my doctor. It took about 3 seconds for him to diagnose me with mono. (He also suggested that I get rabies shots. I mean, unrelated of course, and a story for another day perhaps.) Three more weeks of quality workouts were wiped out in a snap, as my body suffered through an illness whose defining characteristic is fatigue.
In mid-July, I finally felt up to a foot race. It was July 20, and I signed up for the 8.9-mile Forest Frolic. I had no illusions about winning; seems likely I had illusions about finishing top-10. Frankly, my conditioning - also known as "fighting one of the most common infections among 18-to-24 year olds in the developed world" - wasn’t ideal for running. But I wanted to do something that wasn’t bike racing and pounding out a baker's dozen kilometers on foot met that criterion.
It’s not that cycling wasn’t fulfilling. It’s just that cycling had taken over my weekends. You may not realize it, but even we neigh-immortal athletes burn out. It certainly didn't help that I doubted keeping pace with weekend races plus Tuesday (unofficial) races plus Thursday time trials after not doing anything for several weeks.
The Forest Frolic disabused me of my running notions. I finished 15th in 1:11 and change. This in a relatively easy run, except for the hill about a mile from the end. Based on prior results I should have been able to do much better. On the other hand, mono! I felt fine with my performance.
"What with all this bad running, I might as well do bad swimming!" I seem to have told myself.
A triathlon club had formed in Ithaca, and one of the members graciously let us use her lake-bordering house as the launch for a cross-lake swim. Bad swimming sure, but this was more my style: no 25-meter breakups that required you either know how to flip-turn or waste time relative to everyone else. Just pure swimming, subject to all the good and bad parts of the lake. The total crossing is around a mile, maybe more given that none of us went entirely straight, and most of us would swim one way and kayak the other, swapping off on the opposite shore.
Even though I had a good training gig coming off the whole sick-in-bed business, I didn’t do much more racing that year. In Albany, I crashed out during the road race, taking a corner too fast and going over the bars. No major damage, just some scrapes and bruises that kept me slow and sore for a week, and it would be my only race-ending fall during a pure cycling event. (I had more significant problems in a triathlon the next year, but we’ll get to that.)
[Insert terrible "tri again!" pun here.] The rest of the month was spent building up to the Lake Anna half ironman triathlon south of DC, which I thought of as a test race. I'd recovered confidence from the knee injury of the previous year, then lost critical training time in the middle of summer to illness, then come back for a few weeks only to get hurt on the bike. It hadn’t been particularly helpful.
The good news? My swim was <i>much</i> improved. Like holy hell.
Bad news No 1: My bike performance felt slow. Actually, at 2:34, it was similar to the previous year, which means it probably felt slow because I’d been used to riding in packs and dragging across flats at 45 kph on a regular basis.
Bad news No 2: My running legs failed. I wanted to settle into an 8-minute pace early on, but it was probably closer to 7:30. My legs started to fry quickly. Lap 1 ended on a slow note, then some people passed me, then it all fell apart. Pain radiated through my knee, and I had images of the previous year. Would I spend another two months out of running again? Was it worth the cost? I limped on for a half mile, a mile, through Mile 9, then threw in the towel.
The epiphany was incredible. <i>It wasn't worth it!</i>
The competition was amateur, casual, and I loved running and biking. Not having either was a crushing thought. I'd done 90% of a half ironman; the other 10% was performative self-destruction.
It was the right call.
Even with a dreary end-of-season showing, I had amassed 13 total points towards an upgrade in competitive cycling and sent a sponsored letter to US Cycling Federation to officially move up to Category 4. In that letter, I told the regional coordinator:
<i>At this point, I see no reason to be classified as Category 5 when I am stronger, faster, and -- at least in racing -- smarter than at the same time one year ago. The level of my abilities will not change regardless of my classification under the USCF scheme, but I would prefer to compete with riders who will challenge me to excel rather than encourage me to slow down. This will not happen if I continue to have a Category 5 rating.</i>
My application was quickly approved.
A month later, I scheduled what I call the “Not Quite Sane Event”: ride 25 miles to an isolated Finger Lakes Trail entrance, run on the trail (half marathon-ish), and ride home. Putting it out there made me happy. Maybe in celebration, I closed out the bar the night before, stayed for an after-party, and got up just in time to find that nobody would join me. My NQS for 2003 was, it should go without saying, not a high-energy event. But I did get to watch a woman train sheep dogs 12 miles into the run and hitched a lucky ride home with a very confused family.
Right after that was the Danby Down & Dirty. And I was back! The 10k race went off well, and I breezed through it in just over 46 minutes, good for 4th. My season ended stronger and happier. I might not be “back to form”, but these things take time!
Next up: Winter shoes!
Mash out. Spin on.