The Hard Day

This is what broken looks like. Mike Ripley had to turn away.
This year, my fourth start at the Fat55 was far and away the hardest race I've ever finished. I was 45 minutes slower than last year. Nine hours in the saddle to get it done.

Nine hours.

I've been pondering what to write about this.

I was so shelled by the last descent, I had to stop three times to keep from throwing up. About halfway down the Larison Rock trail I closed my eyes and nearly passed out going 20mph.

Joe brought me a beer at the finish. I set it on the ground and thought about how much I wanted to puke 10 minutes earlier. I thought about the tequila bar at the Capital Forest 50. I wondered how these races could end so differently. Maybe 20 minutes later I took a sip.

Joe, by the way, finished second overall in 4:40, finishing just 5 minutes behind Evan Plews. It made me smile to think of Evan being harassed by him for the whole race. Yeah, I'm slow. Say hello to my family.

Joe and Clara. This is what fast looks like.
But I can't really find any humor in it. Evan is an incredible racer. He deserves better than a joke blog post. So does Joe. So does Clara, Maddie's high school friend who showed up to do this and at 16, finished 3rd overall for all women in 6:16 and would have taken first last year.

Sitting in the park processing the whole experience, I would be lying if said I felt good about my race. But a couple of days have passed and my body is speaking to me again and I can look at this from a perspective other than the dark place one goes to on a bad race day.

I remember some things and I have no choice but accept some others. Thanks to my insanely smart bike computer, I have a breathtaking amount of data about my race and how it compared to my race last year and the one clear conclusion I can draw is..

Umm.. I had a bad race. It should have been fine but it wasn't. I wanted to blame the heat and that certainly played a part. It was pushing 90 during part of the race and I don't do heat well. Clara described it as "being thrown around in a dryer", which is pretty accurate. But I looked at the race profile on my Garmin and I was losing time 15 miles in before it got hot. I could track the slow erosion of my day to the minute. It started early and continued to the last half mile. Yes, I'm heavier. But not much. And I had a killer race (for me) in Washington just a couple weeks ago. So, I don't know. Bad race days happen. I did everything right but I still cracked a quarter mile from the top of Larison peak and I was actually whimpering - begging for the road to top out so I could start going down. When I crossed the finish, I was broken.

There was that. But I healed. And there were others who came in after me. Nine hours on that course was horrible. Ten hours boggles the mind. But they came in. They owned their moment. They healed too.

What I remember, as I settle back to my normal life, were the people.

I remember my family, who waited hours for me to come in. I remember talking to Clara describing the summer with Maddie "getting lost on their bikes". When I was 16, I was just moving up to two syllable words.

I remember My wife Carolyn - my heart - who waited nine hours for me but knew to give me space for a minute at the finish and then spent the rest of the afternoon getting me food, rubbing my back, and telling me how proud she was of me and I think she was really enjoying the whole thing.

I remember Eugene,  who puts on this race and was there at the finish shaking my hand because... I don't know. Because he was glad I was there and wanted to say "Good job" even if it wasn't my best.

I remember the people who volunteered on the course. When I was in distress, they were ready to do anything. You can have your stadium of cheering crowds. I'd take the dozen or two people who were out there over that any day. I was fueling up after Larison Creek trail and told the guy who was the marshal there my bit about being the Grim Reaper of mountain bike racing (I know, old material, new crowd). He laughed so hard! He actually found me at the finish and thanked me for the laugh! I'm having the worst race of my life and somebody still thinks I'm funny. I needed that more than carbohydrates. The guy at the top of Larison Rock trail looked me over like a paramedic and gave me the best two sentence summary of the trail before sending me on my way. I've never been asked if I was OK during a race before. He was right to ask. I wasn't, but I could finish, and I have no doubt he would have held me there if I was in worse shape.

I remember all of these people and I can live with a bad race.

We woke up in Oakridge on Sunday morning and the rain had swept in. The mountains were wrapped in fog and this race did that thing it does every year. It blew a big kiss to Summer and opened the door to Fall.

As the rain hit our windshield driving home and my racing season ended, I was left humbled and happy. Fat55 taught me how to ride long races. I finished the race. I took care of what I could and I'm sorry I couldn't finish faster. But I was there. Tom Keller said "We have this!" after Mudslinger and I know what he meant. I got through a bad day. That's a good test. There are worse days. Much worse. This was a bad day you can recover from. This year, the last couple years, have had the bad days you can only write into your life knowing you will never be the same and the pain you've suffered will never entirely go away. This was a bad day that smacks you upside your head and reminds you to pay attention to what a gift this all is.

I wanted to write a big, affirming post that would trump last years because  I love this race and I want everyone I know who races to come do it. And I do want you to come race this next year. It draws less than a hundred competitors, it should have three times as many lining up. I wanted to tell you how much fun I had.

But I've learned that races you've done many times don't always go well. And I love this one precisely because it can teach me that lesson. This is still my favorite race and I'll be back next year.


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