Echo Red 2 Red: The Old Man Never Knew What Hit Him

One of the challenges of growing old is realizing the young you is still in there, growing ever more frustrated with the aging body it occupies. An additional challenge for those of us who race is realizing the faster you is still in there, growing ever more frustrated with the increasingly slow body that it occupies as well.

My Inner Fast Guy had a pretty rough weekend at Echo. 

I'm something of an authority on bad races. I've had quite a few of them. I could write a book from  the post-mortems I've given myself after my bad races. It would be a sad, depressing, demotivational book. It would also be a pretty thick one. Still, I've learned to take those races in stride and move on.

This was different. While I was asleep in the back of the Subaru the night before the race, my old man brain and body had a conversation. They decided I was going to have a nice, easy, recreational ride the next day. They were going to ignore the number plate on our handlebars and all the people with number plates passing us. Those things weren't important. And they decided not to let my Inner Fast Guy know they had agreed on this. They know how much he loves surprises.

Inner Fast Guy had no idea what was coming. I had no idea what was coming. I felt good. I'd been putting in more long miles so I wasn't freaked out about the distance. I pre-rode the first half of the course Friday afternoon and didn't feel too bad. All the bridges from last year had been washed away so the course was routed around the edge of the river. More fire road. No technical bits. It was my 6th time doing this race. The miles of single track out in the desert don't mess with my head anymore. I pretty much know where I am the whole race. It was all good. Inner Fast Guy was looking forward to a great race!

Saturday morning I lined up at the start. A cold front had moved in overnight. It was in the upper 20's and sleeting a bit. I was ready for that. I was warm. I was ready. We headed out. The first mile was a neutral roll-out on pavement. Everyone is held back by a pace car. My old man body and brain sprung their surprise. I immediately fell behind. A gap opened up between me and the rest of the Cat II men. In a neutral rollout.

Oh God.

"Great race" seemed to mean letting everyone ride away from me before the race even started.

Inner fast guy tried to step on the gas to close the gap by the time we hit the dirt and the race was under way. It didn't work. When the pace picked up, my old man brain and body did something to make us feel bad.

Really bad.

Medical emergency bad.

Normally, I start out strong for the first few miles, blow up, spend ten minutes or so recovering and then working my way back. Sometimes that ten minutes can be twenty. OK, I've had a couple bad hours in a few races but I do recover. This time in just a few hundred yards I couldn't breathe, my eyes were crossed, my legs were rubber and I wanted to throw up.

Inner fast guy backed off. My heart rate came down as did my speed. What followed was a pretty heated internal debate as I fell farther behind.

"What the fuck was that!?"

"Your future. Hurts doesn't it?"

"Yeah? Can we not do that again?"

"We'll see."

"Could we please pick up the pace just a little?"

"What's your hurry?"

"It's a RACE! Hurrying is sort of the point!"

"Relax. Listen to the birds. Don't they sound pretty?"

"I hate birds. Why do you think we own six cats?"

"Isn't the scenery spectacular out here?"

"No, it's cold and desolate and I've seen it more times than the "Rocky Horror Picture Show". Can we please hurry up? We just got passed by the race photographer."

"You really need to learn to slow down."

"I'm the Zen Master of slowing down! Have you seen my race results for the last six years? I've got slow totally sorted out. Veteran racers ask me how I can go so slow over technical sections without tipping over! How about trying fast for a change? Remember how good that felt that last 10 miles of the Capital Forest 50?"

"Not really, no. Oh look! Someone hung Christmas balls on that bush over there!"

"Yes and half of them are broken on the ground along side my shattered dreams of having a good race. Would you watch where you're going?"

And so it went as the Cat II men disappeared ahead of me, the Cat II women overtook me followed by the Clydesdales, and then most of Cat III  reeled me in. The race photographer really did pass me wearing maybe 20lbs of camera gear and a 5' monopod on his back. Some guy who had stopped, sat down on the ground, and was eating a sandwich actually caught up to me and I think he still had half a sandwich to go when I went by him. The whole thing really would have been beyond depressing except it was so odd.

Mourning the loss of that new car smell
I finally got back on the road to town, topped the last big hill and rode into a freezing cold head wind which seemed pretty appropriate.  With 100 yards to go, Inner Fast Guy tried one more time to get some speed up so I could have a little dignity crossing the finish line. The old man contingent wound up and bitch slapped me with what I can only describe as highly concentrated old age and I actually wobbled and nearly fell over as I rolled into town. For nearly the entire race I wasn't even breathing hard and the last 75 yards turned me into blown out old man wreckage.

We didn't talk much on the way home. The old man party didn't really enjoy the experience as much as they expected. Inner Fast Guy was in an understandably piss-poor mood and was busy driving us west on I-84 trying to get us through the Gorge to Troutdale  before the roads iced over. The car reeked of sweaty kit and bitter disappointment. Heavy snow was falling west of Hood River. There were flares and spun out cars on the shoulder. By the time we reached Troutdale the sweaty kit smell had pretty much overwhelmed the bitter disappointment which was too bad because it smelled much worse.

All in all, a tense drive home.

The following week I discovered I finished second to last in my category.  I was 30 minutes slower than last year.

All I can say is that guy who came in behind me? Wow. He must've been having a shit time.


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