When I say I literally felt like I was going to die; I mean it literally. My heart was racing, I broke out in hives, my stomach was turning and it felt like my entire body was trembling, ever so slightly. I was in a sort of manic sense of cheerfulness. I kept saying things like, "This is cool. Is this cool? It's cool. I'm ok. Maybe I'm not ok? Am I Ok?" If ever there was a person who felt in over their heads it was me. I mean, I once had an anxiety attack about taking my anxiety medication.
So what was making me freak out? I entered my first cyclocross race. Looking back on my blog, I read a post shortly after I got my cyclocross bike a couple years ago, and I seemed to be toying with the idea of racing. To be honest, I never thought I'd actually do it. That's usually my way of doing things, I'll try a new thing, become obsessed, and then figure that I probably have some sort of undiscovered potential and soon I'll become the top name in that sport. I once took a snowboarding lesson in high school and I was positive that I was going to become a professional. Shortly after, I lose interest and no harm is done.
Anyways, back to cyclocross racing. I wasn't literally shitting my pants, but I was considering it; if it meant I could get out of doing the race. As soon as we got to the course, I noticed the hills looked much steeper, the off-camber parts looked treacherous, and it was one of the windiest days we'd seen in a while. There was also rain in the morning, so we were hearing rumours that the track might be a little slick in some places; news that did not help my body metabolize the stress.
After getting my timing chip from the effervescent, helpful, and kind organizers, I felt a little better. And seeing a familiar face who was racing for the first time too also made me feel a little better. Then it came time to line up. I strategically placed myself near the back, since I didn't even have experience riding in a group before and I did not want to be the cause of a huge pile-up right at the start. At this point, my panic peaked and I was feeling definite fight or flight urges. It's a good thing my jersey was zipped up all the way, or else people would have thought I was inflicted with a serious (and possibly contagious skin disease.) In retrospect, maybe I could have used the stress rash that was creeping up my neck to get out of doing the race.
Going into the race, I had three objectives. I knew I would not be fast. I knew I would not be graceful, and I knew I was going to be hit hard with a very steep learning curve. My goals for the first race were as follows:
- Finish the race -- That means a full hour of riding at 110% effort without giving up.
- Don't fall -- Lots of people fall. I did not want to fall.
- Don't cry -- A person's natural reaction to failure is crying and I was adamant that I did not want to cry. I would try to make it a positive experience.
When the race started, I was surprised to pass someone right at the start. For a second, my anxiety gave way to confidence. However, it was shattered at the first hill. A steep climb on a road bike is one thing, especially when you are riding on pavement, rolling hills, and you have your momentum to help carry you. A steep climb in a cyclocross race comes out of nowhere. You turn a corner and blammo, a steep, greasy, grass hill is right in your face. My time riding a single-speed bike taught me to grind my way up any hill, but at the top of this one, I thought for sure I was going to pass out. We were about two minutes into the race. But I wasn't in last place -- yet.
The rest of the race went off without much incident unless you could include me huffing and puffing up and down hills, swearing loudly at inanimate objects and totally failing at the traditional cyclocross dismount and remount. (Even though I practiced extensively, hopping on and off your bike while it's moving is really hard when you're completely gutted and exhausted.)
I'm not quite sure when I fell into last place. I think it was midway through the first lap. At that point, I wasn't anxious anymore. But I was hurting. With my partner running around the course, shouting well wishes to me at the best times, it was giving me small glimpses of hope, but the truth was that every inch of my body wanted to quit.
"I can't do it. I'm going to stop!" I shouted to Charles at one point.
"No, you aren't. Keep going!" He would reply.
And I kept going. I kept going until I was lapped. Multiple times. And I kept going even when I knew I looked bad and was probably making a small fool of myself. I tried my hardest, and it wasn't enough to even come in a respectable last place. I was dead last. However, I finished the race, didn't fall, and didn't really cry.
For me, not crying was almost impossible because, during the race, I was getting all kinds of encouragement from other riders. That's right. A woman would pass me and say, "You're doing great! Keep it up!" or "You got this!" And not only would that give me new energy, but it also was something I had never experienced in sport before. If you recall, I grew up as a figure skater, where the most famous event was a competitor getting cracked in the knee to prevent her from skating. (If you haven't seen I, Tonya yet, do it! It's really good.)
After finishing the race and not falling -- check off number one and two -- I was trying to unpin my numbers from my jersey. Out of nowhere comes three women who all passed me at one point (or two points) during the race. "Was it your first time?" they asked me as they took control of my unpinning. "Yes, I can't believe I did that." I breathlessly replied as these women all removed my pins, handed me water, and helped remove the timing chip from my bike. "Well, you did a really great job, this was one of the harder courses this year, so it's really impressive that you did it. Congrats! Hope to see you out again."
Hardest races? I'm impressive? I can work with this. Maybe I've got some undiscovered cyclocross potential in me after all. The goal for the next race -- don't come in last.