Continued from Part 1
I finished my first lap in 1:32:42. Considering that this included the Le Mans start and the hold ups as we jockeyed and sorted ourselves out; that I had taken it relatively easy; that I still felt good afterwards; that it was muddy; and that my average time for all-out efforts on normal laps in past years had been around 1:20; I was off to a smashing start. It was my first solo 24HOA attempt, and all things considered, I had just completed what might have been my best lap ever (not best time, just best). I could have cried with joy. Then I looked down at my bike and saw the “trail mix” of mud, gravel and pine needles caked liberally throughout my drive train, and I did cry (okay, not really, but all that mess sure did hurt my feelings).
Writers Note: writing this now, months later, I realise that a lot of this has become a messy blur for me. This is possibly a defence mechanism in response to the serious trauma that the race likely caused me. For all I know I reverted to a childlike state and thought I was riding a cute little bike with a banana seat down to the corner store to buy some candy that probably tasted suspiciously like Hammer gels. To continue writing this story I actually had to very closely examine all pictures, build a spreadsheet to analyse my lap times against the official ones posted on the 24HOA website, and then I still had to call my pit boss (aka sister) to clarify things. Thus, if you are at all interested in historical accuracy, you may just want to stop reading now – the rest may very well just be my recollection of a delirious fantasy.
I didn’t have a spare bike, so after my first lap my choices were limited to continuing to ride on my dirty machine, or take the time to go stand in line at the bike wash and clean and lube it properly.
Additional writers note: One more thing I should explain is that laps are timed continuously. In other words, when you finish your first lap, the time starts for your second lap, even if you decide to go clean your bike or just hide in the porta potty for a while and regroup. This means your actual ride time for any lap as reported by your Garmin bike computer could be, oh, I don’t know, 1:33:26.6, where the official lap time reported on the 24HOA website might be, say, 2:22:04. These times are just a random example picked out of the air, of course!
After careful scrutiny, the current evidence seems to indicate that I decided to ride two more laps before stopping for my first real break. I do recall that at some point the sun had come out, and the ground had dried to a nice tacky state where traction was maximal and dust was minimal, and that my drivetrain had accepted the messy situation and decided to keep working flawlessly nonetheless. I will assume those factors informed my decision to plod on. And as explained so expertly and eloquently above, despite what the 24HOA website might have you think, I finished each of those next two laps in just under 1:35. This is something I am immensely proud of doing. In just a few hours I had tied the total number of laps I had completed at several previous races as part of a team, and was only one shy of tying my most laps ever.
It was 5:45 in the evening by the time I had taken my first real break (all 48 minutes of it), cleaned and lubed my bike and eaten some food. This bode well for me, because despite my lack of actual physical preparation for the event, I had mapped out some goals, one of which was to complete four laps before it got dark.
This next part I remember all too well. Approximately a third of the way through my fourth lap I started to feel a strange tugging feeling along the inside of one leg. It turned out to be the beginnings of a cramp, but one in an area I had never become acquainted with in all of my 36 years. I could identify my quad on the front of my upper leg and my hamstring on the back, but this cramp was occurring in the no man’s land in-between them. Here I was, with a strange electric burning sensation running up the inside of my thigh, and all I could envision was my knee cap and groin being involuntarily brought closer together by some sinister and powerful outside force who had neglected to consult with me first.
I felt immediate and severe dismay.
I hate, hate, HATE!! cramps. I cannot underscore, bold, or italicize that enough. They make me squeamish and upset. Sometimes downright inconsolable. Not just because of the pain, but because I have trouble making myself pedal through them, thinking I am somehow going to wreck myself in some more permanent way. I immediately skip to the last of the five stages of grieving: acceptance. “I have a cramp. That’s it. It’s out of my hands now. The race will clearly have to go on without me.” (For anyone reading this thinking they were going to read about me conquering this thing like a warrior, I apologise, but that’s apparently not how I roll.)
Knee deep in sorrow but not (quite) willing to quit the lap, I concentrated on letting the offending leg freewheel around, focusing on getting all my power from the other leg instead. The intent was to give my cramping leg a break; the unfortunate outcome was to hasten the arrival of the same cramping in the other leg.
It was the oddest feeling. Both legs were cramping in the same way, strongly during the down stroke and then subsiding slightly but lingering during the upstroke (I never claim to have an even pedal stroke). The way the overzealous muscles pulled on my kneecaps it felt as though very powerful magnets were now attracting my knees together through the frame of my bike. It was strange and immensely upsetting.
I lasted maybe a dozen pedal strokes this way before giving up and dismounting my bike. For the next 5-10 minutes I proactively assured every single biker that came by (there were a lot) that I was okay. I felt they needed it, coming around the corner only to find me sprawled on the ground beside my bike at the edge of the path. Passerbys saw me in such graceful positions as on my back with my legs up in the air but sprawled out as far to either side as gravity would take them, or on two hands and one knee with the other leg up to the side like a dog peeing, or attempting to drape the inside of my thigh over the top tube of my bike and then crouching down on top of it.
I tapped into my deepest, most creative juices, but for the life of me could not figure out how to properly stretch out whatever mystery muscle group was sidelining me.
I got back on my bike and mustered the gusto to finish the lap, stopping a couple more times for some imaginative and inspired stretching along the way, and capitalizing on every smooth, flat or downhill section to take one hand off the bars and knead the painful areas.
As with every lap, when I crossed the line at the transition area, I was greeted by volunteers simultaneously cheering for me and aggressively demanding that I dismount my bike to run into the transition area and check in. I obliged, but only in a feeble, hobbling kind of way.
….to be continued….