As I sit here today a torrent of emotions floods through my head and soul. Quitting sucks, plain and simple. It doesn't matter if it was for all of the right reasons. For safety, health, etc. It just does not feel good.
I toed the line for my 5th try at ORAAM. A 63 mile mountain bike race that climbs up and over several mountains with a total of 11,000 feet of climbing. I was trained, ready and somewhat confident. What had me concerned was the heat. It ended up reaching 95 in the shade, and I have no idea what the heat index was. But, it was hot.
Within the first hour, halfway through the first trip up Kitsuma, my skin was already burning hot. I was keeping my targeted heart rate, but it wasn't keeping me cool. I was sticking to my plan of ignoring the race and going my pace. And that felt good. There was no frenzied pace, just cruising, passing and being passed.
I had been following Van Rogers on Kitsuma until he did the coolest pass I have ever seen. In a matter of seconds, he put 3 people between me and him, and he was gone like a flash. We rolled up to some logs across the trail and while these dudes were struggling to pick their bikes up and climb over, I looked up and saw Van chuck his bike in the air, take 3 quick steps, launch himself into the air, grab his bike, clip in and then land. It was crazy.....
On down through aid station 1 and feeling good. The kid got stung by bees at the start and that's what he told me about. Rhonda told my I was looking good and sent my on my way. Up and over Star Gap to Jarret's Creek Rd, feeling good and taking a slower than normal pace. The climbs faded easily and I was pleased with my fitness. I was now more confident than ever that I had trained well and would finish.
Keeping the steady pace, I rolled into aid station 2 and chatted for a bit. Rhonda said I looked good. Jubal was excited and hopeful that I was going to finish. I rolled out and left Patrick and Van there. The climb up Curtis Creek was blazing hot this year. I wasn't the only one suffering, not feeling terrible, but definitely suffering. There is typically chit chat between riders as they head up this climb, today there was none. Barely a hello. That was eerie. Hordes of cyclists, strung out on the road, sharing the same passion, the same pain, maybe uttering "keep it up" or a mere "ugh". This was not looking good.
Aid station 3, I filled bottles and rolled out pretty quickly. There was a nice long downhill and I was hoping that this would cool me down. It didn't help much. I wasn't feeling too bad, though. I was hot, but not yet blown up. The issue for me is, when my core temps rise, I stop digesting, even though I am still eating and drinking, I am not processing and things start to slow. My legs and lungs felt good on the climb up to the Parkway, so good that I decided to up the pace, but then seconds later, my body told me to slow down, it still couldn't handle the heat. I stopped two times at creeks, once to sit for a couple of minutes, and once to fill a bottle with water to pour on my head. Although it felt good, the relief only lasted for a couple of minutes.
Once at the parkway, aid station 4 manned by Pisgah Area Sorba, I knew that I was not going to last much longer. I questioned whether or not I could make it back to aid station 5, where Rhonda and Jubal were waiting. I grabbed a coke and went for it. The steep hike a bike, was a slow, push a bike section for me. Once I got to the top, I didn't stop, just let her rip. It was more techy than I remembered and took a little while to adjust, then I cruised down, at a pace that was fast for me but safe. I tried to enjoy the ride, take in a little scenery as well. I cleared most of the downhill switchbacks and only blew 2 of them.
When I finally hit the bottom, with about 1 mile to go, I was relieved. Could I keep going? Yes. Did I want to keep going? Yes. Should I keep going? No. The questions and balance of success/failure had been battling in my head for the past 15 miles. I wanted to finish this so bad, but I was suffering, and I don't know what I could do differently.
As I rolled up to the family cheering, I gave them the signal that I was though. It was a sad thing to throw in the towel with only 13 miles to go. Approximately 1.5 hrs of riding. But that was a long time, and I didn't want to find out if I could finish or not. Maybe I could have, but I didn't. And that is what I have to live with. Another DNF.
It's been a good year so far, and I have had quite a few successful rides, in the heat even. This just wasn't the day. It would be too easy to dwell on this one failure, this one shortcoming out of the year. This really is the only bad ride I have had all year. Not bad considering my history of DNF's. I tend to dwell on what I didn't do, where I came up short. 52 miles in that heat , with 9000 ft of climbing is huge, and something to be proud of, that is what I need to focus on.
Have a great day.