Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dawg Days of Summer

And, the last race of the year turned out to be my first. Go figure. I spent the entire season riding, not ever “training” and always avoiding races… I did semi-decide to race a couple of times, but always something more “important” such as 100 degrees days, a trip to Shenandoah, or my total lack of desire to get up at an ungodly hour got in the way.

Three weeks ago I realized that the cyclocross season was getting dangerously close, and if I wanted to race, I needed to –finally- get my act together and start training. Don’t take me wrong, I have been riding quite a bit, I just have not being “training” (read: intervals, hills or anything that may give my legs a faint resemblance of power). Sooooo, off I went, got my ass off the saddle and started playing in hills, doing longer rides and a few intervals here and there.

Then, the last race of the season tapped my shoulder and let me know that it was my last chance to play on the road this year. And I decided to do it. As wimpy as it sounds, I confess myself terrified. My fear: that looming asthma attack that has taken me out of pretty much every single race I have ever started. Let’s put it this way: before Sunday, I had managed to finish a road race only once, 2 years ago, and I was DFL.

It is so incredibly frustrating to start a race, and 10-15 minutes later begin to feel my chest tightening, coughing and that familiar sensation that breathing well enough to maintain an effort is no longer a possibility. Every single time. Every time I tried different strategies to potentially be ready and avoid the damn asthma attack, and every time I had failed.

So, what was different this time? My desperation led me to try something completely different: for first time I was not using my (or anyone else’s) inhaler. Up until earlier this year, I would always use my inhaler before riding as it is supposed to prevent asthma attacks. However, I read a little while ago that even though using the inhaler before training prevents an attack, in the long run it may decrease lung capacity and lead to even more attacks. My desperate self decided to test this new theory and stopped using the thingy.

It sucked at the beginning. I had (and still have) to do very long warmups before trying any efforts, but soon enough, my asthma attacks became more and more rare: to the point that I do not even remember when the last one was.

Sooooo…. Sunday arrived. I managed, somehow, to get out of bed at 6am. I realized then that I had not put on my “race” wheels on my bike the night before, so had to rush to change brake pads, wheels, and adjust shifting and brakes. Yeah, I could have raced on my training wheels; but, those poor race wheels have been in a bag all year: they needed to see some sun (or clouds, given the weather we had). In the meantime I could hear my bed constantly calling my name in a seductress mermaid voice; good thing I am straight. Off I went and somehow made it to Bowie in 20 minutes despite Google maps telling me it would be 40; oh, well.

I signed up, changed and began my warmup. And began to feel lousy of my stomach: yes, that is how terrified and nervous I was. I seriously considered walking away, until my friend and teammate Patty talked to me and convinced me to stay. We lined up, and before I noticed we were off.

The race started easy enough, and I kept repeating to myself “it is all mental, bike racing is all mental” and “this is just a group ride, this is just a group ride.” The laps started to run, and I realized that I was having fun. Weird. I even tried a couple of half-assed attacks and hanged on. My fears reached a high at the 10-12 minutes mark, but my asthma was nowhere to be found… Before I noticed, it was 4 laps to go. I knew then that I’d finish the race and felt happy. This is also when the relentless attacks began, but I managed to stay in touch and not only I finished with no asthma incidents but also in 6th place, which –let’s face it- it is not anything particularly fantastic in a 12-people race, but it was, to me, a huge accomplishment.

Also, I noticed, this racing thing is a lot of fun when no asthma attacks are involved. Shocking.

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