Friday, March 13, 2015

Lost Anxiety--Duathlon #2

 Where the f#@k am I?

Lost means many things. It’s the fear of I don’t know where I am, where to go, or what to do next. If I can’t figure the route, it’s going nowhere and being left with a sense of emptiness, disappointment and failure.
 Without a map, it’s unlikely that I know where to go unless the route is familiar. Landmarks can help, but in not in the desert.  One mountain looks like another. Paths curve around and end up anywhere. The sun can indicate direction, but not on a cloudy day.

The way should have been be easy to find in this race. Most events have signs and arrows, so that the route was less a mystery. This one had flimsy ribbons that didn’t indicate much and were easy to miss..

 The tough duathlon the weekend before should have been enough. But I had signed up for this one last year and it had been cancelled due to torrential rain the day before. My spot was transferred to this year. So was the bad luck.

 The sense of confusion started in the first run. Logical thinking was difficult, since  running diverts blood from the brain. I was mostly alone on the trail with another person ahead of me. The rolling terrain took effort to run, but was manageable.

 At an intersection, a u-turn was marked with hot pink plastic ribbon. The incorrect path was not blocked off. The other runner took off on it and I yelled to her she was going the wrong way. Would this bring me good karma? I hoped so. The billowing pink ribbon tied to plants was a half-hearted direction to go the other way, like a lazy hand wave. I proceeded, uncertain. Since everyone else had gone ahead, I had no one to follow.

I ran, wondering if I was doomed to do endless miles, meandering into the wilderness. The empty desert stretched to the horizon, though I would have found the road eventually. Would they search for me at some point? I was relieved to get back to the aid station, which was an indication of the right path.

My energy level was good when I got into transition to get on the bike. Unlike last week’s duathlon, I didn’t dread this portion. I ran the bike out and hopped on. The website had vague, unmarked satellite maps that indicated that the mountain bike would go up what I assumed was the paved road somewhere, then intersect at an unknown distance with the trail at a spot marked with a flag. Announcer Guy had said it would be after the first flag about two miles up. He didn’t have any idea what he was talking about.

Riding a paved road on a mountain bike was pointless and I didn’t enjoy it. The heavy and cumbersome machines were meant for dirt and the pavement was boring.

 I rode two miles up to a trail crossing, but it wasn’t marked at all. No name and no flag. I went up the trail for a while, doubted myself and came back. I went up farther up the paved road, but still saw no flagged intersection. I couldn’t remember if or where the trail crossed the park road.  I thought I was near the end of it. I went back to where I was, unsure. Farther up the trail, I encountered riders going the opposite way. Something was seriously wrong.

The trail I needed to be on is a loop through the park. I don’t get circles, only grids. If a path isn’t straight and the direction is unknown, it’s hopeless to figure out. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I needed to be on the upper part of the curve, not the lower.

 I asked the riders as they flew by if I was going the right way, but they ignored me or didn’t hear. One almost crashed into me and she probably cursed me under her breath. One guy finally slowed down and I asked him how far he was and where he had entered. The real entrance was farther up the road, but by this time I had ridden seven miles and he had done fifteen.

 The race was basically ruined. I could ride fifteen more miles, but that assumed that I could figure out where to go. I decided to fake it, since I couldn’t fix it. I cursed the race organizers. A racer had to know the route, but some of these roads weren’t even on the park map. Did it have to be this hard? Especially for the directionally challenged?  Down the trail again, I went to the road to add more mileage to simulate reality. They wouldn’t be correct, or even remotely fun, but at least it would be something.

 I passed the turn-off to go back to transition four miles down, which I would go back to once I did the make-believe route. This was also feebly marked with the ribbons. I saw four riders pass it by. Three of them grumbled about missing it. At least I wasn’t the only one that was confused.

I felt stupid and was utterly disappointed not to find the right way. This race had gone wrong to a monumental degree of screw up. I rode back down the trail for the umpteenth time and made the turn for the actual trail to take me back.

 The situation was like one of the dreams where I am lost and trapped in an endless, futile loop. This race was a metaphor for my real life, where every one but me knows the way, and I just pretend to be competent. Life doesn’t come a map, so I either blunder around until I figure it out or go off the cliff.

Slinking embarrassed into transition, after a creative seventeen miles, I came in when most people were about to finish. Being alone was an advantage, since no one knew my mistakes. This was another duathlon where the road portion was much easier to ride and find than the mountain bike. But I had no energy to hate the road bikers this time. I ran out to finish the pretend race.  At least I knew the way.

 Unlike last week, the second run wasn’t a death march. I was alone, but felt strong. That was one good thing about this fiasco.  I just wanted it to end. I tried to be nice to the only volunteers out there and thanked them. If they had been a race organizers, they would have elicited a different reaction from me, like “what the f#@k were you thinking, idiot?”

A rock tried to trip me a half mile from the finish, but I stumbled and managed to end the race without physical injury.

 I was happy to finish, but not for the right reasons. Instead of a sense of accomplishment, I  was relieved that the experience could now be forgotten as soon as possible. A bad memory, tucked away in a forgotten, hidden place. Hopefully, the pink ribbons will not haunt my dreams.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Powerman Duathlon Race Report

 I don't know why these people seem to be sinking into the metal.
I am a sucker for any multisport event that doesn’t involve a swim, because I suck at swimming. Off road is even better because it’s an excuse to be slow, which is natural for me. McDowell

Mountain Park has some of the best mountain biking around with the challenging trails and the beautiful scenery. Still, the premise of this race is that a racer would want to ride the Long Trail twice. I always thought that once was bad enough, so committing to this duathlon made me nervous. Throw in running and it was even more implausible.

The Long Trail is a trail engineered for racing, assuming that a rider would have this ability on a mountain bike. I don’t. I rode it many times, but never had been able to ever avoid walking in certain parts. To dismount in mountain biking was to give up, a lack of ability to ride a difficult feature, a choice of safety rather than risk bodily injury.

The trail designers put in cute little wooden signs to name the features. When I came upon one, I knew something bad was coming up. “Red Dot Hill” has a tough climb, then a terrifying rugged stone drop off. “Cactus Corner” is lined with vicious Cholla cactus to impale anyone who slipped off into their spiny embrace. “The Step” meant get off the bike to go around the stupid rock ledge or go to the by-pass.

 My fastest time was an hour, a blazing eight miles an hour. It’s one-way single track, so once a person is on it, they are committed to the insanity. Twice would be a long haul. I questioned the wisdom of this. Still, it would be kind of bad-ass, especially since I would probably be the oldest person to attempt it in this race.

 Mountain biking is a young person’s sport, if young is defined as under fifty. The normal sparseness of my age group is even greater. People must worry about broken bones or worse, dying. I still like the sport because it is more mentally engaging than road biking. Every feature on the trail has to be analyzed right before it’s ridden. The path undulates and curves, climbs and dips. 

 The variety of this ride also made it more strenuous. Down-hills meant sliding the butt back and controlling the speed. Up-hills meant sudden bursts of power and a lot of pressure on the pedals to not lose momentum. Sixteen miles of this is exhausting and daunting. 

Beside the physical strain, my mind fights the terrain. Even to start it to resist the dread of what’s coming. Tension drains the body, so being relaxed increases endurance or at least makes jarring ride more bearable. Besides if I thought about how difficult the trail was, I would go insane.

Race day, I got to the park and racked my bike. Unfortunately, my finger was in the way. I didn’t notice until later that night that it was purple and swollen. I did notice that it hurt like hell right after I did it.

Mountain bikers are generally more friendly than regular triathletes, so I chatted with the person next to me. Everyone had a better bike than me—carbon fiber, dual suspension, smaller cranks. At least it was a good excuse to be slower.

My strategy for the first run was take it easy to save my energy for the strenuous bike ride. The air horn sounded and we took off. I was soon alone on the undulating trail. The cool air turned hot. My heart rate went way up even though I held back. Far away were blue mountains. Poppies dotted the ground in sparse patches.

Finished, I ran into an empty transition to start the dreaded bike. My energy level was good, but I knew what was coming and it was scary. Right away, the bike path had a sudden, steep drop off, immediately followed by a climb. I had learned to stay in a low gear to make it back up that hill. Then, a fairly easy patch accented with a nasty climb with loose rocks. I often walked this due toe the boulders that threw me off the right line for ascending. A mistake could land me into the thorny desert flora lining the path. 

I was mostly alone, with people passing me on their second lap. I was last to start the course and all I could do is press on and not think about it.

Once at the top of the lung-busting climb, it was smooth for a while. The fun of a BMX type set of bumps was lost on me, being too slow to get much “air.” Then rocks and more rocks. I don’t have the dual suspension that would make bumpy ground bearable and negotiating them involved standing on the pedals and generating enough momentum to go forward without falling over. Sharp pain pierced my knees.  The multitude of stony obstacles were impossible to avoid, so they just had to be accepted. The zen of rocks. I still hated them, though. 

A variation after that was rocky steps. Bump, bump, bump, bump! Repeat two more times. After that it was less strenuous, but by that point, even the small hills were an effort. By this time, I noticed the effect of the run beforehand. My legs rebelled and wouldn’t exert enough force on the pedals to get up a hill. Fatigue had come to stay. Two more hair-raising steep drop- offs, a struggle uphill and one lap was done. My athletic inadequacies haunted me.

The second lap was just me and the EMT guy parked at the service road. If I was going to get injured, I guess it had better be at these junctures because it would take a while to find my body. My mental state went downhill with my physical one. Not only was the terrain difficult, I was dead last and the worst at riding it. My mind had to focus at the task at hand. No time for whining. At least the stabbing pain in my knees wasn’t as bad as last week’s ride. The legs were gelatinous, though.

 Finally, the second lap was done. I came into transition and saw most people had finished and I hated them. Most of them had done the road portion. It wasn’t easy, but it was faster and they didn’t have to worry about riding rocks, running into cacti or riding off a ledge. 
Wussies. I wondered if I would be alone on the last run. 

Kind of what I felt like on the last run.
 The first mile was bearable and slow, then a deep misery set in. My normal nutrition didn’t perk me up and I couldn’t go any faster. I passed an aid station and remembered that they have coke. Sometimes its magic properties of sugar and caffeine will save a race or at least make me want to live. I drank the elixir and immediately felt better. Why didn’t I think of this earlier? The last mile was bearable.

After three hours, forty-three minutes, I was done. I was totally dead last in my division, but had done one of the most difficult duathlons in my life. The accomplishment was both depressing and gratifying at the same time. The implausible was less so. Bad ass would have to do.