Numbers at PIR were noticeably smaller last night. The weather was cool and a little muggy, with highs not even at 70 degrees by racetime. Rain clouds were gathering in the west and the breeze was almost too chilly for a bike race in the middle of July. And when I arrived at the venue, I immediately began to wheeze. The cottonwood tufts were in full bloom and blowing all over the course.
I took a short practice lap, and fifty feet into it I needed my inhaler. I took a huff and kept going, taking my turns at the sharp corners through the singletrack, clearing the log, and managing to power up most of the berms without getting off and walking. I was conscious of wanting to keep a little in the tank for the actual race, so I skipped large sections of the course and gave myself time to stretch and drink some water. I helped with the Kiddie Race (I screwed up by ending the big kids' race at the wrong pair of trees and kids complained the race was too short -- sorry, kids), distributed treats, gave Sweetie a kiss as she arrived to watch and then I did a few hot laps in the parking lot.
But the stress I'd been wrestling with for so many weeks finally blew its stack this past week, doing a real number on my body as well as my mind -- I'd been exhausted all weekend, physically and emotionally. The cottonwood salad I was eating and breathing with every turn of the cranks felt worse with every hot lap. I gave up on the hot laps early and went and hung out in the start area. With all of that going on, I knew that my heart wasn't really in the race. Just finishing would be a real challenge.
I lined up, engaged in some lighthearted banter with the other women, took a third huff from my inhaler, and then we were off. The course was really fast in some palces (especially in the singletrack) and slow in others (the entire motocross course had been groomed with bark dust for the benefit of the weekend motorcycle racers, and the bark dust made for some slippiness beneath my rear tire). Dust was flying everywhere, along with the cottonwood tufts. I could not breathe. I was still hanging with the rest of the field because they were bottlenecked in the trees, so I chose not to pull off for another huff. Finally making it onto the moto course, I managed to climb most of the berms this week (my legs felt much stronger than they did two weeks ago) and although I was slow as molasses I managed to find decent lines all over the course. The mid-field drop-down was back from last year, fun as ever, and my bike handled beautifully. In short, on a decent night this would have been one of the most fun courses ever for short-track season; and most of my friends agreed. Kristin raced the double again this week, and somehow managed to shout out encouragement even as she raced further and further ahead of me on the course. I grunted a few times in her direction but couldn't really offer anything coherent while eating spoonful after spoonful of dust.
My lungs were beginning to rebel. At the top of the last berm at the end of the midfield rhythm section I ran out of breath and gas, and had to run my bike up and pull off to the side to avoid getting run over by the singlespeed and masters' men breathing down my neck. Things began to suck quickly and steadily after that.
As I approached the last straightaway before a hard left turn towards the finish slope, a Cat II Masters' racer aggressively cut me off, yelling loudly as he passed, and that pretty much killed my momentum right there. I gasped, inhaled dust and cottonwood and could not breathe. To get up the steep finish slope I would have had to dismount my bike and run with it. But I could not breathe, and in my heart I suddenly didn't care about the race anymore. Remembering the advice I'd been given earlier in the week about taking care of myself and listening to my body, I pulled off the course ten feet short of the finish line, gasped at Candi to mark me as DNF, and pulled behind the officials' tent to take another huff of my inhaler. I stood there for a full minute, huffing and waiting for the Albuterol to work. Then, dismayed but surprisingly not emotionally shattered about it, I pulled my bike off the race course, went and sat down and called it a night.
Sweetie knew what I'd been working with and understood when I told her why I'd stopped. She'd been worried about my breathing and wheezing -- she'd felt the dryness and dust in her throat, too -- and was glad that the inhaler was working. I felt bad about DNF'g, especially with Sweetie there to watch me race, but knew that I had done the right thing by not continuing. And I reminded myself that DNF (Did Not Finish) is not nearly as sad an outcome as DNS (Did Not Start). As my pal Heintz reminded me, "Hey, you're out there doing it and I'm sitting here watching." He and Sweetie told me repeatedly that I was still a rockstar to them. Sweetie urged me to go out with my teammates for the post-race beer. I did, deciding to ride all the way to the Red Fox to make up for the lack of mileage in my race. It was slow going, and I needed my inhaler once along the way, but my legs still felt strong; apparently, it was only my lungs that didn't feel like playing. And my heart, a little bit.
More troubling for me and Kristin is the fact that the Womens' Singlespeed category has not grown this year. This week, only five women raced in the category, and there is concern that if we don't see some growth in the category the race organizer will take the category away in 2012 -- meaning that women racing on singlespeed bikes will have to do so in an age-graded category or an almost entirely male singlespeed category.
Going to the Red Fox afterwards helped immensely -- it was good, really good, to hang with my friends over a shared platter of fries and a glass of beer.
This week I am working on getting the stress under some control and listening to my body some more. I'm getting a referral for some accupunture later this week, which will hopefully help with both the stress and the asthma. And I'll come back next week and try to finish strong.