Thursday, August 4, 2016

Page Valley Road Race: Fortune Favors a Fred

It was lap two at Page Valley Road Race and someone was turning the screws at the front and I felt the field elongate and grow silent and the sound of blood urging, eyes crossing, cadence slowing--our miserable death throes as we, all too soon, dropped.

That was 2015. My second race of the year. It lasted all of 30 minutes.

I'm the same guy, a year older, with hardly any more training than last year, so I assumed the same outcome for this year's race, the 2016 edition. In fact, I promised my spouse that it would be: "I'll be home by 1:00 to put the boy down for his nap." 

It didn't go down as planned. I broke a promise to my wife. I missed my 1:00pm appointment by 30 minutes.

This is the story of how my son's nap happened 30 minutes later than had been promised.

In April I was carrying 15 spare pounds, a two-year old, readying for a house move, and my wife was sporting a serious fetal bulge. Bike racing, at best, would be something I got back to years down the road, probably 2018. At worst, it would be something I used to do.

I started bike commuting from our new place. It was a longer commute and with long stretches where I could hammer without stopping--albeit I could also terrify folks by shouting "ON YOUR LEFT" nonstop. The bike being the fastest way home, especially if I rode as if demon possessed, riding gave me more, not less time, with my family.

At some point I realized I was getting fit. "I should do Page Valley." I didn't think I had any chance for results. My team has enjoyed a good season. I was tired of reading about results that I hadn't seen or helped or achieved. I wanted to be part of what my team did in 2016.

So I kept hammering the long stretches on my commute. I sometimes added in a little climb at the end. I sometimes rode the noon goon, and with a bit more spunk.

So by the time I put my wheels on the start line, I felt fit. I knew from experience, though, that feeling fit and being fit can be uncorrelated. I can't count the times I've started races believing in my capacity to win and been dropped. The first time it happened the Mexicutioner lapped me in what seemed like less than ten laps after the start of Ft. Ritchie. He was in the field at Page, and I could be sure he, and many other strongmen, would gladly wipe away any illusions I had of fitness.

Generally, there's an asymmetry to the unforeseen. Rather than a balance between good and bad, it's usually bad. That's because the universe tends toward entropy and disorder. We're more likely to lose money than to happen upon it. The universe is a casino, and, like the house, it always wins.

I bring up the unforeseen, because the good sensations I felt at Page were unforeseen. I just felt good. Maybe that's why I joined Mark Austin up the road 25 miles into the race. Why I attacked again on the little roller at the peak of the climb, and maybe that's why I tried to push my gap out from there. I felt, for the first time in several years, that I could impact a race, if not win it.

When I won, it didn't feel I'd earned it. I hadn't crunched the numbers and done the meticulous planning and analysis. I'd just hammered a bunch of commutes, a few hills, and a few noon rides. It didn't feel like I'd earned it. It felt like it fell out of the sky.

After chatting with a few old friends, I raced back to the finish line to pick up my pie and thank Chris Gould. There was no way I was going to be back by 1:00. Still, I had to try.

No miracle happened. I made it home and picked up my son and gave him some milk as I readied his stroller. We walked out in the heat and the sweat began pouring out and I saw his head turn and then nod off to the side as he fell asleep, and I wiped the sweat from my face.

I thought about a guy who just lost his wife, a woman who seems as close to a hero as I can tell, to cancer. I tried to think about what that must be like. I remember him changing diapers in his kit just before the start of races; then going out and winning.

A guy can do that. Come home and take care of his kids and love them. He can win bike races and kick ass. And then shit can happen.

I try to think about that and keep that in mind. It's been a few days, and I'm still wondering how to make sense of winning that dumb old race. I feel happy about it. I guess I should. Life is full of horrible stuff that falls from the sky. Why shouldn't we try to appreciate the rare moments when a little bit of unanticipated fortune drops out of the sky? It doesn't change the face of the world, except maybe to suggest that it isn't always miserable, that it can sometimes favor the bold, the goofy, and even the fred.