Tuesday, December 12, 2006
The night before the race, I carb loaded and ate a meal of whole-wheat whey pasta and free-range tomato sauce. I drank "bottled" water from a company that dipped an all-natural 300 year-old loincloth into a stream in northwestern New Hampshire and then hand-wrung it into an origami-folded banana leaf.
Before going to sleep, I debated which cycling shoes to wear. One had suede inserts to prevent blisters, while the other had a two-inch thick pad of gel to massage the bottom of my feet and aid in circulation and thus prevent gangrene and gout. Adding to the complexity of the decision was the all-important weight issue: the suede shoes weighed 513 grams, while the gel shoes weighed in at 512 grams. The extra gram sometimes made my feet feel “hot” and “a little constricted in the toebox.” I decided I’d get to the course extra early and make my shoe decision after my warm-up laps.
I felt jittery as I hugged my life-sized stuffed animal of Lance Armstrong and tried to sleep, but after an arch massage from Lili, my live-in masseuse, while listening to an audio cassette recording of a 1998 NPR show on the benefits opera music can have on a fetus, I was able to relax and catch a few hours of sleep.
I arrived at the race site four hours early so that I could scout out the race course. The sun wouldn’t rise for another two hours, and so I traversed the course with the aid of a mining headlamp that I’d bought at a Colorado garage sale four years prior.
The course had two sandpits, seven hairpins, a 180 turn, one barrier, and one pavement section. The course didn’t have a run-up. The course was relatively mud-free. I went back to my car and hooked up my GPS laptop, and plugged these numbers into a matrix spreadsheet. After factoring other variables, like weather, marital status, and the possibility that the U.S. eliminates the paper dollar bill, I ran a few regressions and was able to determine the following:
1. I should go out fast
2. I should wear the suede-lined shoes
3. Sacagawea was a hard word to spell
Two hours before the race, I ate three bites of a chocolate flavored Powerbar and three sips of a flat two-liter bottle of Barq’s rootbeer, as is my custom. I washed all that down with three pizza-flavored Combos.
Minutes before the race was to start, I realized that I had warmed up doing the course backwards. I ran back to my car and uploaded this new information into my race matrix and discovered that I should use the gel-lined shoes, go out slow, and that I should allow for the possibility that saying "Sacagawea was a hard word to spell" might be racially insensitive in certain contexts. I quickly changed shoes, sprinted back to the start, and began my deep breathing exercises to help “center” my soul.
Fifty-three riders were in my race. My starting position was in the third row of four, which was perfect position for a slow start. I was beginning to think that maybe today was my day. My gel inserts sloshed quietly as I trembled with anticipation.
The gun went off, and I quickly found myself in perfect position: dead last. At the first sandpit, I dismounted gracefully and then passed a number of other riders. As I passed, I gazed deeply into their eyes and I could instantly tell that while they were more talented then I was, they were not more prepared.
Once I settled into a rhythm, I began to turn over a bigger gear, hoping to capitalize on my genetically freakishly large quads. I moved my glasses to the tip of my nose to cut down on drag. I zipped my uniform down three teeth to aid in cooling. By the fourth and final lap, the people I had placed strategically around the course and paid to cheer for me really began to be a difference maker. My strong last lap catapulted me into twenty-sixth place, just inside the top half of the field. But in my 14k-white-gold heart, I was a champion.
After the race, I personally thanked each paid member of my cheering section and then went back to my car to clean the dirt from my teeth with a portable water pick that plugged into my car’s cigarette lighter. On the ride home, I listened to music by Sheryl Crow and wondered if professional cyclist Ivan Basso would win the Tour de France now that he had moved to the Discovery Channel team, Lance Armstrong’s former team. I wasn’t sure. Everyone talks about how young Basso is, but his age using the mathematical property of absolute value is twenty-nine years old. And he isn’t negative twenty-nine years old, if you know what I mean! I was pleased with this rant and repeated it into my voice recorder to remind myself to post it on the various cycling internet forums that I frequented.
Once home, I sat on my hardwood floor with my legs up against the wall for three hours so that the lactic acid would drain from my legs and be cleaned from my blood by my heart. As I waited for this to occur, I watched the latest episode of “Day Break” (Wed 9/8c) starring Taye Diggs and Moon Bloodgood on TiVo, while simultaneously knawing on bamboo to help harden the calcium on my teeth. After I finished draining my legs, I went for a quick 98-mile bike ride. Sure, my ’06 ’Cross season was now finished, but if I began my training now, maybe I could squeak into the 60th percentile next season.