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The race never ends.
Moments after the close of the 2012 season in late October, and having failed to procure a single victory in my first season as a bike racer, my thoughts have already shifted to next season. Preparation begins almost immediately.
Although it won’t manifest itself in the physical form for months, the mental preparation begins as soon as the race ends. You begin to lay out your goals for next year, your off season training program, your diet, your sleep and recovery habits, which races you’re planning on doing, your goals for weight gain or loss, etc. The thoughts start coursing through your veins, infecting you, like poison, an acid maybe – eating away at you, consuming your every moment.
Fast forward to early March:
4am on a Saturday morning and I’m wide awake eating my third bowl of Special K with vanilla and almonds, standard pre-race meal when they’re this early.
At 6:30am, the first race of the 2013 season will begin in New York’s Central Park. It will be 29 degrees when we receive our final instructions from the chief referee and that whistle goes. Until that moment, I will be a nervous wreck – wondering what kind of shape guys will be showing up in, about the course, the tactics, about my form, my chances, about the freezing temps and how it would make so much more sense to go back to bed and wait ’till its June, but I don’t.
Fast forward to April:
Tour of the Battenkill is fast approaching; billed as “America’s toughest race”, “the queen of the classics” they call it.
At my level, it will be 64 miles of brutality, punishing climbs, unpaved roads and sketchy descents. My training regimen is in full force, has been for weeks:
5 days or 12-14 hours per week on the bike-
2 of those days are hard intervals-
2 days of endurance miles with some climbing and fast tempo riding built in-
1 day recovery ride-
Miles upon miles upon miles ridden in frigid temperatures, lactic acid inducing intervals and hill repeats have brought me here, sitting on the bumper of my VW in an unpaved muddy parking lot at “The queen of the classics,” nervously stuffing Cliff Bars and energy gels into my jersey pockets, working out the math.
The race will take roughly 3 hours (give or take), which, for me, translates into 3 energy gels and 2 small Cliff Bars taken roughly 20 minutes apart to avoid a ‘hunger flat’. It’s 41 degrees with overcast skies (it had been raining earlier) – in other words; it would be perfectly normal to still be in bed, watching TV.
I wonder sometimes why we do this – is it worth all of the effort? All of the sacrifice?
The answer comes every time I race.
You train tirelessly in every weather condition imaginable, when it would make so much sense to just stay in. You torture your legs and lungs, cut back on junk food and beer; because at the end of every race, if you’ve done all you can, you will arrive in that moment – the one you’ve dreamt about.
When that finish line comes into view, you somehow, some way summon every last ounce of strength you have – your face twisting and contorting in uncontrollable pain – and it’s just you against them, or you against you, whatever the case may be. It is in that moment – that final 200 meters, after you’ve suffered, and suffered, and suffered, that everything…. Everything makes perfect sense.
How sweet it would be to taste victory – to raise your arms to the sky and bathe in glory; or how devastating to get so close and fall just a few meters short. It is in these two extremes of human emotion – sharing the same moment, in which you find the buzz. That buzz (which can only be realized after hours of pain) – that makes it all worthwhile. Whatever the result, the next thing is always the same. Preparation for the next race has already begun…..the race never ends.
About the Author:
Ken Vadnais is a store manager at Party City and an avid cyclist. In his spare time he is a category 4 bicycle racer for New York’s Brooklyn Velo Force cycling team. Learn more about BVF through www.brooklynveloforce.org or follow Ken on Facebook.
[Photos via: Allison F.]