Sunday's Hartford semi-fiasco seemed bad enough. It's hard when you don't do well in front of others, especially folks that aren't bike racers (the missus had two non-racing friends in attendance). Although a spectator can easily see the effort if they look at the racers up close, it's virtually impossible to see that when you're more than, say 15 or 20 feet away.
It gets more tricky when you have good riders who can make hard efforts over and over again. They raise the bar for everyone else, making it seem normal to launch attack after attack after attack. Then the spectators look at you and wonder, "Hey, why can't he do that? It doesn't look that hard..."
You can see this even watching the pros. I watched a good portion of the stage of the Giro that Sastre won, and watched in admiration as Scarponi took the race to the others. He looked strong, smooth, and unperturbed, at least until he exploded spectacularly. One minute he looked good, the next, wasted.
So in Hartford, I'd gotten to the fighting part of the field with the bell ringing, but a few seconds later I exploded. The missus's friend actually stood near the finishline with her camera, waiting to take a shot of me winning the sprint.
She stood and waited. And waited. And waited.
At some point she must have turned to the missus with that, "Where is he?" look on her face.
I came over the line, well behind everyone, a bit sheepishly. Hard to tell, with my face beet-red from heat, but yeah, it was a bit embarassing. But it was okay.
I suppose I got over the whole "I screwed up" thing when I played the violin.
Talk about a pressure pot - standing in front of an audience, no music stand or lectern or even a tall potted plant to hid behind, playing a squeeky instrument with no frets, with every tiny finger misplacement painfully obvious to everyone present. I screeched my way through many of these recitals before I realized that I could mess up a bit and the world would still be in one piece.
I'll never say it got easier, but I started focusing less on being scared and more on trying to play music. It got to the point where, towards the end of my recital-playing career, I felt disappointed when I finished playing. Given my druthers, I'd have kept sawing away at my fiddle (as my teacher would knowingly and incorrectly call it) for a few more pieces. Only the first minute or so seemed nerve-wracking, but after that, I felt confident in my fiddle-playing ability, comfortable that, really, if I messed up, it'd be okay.
Therefore I could play with my heart and soul, and that's what made it fun.
I suppose it helped that I was, towards the end, a Cat 2 level player. Decent speed, good form, and usually spot-on intonation. The latter is key with an instrument with no frets - everyone knows if you're a bit sharp or flat.
Anyway, a dozen years of fiddle-playing taught me a lot about being on stage, about trying hard even when things are collapsing around me.
Last night, at the Rent (Rentschler Field, or E-Haw as a donkey would say), I felt like I was back in kindegarden again.
I warmed up a bit, not enough. Definitely not enough to realize that in late May, if the temps are down in the 50s, I need knickers.
What, you say? Knickers when it's not icy out? Where's the flahute in you?
Long gone. Heck, I don't even train outside when it's too hot or too wet or even too cold, at least not for a while.
Anyway, the weather's been weird and it threw me off. 50s at Bethel in March? Shorts. 50s at the Rent in May? Knickers.
Last night I was in Bethel mode (overcast, threatening to rain, chilly), not May mode, and I rolled around in shorts like a first grader not realizing that he really can't play his recital piece too well.
At least not until he starts playing it.
We went about 50 yards when I realized my legs were ice cold. Slabs of frozen meat, moving up and down as my warm core tried to share its heat energy. I even sort of pulled, pathetically, for a pathetic distance, trying to force some blood into my legs.
In larger fields I'd have launched a little attack or something, relying on having time to recover before the tail end of the field flies by me. In the smaller Rent fields, I wouldn't even have time to soft-pedal before I was off the back. So instead of attacking, I pulled just a mite bit.
Then some of the warmed up riders started going fast. The guy doing most of the damage was Eric Brownell, a strong rider no matter how you cut it. He looked totally at ease in shorts and a short sleeve jersey (I, on the other hand, had a short sleeve, long sleeve, and a vest on).
A lap or so of that and I could feel my individual tendons strung between my cold muscles and my aching bones.
I finally sat up, a few laps into the race.
It is a training race though, and I figured I'd recover, let some blood flow into my legs, and be ready when the field lapped me in two laps or so.
I latched on, my tendons let their presence known, and I knew I had no blood in my legs.
I came off.
This time I let them lap me twice. I used the excuse that I was on the sheltered outside and I didn't want to interfere, but if you watched the race you would know that my excuse was, at best, totally invalid.
The strong, powerful group passed by me with at least 10 feet clearance. I watched them ride by.
The next lap I accelerated onto the back and clung there for a bit.
I came off again.
It took them maybe a lap and a half to pass me again, and this time I felt really determined (not) to hang in there. I did maybe two more laps and that was it for me.
I sat up, again, and decided that I'd head back to the car.
I think I'd been "racing" for only 20 or 25 minutes.
The missus, supportive as always, had been watching, and she greeted me with some concern on her face. She realized quickly that this wasn't any major disaster, not like when I got shelled at New Britain in 10 minutes, or on the first lap at Prospect Park, or in the first four minutes of a Bethel long ago.
I cleaned up a bit, warmed up, and we went off to dinner. I got to talk to my sister, but had to go when we got seated, telling her I'd call her when I got back home.
Apprently the cold had really sapped my strength though - I realized that only when, checking on Estelle (our hosted cat that's up for adoption), I lay down on the floor and fell asleep.
At some point the missus called me, I woke up, and stumbled to bed, delirious with fatigue.
I'll have to call my sister back today.