Death Before DNF (“Did Not Finish,” for those of you who’ve never been faced with the concept of dropping out of a race) may be a bit extreme for a title, but when I was falling off the back of a race on Sunday, I contemplated titling this column, “Know When To Hold ‘Em and Know When To Fold ‘Em.” Not only is that an excruciatingly long title, it’s also total crap in cycling.
So, I’m back to my original tagline, “Death Before DNF.” And honestly, this weekend it felt like it was going to be a tossup. I decided, after almost a month of serious leg cramping, to do a stage race in the Pro-1-2-3 field rather than the 3-4 field. In Ohio. Immediately following a trip to Los Angeles.
I’ve mentioned my leg cramping issues in previous columns, so I think it deserves a slight explanation. This isn’t simple “not enough salt” kind of cramping. This is excruciating “legs feel like they’re in a vice when I pedal” kinds of cramps that leave me limping for days, sometimes stuck using a cane for extra support. Going up stairs becomes nearly an impossibility, or at least provides a good show as I try to swing my legs up the steps without bending them at all. The leg cramping has been problematic for years, and the nearest that any doctor has come to figuring them out is that my body overproduces creatine kinase, which makes my legs feel like someone is putting vices on them. (Even when I’m not cramping, the levels are akin to those of pro football players during a training camp.) Oftentimes, they occur for a few weeks out of the year, without any real rhyme or reason. This means training is severely compromised.
Despite that, when a trip to Ohio to do the Tour of the Valley came up, I couldn’t turn it down. So, last Thursday I piled my race bag, bike and groceries into a car with a friend and we hit the road. Donny Green, my partner in crime for the adventure, is a bit of an anomaly: he’s a cyclocross racer turned roadie, though still with a focus on the coming ’cross season. He’s also made remarkable strides in just one road season: since April, he’s gone from a Cat 5 with no road experience to handily winning a Cat 3 omnium this past weekend. Not a bad progression! He’s also about to start his first elite season as a cyclocross racer, and we’ll be checking in with him in a series of articles about how it feels to start racing against the top pros in New England. It should be an exciting ride.
But, back to the weekend. After nearly a month of not being able to train properly, I finally saw the result of the lack of training and it wasn’t pretty. And so, during the road race on Saturday, I found myself falling off the back of the intense and hard-charging women’s race. That’s when I started thinking about pulling out of the race: my legs hurt, my lungs hurt and somehow the side of my foot even started to hurt. Basically, it was an “all systems failing” kind of moment. It was then that I started composing this week’s column in my head. It was going to start something like this: “Sometimes, you just need to know when it’s time to back off and play it smart.” Then, I remembered: I’m a bike racer. We go through pain, we go through suffering and we find that pain cave and settle in for the long haul. I kept on going.
The same thing happened the next day. After only a few laps, I was off the back of the crit, trying very hard to control my stomach, repeating my mantra of the day: “don’t throw up, don’t throw up.” I was praying to get pulled, but no such luck. However, the crowds at this race in Ohio reminded me of the crowds at cyclocross, just minus some of the nastier hecklers. Instead of ignoring me as I made lap after painful lap up the steep hill to the finish, I was met with cheers and shouts of encouragement every time, not to mention some awesome tunes blasting from the announcer’s stand. And when I finally crossed the finish line for the last time, the announcer told everyone to give me a big round of applause, which they did. I, of course, played it cool and grinned and threw my hands in the air in victory. Because you know what? I didn’t DNF, I didn’t back down.
As I was racing, I knew if I did drop out, no one would hold it against me. I was hurting, I was getting lapped, I was overheating and I was ready to take a break. But I would hold it against me, and I didn’t want to sit in a car for 11 hours back to New Jersey thinking about the fact that I broke my “no DNF” rule. Besides, then I would have to take the “death before DNF” bumper sticker off of my truck. And that would just be sad.
So now that I’m back in New Jersey, I’m looking at training with a whole new perspective. There’s nothing like getting your butt kicked all weekend to make you think about just how much work you have to do, and how excited you are to do it. Now that my legs have un-knotted themselves, I’m ready to ride again with a newly built up cyclocross bike and some very exciting news about working with a coach from Cycle-Smart. But that’s a story for next week. For now, I need to go continue rehydrating.
I mentioned that this fall, we’ll be looking at Donny’s first season as an elite racer, and that leads me to my question for the week: are you a new racer or attempting an exciting goal for this season? We’re looking for stories from new, old, veteran, u23, junior, elite, amateur and, of course, women racers this fall, so if you’re interested in sharing your story, let us know by emailing molly [at] cxmagazine.com
If you want to read more about my training, racing and editing exploits, you can find the painfully full version of events here: Molly’s CX Adventures.