It is about midnight in the middle of the woods and I am laying on the rocky ground. Through the dense fog the headlamp-lit silhouettes of four female reality tv show stars appear. The first women says “you look terrible…would you like pickle?” Clearly I am hallucinating….
Backtrack 18 hours; my teammate Adam and I are preparing ourselves to begin 26 hours of non-stop adventure racing. The forecast calls for rain but we’re sweating in the early morning sun. It isn’t our first race and the satisfaction of just finishing is no longer the driving force. We are in good shape. We are strong navigators. The sponsor logos on the competition no longer intimidate us. We are motivated to do well. To win.
Things go wrong early; we miss an optional checkpoint, and spend way too much time doing so. As we finally get off the water we are in nearly dead last. For the next 7-8 hours we move non-stop working to catch up with the pack. As the rain sets in, so do the cramps. Run ¼ mile and my legs cramp so violently it made me feel as if small dog was looking to take me down mid-stride. We push through and as the thunderstorms set in we’re confident we’ll clear the first half of the course (AR term for getting all mandatory AND optional checkpoints).
We transition back onto our bikes we have 2.5 hours to get 12ish miles and over a couple of mountains and reach the mandatory checkpoint by midnight. As we pedal, my body is breaking down, my legs feel as bad on my bike as they did running. To this point I’ve chalked it up to poor nutrition or hydration. But I am realizing that cannot be the cause. I’ve had 9+ liters of water, a gatorade & a hipster coconut water. I’ve eaten plenty.
Push on, head down, up the hill, just keep pedaling I tell myself. Fast forward an hour and we hit a road that should not be where it is. We are not where we should be. We are no longer on the map. We’ve made a very wrong turn. Or more precisely we failed to make the right one 10 miles back.
As we backtrack, I can no longer pedal my bike. Downhill feels like flat. Flat feels like up, and up feels like I am walking up the “down” escalator. We make it back to the proper trailhead and as we do I sit down/fall over/pass out. Perhaps 20 mins of rest will help. I begin to sweat, I get cold, I get hot. I am shaking violently. Adam reassures me as guys do with words like “dude you look bad”. Up the trail headlamps appear through the fog…
“You look terrible” says the first women “do you want a pickle?” who is a member of a four person team of former reality-tv stars competing in the race we’d met earlier in the day. (pickles prevent cramps) “You are burning up” she says. I decline the pickle and they confirm I/we will live before moving on. Moments later I break the news to Adam – we are done. Consider the towel thrown-in. DNF. Fuck.
By the time we make it back to the start/finish I am running a fever of 104. It’d been a long time since I had a fever of any sort, so it was a very unfamiliar feeling but looking back, one I should have diagnosed earlier. Alas, I live to tell the tale and have been reassured I was not hallucinating the pickles or the chick from the bachelor. But as with all good failures:
We managed to learn a few things along the way:
- Past performance is a better indicator than the status quo. My body was breaking down very early in ways it hadn’t ever in my life. I chalked it up to exercising for 12 hours rather than stopping to evaluate my condition.
- Physical breakdown is inevitable, mental is not. I was not sharp from the start of the race. On our team Adam the energy, I am the strategy. I was making rookie mistakes from the get go. Looking back, my focus was not there.
- Failure = motivation. I’ve never had to quit an athletic competition. It stings. See you in June suckas.
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