After enjoying riding the cross bike at the weekend I was looking forward to last Thursday’s race at Bethlem, the third race in the Summer Series. I set off from work, attempting a different route to the other week to avoid Croydon town centre, although found a bridge I needed was closed. I made it to sign on with a minute to spare, having stopped to buy some water at a petrol station, planning to down it at the start.
I couldn’t see any other riders and was relieved to find that the race started in the next field – only to then panic that it was in the next field and I was nowhere near!
Two kind volunteers pinned my number on and I dashed to the start, abandoning my water. Dave let me have some of his water, while Howard gleefully told me that the race was “entirely uphill” and featured a log hidden in the dark and a large, ominous-sounding drop off.
I started near the back, to let the faster riders get off to a good start, but was depressed at how quickly everyone got away from me.
I overtook one chap on the hill, hills being my strong point (if by strong you mean ‘less weak’). And into the woods… where I slowed right down. My balls-out “fuck it!” approach of a fortnight ago was long gone – I wished I’d done a sighter lap with someone better than me, to give me tips on what to do. I inched along, dismounted/remounted in the exact same way I saw my primary school dinner lady do (ie. not very cyclocross).
Back out onto the grass and I wondered how long it would be before someone lapped me. More slow dismounts, the photographer discretely averting his lens as he wanted ‘race’ photos, not this pathetic excuse.
The second bit of woods was a complete unknown to me – at least the first I recognised, albeit in the other direction. Lots of roots, stumps… and the drop off. I bottled it. Oh god. Oh god. I’m going to splat down on the bottom here, in front of these kids who are here to heckle the riders but don’t heckle me because they’re embarrassed for me. I’m embarrassed for me. Oh god. Let this end. I walked a bit.
Being back on the grass, which actually WAS all uphill, was quite a relief, in a masochistic kind of way. My lips felt like when I was super dehydrated at the London Marathon. I got lapped, kind words hanging in the air as they flew by. I inched through the woods again and as I came out more people tried to lap me, but shouted at me to get out of the way (the opposite of what they’d been told to do) so I swore under my breath and felt like crap for impeding their race and being so rubbish at cyclocross.
I felt like crying. I like the worst rider Bethlem had ever seen. I felt stupid, and slow, and empty. My legs felt like they were made of china, filled with air but weighty and cumbersome. I had nothing left, yet I’d not really given anything.
I quit. I couldn’t make my legs move any more. I felt like a heavy cloud, made of nothing yet carrying the weight of the world. I stopped, dragged my bike under the tape, and finally drank my water. I ate a 9bar and that gave me the energy to get home, along with a packet of crisps and a Lucozade.
It was a hot evening on a tough course. I was dehydrated and haven’t been eating properly. But it’s still embarrassing.