I should’ve dropped out……. Instead I dropped into last place.
It didn’t seem particularly cold that morning when we rolled up into the parking lot. The sun hadn’t yet risen as we meandered through the resort to the gear tent. Everyone was a buzz with pre-race jitters or excitement; it the 3rd and final race of the weekend. And of course it was also the toughest course.
I was worried about my ability to perform on race three. As I mentioned before, I’ve never competed in so many races in such a short time frame. I had no idea if my body was up for recovery. It’s a big race with over 2400 vm of climbing and 16km horizontal. There were several racers who had saved themselves with fresh legs for this race. I had already tackled 2 within the last 24 hrs.
The first hill climb was a long one- totalling over 800 vertical meters. I slowly but surely picked my way through it and made it to the top. I wasn’t near the front, but also not at the back. After the first descent I started to feel warmed up and worked out the kinks. I was feeling strong! By the time I pulled up at corbets couloir, I was excited with how much strength seemed to be coming from within.
The pain cave- Many athletes are very familiar with it. Everyone has their own opinion and varying degrees of definition. On a smaller scale every competitor faces this concept. Legs get tired…we push on through the race. Maybe the heart is beating faster than anticipated….”keep running” we tell ourselves. The point is we all have told our bodies to shut up at one point in the race. When making top finishes in races, there is no such thing as a glorious athlete of perfectly sculpted muscled bodies that make every movement with resplendent magnificence breaking only but a bit of sweat and effort. The winners and champions also feel discomfort and have to mentally work through it.
The ability to move beyond discomfort and pain can sometimes divide the top finishers from the rest. (Without question there are many other factors). The problem that arose for me- is I spent enough time telling my body to shut up and move through it, that I couldn’t hear anymore. I moved into the depths and took control of my thoughts and my body and was able to push through and push harder.
Approaching corbet’s I felt amazing. Shockingly I had moved through the demands of the terrain, without a great battle. I had silenced my body without too much avail and negotiated the descents and tenaciously gaining time on the ascents.
What I didn’t factor in were the elements. The miserable wind was howling and tearing away at our bodies. 40 mph winds and cold temps made for perilous conditions. One ridge top weather station read -17F with windchill. My water had frozen long ago, neglecting me hydration. I had so much adrenaline and felt great- that I erred in reading my bodies response to the nasty elements.
In short- I was pulled over by volunteers before climbing the ladder to warm up. My face was frost bitten and apparently my body was shaking without abandon. Down jackets were thrown onto me and we rummaged through my pack putting on all the extra layers we could find. I watched person after person pull through and pass me as I performed jumps on my skis to bring my core temperature back up. I felt “great” though and thanked the volunteers again for their help.
I felt as though I was moving across everest in the winds. Climbing the ladder was something else. I felt in my element and was loving every moment of the race. Atop I was again pulled over and into the patrol hut. A few quick examinations and I was again on my way, justifying that I was descending to valley bottom and would quickly be into fair weather and warmer temps. It was hard to be inside the shack watching racers move past. The worst was almost over anyways….. wasn’t it?
My body was too far gone. The transition to slow motion denied any good standing in the race results. In survival mode I compensated for what my body lacked.
In the hospital post race I still didn’t quite comprehend the signals I missed. The nurse took my temperature three times and then quickly exclaimed we needed to get my temperature to rise and quickly. She threw heated blankets and a heater atop me.
In addition-Im typing with my thumbs because the “I’m okay now” feeling was actually no feeling at all on account of my fingers numbing.
I consider myself lucky. My frostbite could’ve been way worse. I still have my fingers and they are getting better everyday. If I would’ve know-> I would’ve dropped out…. like many others had. Now Im sitting here a week later with one of my favourite races tomorrow, wanting so badly to go. I can probably keep my hands warm…. probably. But the risk versus the reward….not worth it.
How do I conclude such a post? I’m sad! I want to race tmw. I’m thankful- it could’ve been worse. The race was still amazing! I had an incredible experience!