My pre-race preparation is probably a lot like yours. It begins well before the event. Now, I’m not talking about checking equipment and gear-although that’s important too. I am referring to the mental and physical countdown to the line. I suppose that you can make the argument that the preparation for all future races are the events and training going back to the very start of your cycling days. In my youth I remember riding my brother’s Schwinn Varsity to high school in Bridgeport, Connecticut as fast-as-I-could, heart pounding, sides aching, through the less known parts of town and the delight that I took passing cars on the busy streets. I felt that same feeling of the hair raising on the back of my neck last night, 35 years later and a thousand miles away, during a central Indiana training ride past fallow corn and barren fields of soy.
The racing season always comes quickly to me. I recall sitting on my trainer during the snow days here watching the clock go backwards as I pedaled to a favorite movie or to an ancient professional race long forgotten and less remembered like the 1988 Het-Volk or Milan-San Remo. This week I did two tempo group rides with some above-threshold periods to re-connect with that dark place we go to, fear so much and need much more. I don’t use a monitor so I unscientifically determined that I am above threshold when I no longer hear someone on my wheel breathing behind me, my eyes well-up with tears and I can taste that metallic tinge in my mouth. Or, I am dangling dangerously off the back in a crosswind and have missed the last echelon and the lights in my eyes are getting low.
Our racing season begins in earnest this weekend with several heading south to Louisville to check out the Long Run Park circuit, the first race in the McDonald’s Kentukiana Spring Classic Series. I did some research and found that the course is a 1.7 mile loop. I Googled the circuit, looked at the profile and topography and imagined the various parts of the course. Where should I be in the final uphill sprint? Where is it most likely to split? What’s the best line through the chicane? Inside or outside? I looked at the teams of those pre-registered; Team Louisville, Masters, Callistoga, McDonalds, Nuvo. Which is likely to send someone off for the win? Which team should I work with to get to the break, which team will have enough to be blocking effectively? Who should I get away with? Who will likely chase me down? All of this thinking can drive you crazy with anticipation. For me, though, it’s meditative. Cyclists sometimes talk of the luck involved with getting away or getting in the break, making the final selection. But I am convinced that it has more to do with preparation and being ready. Every bit of your planning, training and effort has led up to that exact moment where a decision needs to be made to bridge or not, attack, sit-in, back-off, to initiate or accept. That moment will be here soon. For my $30, I prefer being the fox to the hounds. Ready or not. Here I come.