My training diary is very useful when analysing what went so wrong. I’ve been battling the virus I had before XCO Nationals for 5 weeks. Waking up every day with a headache which gets worse over the course of the day to a point when it hurts to look at my laptop screen or have the lights on in the house. I’ve felt okay one day and trained then been completely wiped out the next day and wracked by muscle and joint pain.
Now you might think that feeling like that would be a no-brainer to stop training and racing. That’s what the doctor thought when I fronted for a blood test last Monday but he clearly underestimated the stupidity he was dealing with, which is concerning as he usually works with professional footballers. When the test results did not come back before the weekend I saw this is as fate telling me it was okay to race, or at least that I could plead ignorance of a confirmed medical reason to preclude me from racing. It would be a tough course, my prep had been rubbish, but I’ve faced bigger challenges before and it’s turned out okay.
It wasn’t a good sign when my legs were sore and cramping before the race even started. The pain in my chest I put down to scoffing my breakfast too quickly. Head pounding as usual but at 8am it was already a baking hot day. Surprisingly the first lap felt relatively comfortable. Sitting behind other riders on the singletrack climb meant being forced into the group selected pace. The second fireroad climb was brutal, loose and kept kicking up until it was faster for me to walk than ride. I was gapped by the front three riders on the climb but caught up quickly on the technical descent and led out for the second lap. I knew my legs were lacking power but if I could get into the singletrack first I could create time gaps on the descents to hopefully hold of the stronger climbers.
By this time my head was pounding despite drinking to plan and was making my handling sketchy. Calf cramps were well advanced but I was trying to adjust my pedalling to deal with them. Although the day was clearly hot I kept feeling waves of chills but it was when the chest pain set in that I became a little concerned. I’ve lectured my coaching clients on the dangers of damage to the heart when racing with a virus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myocarditis) and I began to worry about what I might have done to myself. I have history in this area and once trained feeling ‘off’ and ended up in hospital 12 hours later with liver and kidney shut down. Apparently I am not the best judge of my body’s limits.
Dropping back on the second climb again but confident I could catch back up on the descent I was brought to a halt by escalating chest pain, stabbing pain in my head affecting my vision and the desire to eject my last gel from my stomach. In the middle of the forest, alone, not knowing if I was about to collapse I decided the race was over and it would be best to find the quickest way back. Soft pedalling along the trail and stopping to lean against trees I met up with another rider who was also pulling out. She stayed with me until I felt able to keep creeping along the trail and we continued a relatively enjoyable trail ride realising this racing thing might really be ruining a nice day.
Meeting up with the ambulance in the main clearing I was told in no uncertain terms to get in the van where they hooked me up to a bunch of leads and took some heart readings. Nothing too unusual other than, unsurprisingly, I have a thick, muscular heart. The tightness and pain kept coming in waves and was more likely all of my intercostal muscles cramping and constricting my chest. A wave of nausea hit but I realised I was just car sick from being in the back of a four-wheel-driving van.
I can’t say I’m too disappointed as Mt Joyce was a race I entered at the last minute without too much expectation. The concern lies in wondering where to go from here. Having finally made my decision to do Cairns I am hardly in World Cup condition and have no idea how long it will take to kick this virus. One thing is that I refuse to do is keep flogging a crumbling immune system leaving me unable to ride, and taking away from quality time with my family and friends. Health has to come first – always.
Thanks and apologies to my sponsors that I couldn’t get the job done this time: Giant, Ride Mechanic, Shotz, For the Riders, Sram, KWT Maxxis.
Photo credit: Paul Fletcher