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Thursday, June 9, 2011
The Seven Stages of DNFing
Screw it. We never train to say screw it, to let go. Instead, we hang the medal for the Nowheresville Criterium on the wall and arrange the trophy from the 6 Hours of Whatever on the shelf like mojos to ward of bad bike race spirits. We spend so much effort training to get a hold of something that we never think of what to do when we need to let go of something. We need bad days on the bike to know what a good day feels like. Of all the days in the year, it sucks when that bad day falls on race day. If we had more experience saying “screw it,” a DNF wouldn’t feel so bad. However, cyclists aren’t like that and find ourselves wallowing through the 7 Stages of DNFing.
When I say “screw it,” I don’t mean it with a poor attitude and gang gestures, but with a sense of clearing the slate. Letting go is the key to reversing a DNF. Taking a deep breath and letting it go seems so easy in yoga. Maybe it’s the expense of racing. Not only the entry fees, but the months of training and the travel that make a DNF feel like you got a lemon instead of a new car. You get wrapped up in feeling like you’re only as good as your last race, when in fact; you should feel good just because you ride a bike.
Today, paying at the gas station, the overweight man behind me was buying two fatty cheddar-filled hot dogs topped with onions and pickles at 7:30 in the morning. I smiled and chuckled after I got outside. I felt good after that. Not that I diabolically enjoy witnessing the onset of heart disease and diabetes, but it made me remember that even though I didn’t reach my goal at the Mohican 100, I was still at race weight.
There were hundreds of successes, including passing up delicious gas station hot dogs, before my DNF at the Mohican 100 on Saturday. I set faster times each week doing hill repeats. I pulled off a headstand in yoga by myself without kicking the instructor in the face. I rode a century and it felt like the easiest 101 miles I’ve every ridden. I’m still the fast guy I was last Friday. So, I just let it go.
The key to taking the exit ramp from the 7 Stages of DNFing is to go on doing what you planned on doing if you hadn’t DNF’d. If that’s not enough, get new bar tape, go for a solo ride in the woods, touch your monkey, deadhead the rose bushes or find another household project you put off for the race. Above all, remember, in the grand scheme of things it’s a bike race, not a cheddar dog stuck in your aorta.
If not, you’ll find yourself tripping through the 7 Stages of DNFing:
In the passenger seat of a stranger’s Subaru, the air conditioning soothes and the cool leather hugs you on the way back to the start line. Stage 1 is euphoria. Like death, it’s over, a long yoga Savasana. It’s a greasy Gyro after a night of drinking. It’s a cold shower after filling potholes in August. This is precisely what DNFing is so luring: a world of Gatorade, long showers, massage, HGTV House Hunters and hoagie sandwiches abounds. Bliss. Problem is, unlike actually dying, you live. Your brain, unfortunately, is still working. You start to think, if you finished at least you could consider yourself one of the masses, but instead you’re the DNF freak. If you don’t shrug your shoulders, realize you’re just as fast as the day before and get on with your life; you’ll slip into stage 2.
2 The Blues
Grab the tissues because it’s about to get heavier than watching the Bachelorette. Now that the race adrenalin has worn off, in the time that it takes to eat that sandwich, like you just put your dog to sleep, you’re overcome with emotion. An inventory of every hill repeat, long miles, set of crunches and rainy rides it took to get you fit runs through your mind. You see the credit card bill for the DNF race entry, pay your buddy gas money for your DNF, and clean your dirty DNF bike. Everything seems to relate back to your DNF. You wanted it so bad, but it escaped. You’re empty. You well up. You become a hug seeking missile and call your wife to take your mind off it. If you can’t…it’s full on stage 3.
3 Second Guessing
Soon enough you’re sulking turns to ifs and buts. It’s the thing I hate most about cycling, guys after races saying “if only” followed by a filling in of the blank. If only I didn’t flat, go out so hard, didn’t attack on that hill, relaxed on the down hill, or touched my monkey the night before the race. Only now you’re the dufus that’s saying it to everyone. Rather than finding fault and expressing it verbally to every poor teammate you have, STFU and take silent note. Make a list of changes for next time. If you don’t turn it into a positive, you’ll seek solace and ease into stage 4.
4 Failed Redemption
You’ll scour the race calendars looking for redemption. You’ll tell yourself you’re at the peak of fitness. You’re a balloon slowly loosing air. WeeeeeeeEEEEEEEeeeeeee! You need to take advantage of what’s left. You need to prove you’re fast. You’ll consider anything…5k’s, dear God, even time trials. Don’t do it. You completely stressed your body at the race and your emotions over the past few days of stages 2 and 3. Try to come back too quickly and you will fail again and find yourself resorting to the cycling equivalent of punching a wall, stage 5.
5 False Confidence
After failing your 2nd race, a race you didn’t even train for, you’ll settle for anything. You’ll attack the retired guy doing a bike path century in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon. Like a Sumo wrestler beating a toddler, you hit the weekly 17mph average club ride, crush them all on every climb, outsprint them at the town line and point at your jersey in celebration. While idiotically gratifying, this unfortunately lulls you into a false confidence and step #7.
Sort of recovered and brimming with confidence from slaying unsuspecting club riders, you’ll race a 3rd race or go out for the Saturday Morning beatdown versus your true peers. You won’t get dropped. You won’t win the Town Line or be KOM either. You’ll be pack fodder, another jersey in a sea of color. Then, you’ll realize…you could’ve had that from the beginning.