Ok, it’s been nearly a week, and I’ve figured out a few things.
Firstly, worse things have happened than pulling the pin on TCR. When I first made the decision to withdraw I couldn’t go through with it, because I thought I would regret it so much. So I pushed on to CP3, and then even a few km more.
I stopped in a pension outside of Poprad and had good food and looked after myself. As I had for the last couple of nights I managed to find some ice, and strapped it around my knees and ankle to sleep. I felt I had done everything I could to make it work. I had tweaked and tuned and adjusted and pampered.
Waking up the next morning I knew it was time. I lay in bed for literally hours, messaging my Chief Assistant Everything, posting on social media and finally emailing the race organisers. Then I lay there for a while longer, wondering what I had done.
Finally, resolve hit me. I had pulled out, but I would not now waste my time. I swung out of bed, and with strong decisive movements I packed, quickly and efficiently. I gathered my belongs, stepped smartly out of my room, realised that I was fine and I should have kept going, and then nearly collapsed when I tried to walk down the stairs.
TCR had taken a toll. The night before I had been covering ground quickly, and thinking that maybe I could go on anyway. But that was because I was going downhill. Now, in the morning, I had to backtrack up that hill to get to the nearest train station, and everything hurt. After limping down the stairs my pedaling style was ridiculous as I tried not to aggravate anything, and progress was laughably slow.
The weather gods smiled on me, turning on the rain to soak me through and make the decision to withdraw just that little bit easier. The trucks helped too, with more close passes in those few km than any other day I could remember. I only saw one dog, but he gave it a good solid effort and I’m sure if there had been a bear nearby he would also have put in an appearance. And the road was awful.
In short, over 20 km and slightly over 2 hours, everything was about as bad as it could be, and I still loved it. I loved every moment of the race. I confess to a few cross words, but they were all directed at my navigation devices (oh, OK, a few were aimed at that bloody awful descent in Slovenia, but nothing else)! I saw some amazing places and had a fantastic time. Mike showed me some bits of the world that literally took my breath away.
And yet, I’m not devastated to have scratched. Disappointed, yes, but not devastated. I saw great things, I rode 2300km – most of the way across a continent – in a little over a week, and including off-line donations I raised over $2000 for an important charity. But the truth is, I wasn’t ready for the Transcontinental. I thought I was, but I was wrong. I wasn’t physically ready and I wasn’t mentally ready. I was ready to hurt, and I was ready to push past barriers and obstacles, and I could still be out there now racing. I had a style worked out that, as long as I kept up my concentration, wasn’t hurting much and was moving me, albeit slowly. At that pace though I would have been still going three weeks from now, long after I need to get back to my job to pay my bills. I wasn’t mentally or physically ready to ride the TCR fast. And that is what it is all about.
I learnt a heap during the time I rode, and the few days afterwards. And the single biggest thing I learnt was that TCR is a race, and I want to race it. Fast touring is an unhappy compromise, the worst of both worlds. You don’t have time to really immerse yourself in things, and you also aren’t getting the pure joy of a race. There are times when it is the best solution, but not for the TCR. Which means that next time, I will race. Flat out. No compromise.
Most things I took with me worked well and I would take them again, but not all. Next time, I’m not taking a camera to stop and take photos with. I got some great pictures this time (I’ll put a few more of them up later) but that’s not the way to race. So next time, no long blog posts (Baloney, fear not, I’ll still be seeing the view and you know that you will hear the stories in excruciating detail afterwards!) and no dedicated camera. I took the wrong food, I took the wrong chain lube, I took some things that just flat out didn’t work and should not have been there. All of those lessons have been learnt.
I really didn’t know how my body would respond, but now I do. Given that I was about 150th to CP3 this may sound ridiculous, but next time I will be aiming for top 20, ideally high in the top 20.
The reason I believe I can do it, despite this year’s result, is that I have learnt so much. I now see mistakes that I made in the months, weeks and days before the race, and also in the time since it started. I see what was wrong with my set-up, and how I can make it right. I know how to prepare better, and what my weak points are, and I know how I can fix them.
Over the past week I’ve spent several days traveling very slowly back to Germany. My knees are back to normal size, my Achilles has only the dullest of aches, and I’m feeling good. If I was to restart the race right now I have no doubt things would go downhill quickly, but physically my recovery is on track. Yesterday I even got got back on the bike. 40km, over two and a half hours, but I finished feeling better than I started. That is very important, because mentally I am there. I want to race, right now.
I’m going to take things a bit slower than that, but I’m hoping I can be racing again within a month. And meanwhile, I’m looking for the next ultra-cycling race. I doubt it will be TCR unless something huge changes in my financial/employment situation – I think I will be back to this in 2019, and in part that is because for the next year I want to tune and perfect. There are a lot of races, but in my mind TCR remains the toughest, with so many challenges not faced in other races.
So that’s my goal. Top 20 (at least) in 2019. I’ve learnt so much that I truly believe I can achieve it, and knowing that stops me from being devastated.