In the fall of 2011, one of Jon’s training partners Kyle wrote a heartfelt blog titled, “3 worst letters of the alphabet“. He’d come off a difficult stretch of training and racing; he’d ended up not finishing a race he’d started. The letters he was referring to in the blog were ‘D’ ‘N’ and ‘F’- the dreaded combo coming up with DNF: Did Not Finish.
I’ve met a number of athletes who can easily shrug off DNF; they simply move forward to the next thing. I myself have never DNF (knock on wood) – there has been more than one time where I was dying to pull the plug on a race. As I was driving home from the Nordic Centre last Wednesday night a thought occurred to me that added to my tears that were already free flowing: I was about to DNS.
I’d been struggling to stay motivated in an “off” year; I hadn’t really selected any races beyond ATLS. I thought I could try for a sprint at the end of summer if I could remedy my nagging knee injury, I thought I could hit a Gran Fondo, I thought I would race my Mountain Bike.
Motivated by overcoming (I’m coming up to the two year anniversary of my MTB accident) I wanted to race my mountain bike to fully close the loop on the healing. I’d picked myself up from the darkest time, I’d remedied my head injury, I’d hopped on the bike once again. I no longer told the story about the crash to everyone I went riding with first (in fear I may spontaneously burst into tears at any moment) and I joined a Mountain Bike Club. I went so far as to join their annual “Learn To Race” program where I learned little about preparing to race (triathlon just about covered all of that) but an extraordinary amount about Mountain Bike Racing.
One Wednesday night mid-way through L2R we did a race at Nose Hill, and I won. (I write this because it’s an important part of later in this story). I came home floating on air. I woke up Jon and described to him in painstaking detail about my glorious laps, my huge victory and crushing the other girls with my power and fitness. To say I was stoked was possibly the understatement of 2014.
We finished up the L2R program and went out last Wednesday to pre-ride the race course in Canmore. I had visions of myself crushing the field with my fitness and deft skills. I was confident. I was excited. I was ready to race.
It was a bluebird night and I’d had a great day. As we pulled into the parking lot of the Nordic Centre something went amiss. My hands shook almost uncontrollably as I pulled my mountain bike out of the backseat. I had problems taking in a full breath as I adjusted the saddle and got onto the bike. As we pulled out to ride an easy loop of the course I had problems breathing. Panic flowed through my veins. My mind was blank. It was as though every single skill and drill, hour practising and time spent on my bike had been erased. I was clumsy, confused, shaky. It was as though this was my first time on a mountain bike, ever.
We started riding the back half of the race course (markedly less challenging than the front half) and I fell quickly to the back. I started unclipping at every small rock, turn and table top. I got off my bike half way through a blue run and the club sweep stopped by, absolutely puzzled. She asked me if I was OK but I was already crying too hard to respond.
More of the same of this for the front half (the far more difficult, more technical front half) of the race course. I was discouraged. I was angry. But more than anything, I was ashamed. I couldn’t really understand exactly what was happening, and I was frustrated that this avenue I’d selected to push myself was going to be anything but. It was a struggle simply to finish the rest of the ride, and to dissemble my bike to load into the jeep to drive home. My hands continued to shake until we’d driven almost past Seebe on the way back to Calgary.
After I dropped off my carpool I started to cry. I let myself cry the big ugly cry I’d been trying so hard to keep contained behind my sunglasses the entire ride. I cried all the way home, my vision blurring with the constant refill of tears. For a few hours I relived over and over and over again the horrifying day of the accident and days following; I re-awoke in my brain a piece I thought was stored away forever: the fear I was paralyzed, the fear I would never walk or bike again. I thought all that therapy I had after the crash had fixed all that… I didn’t think it still lived in my mind.
I’m unsure if it was the Nordic Centre, the thought of a “race” or the need to go fast that triggered my reaction, but instead of fighting it, I decided to honour it. As I lay awake in bed that night, fretting and stewing, I surrendered to that which I already knew to be true: I simply wasn’t ready to race on Saturday. Instead of trying to diagnose myself (this is a slippery slope) I decided to try to park it away and collect my first ever DNS.
Did Not Start. It feels sticky and uncomfortable. It feels like the worse three letters in the alphabet (for now). A little more healing is required before I can come back and do what I need to do. When it’s time, I’ll be ready.