Wednesday, June 15, 2022

#MittelGebirgeClassique - 1095km, 22000m E+, 70h/79h

J'avais déserté ce terrain depuis bien longtemps. J'ai raconté des bribes d'histoires sur Instagram depuis la dernière fois, et puis la MittelGebirge, la course sur laquelle j'ai le moins pris de plaisir (j'en prends de moins en moins, semble-t-il ?), me redonne de l'élan. J'ai commencé par fractionner mon race report, comme j'en ai pris l'habitude. Le texte a grandi en même temps que mes pensées s'organisaient, pour ne faire qu'un bloc, que je juge bon de publier ici. Du coup, c'est en anglais.
English below 
How was it ?

It was fun / nice / great / I loved it. As soon as I finished, that is what I wanted to say. And it was the truth. I felt great. I arrived at noon, some were there to great me at the top of the last climb, more even to share a drink & ice cream in Neustadt. We chilled together in the sun, told stories, laughed, my knees just started to hurt, which was okay, I did not need them anymore, I am glad they were fine until then. I felt awesome.

The night before though, I was cold and pushing hard. The very morning I walked my bike up a 500m climb that felt like 22%, just to roll down 50m from where I started. This MittelGebirge was a constant fight. A race always is. I tend to think that if I enjoy a race too much, I probably could push myself harder. That is the point of a race. Else I would just be touring. I fight the urge to stop & stay in a warm place drinking coffee, I force my stomach to eat bad food, I keep my eyes open in the dark. I fight with my legs, against any vertical meter. I fight to relax, I fight to stay focus, I forbid my mind to wander. If I let a pleasant thought come in, it is only to remember how much enjoyment there is, at the end. To enjoy later I need to keep going now.

A race is no fun at all. It is stressful, it is tough and intense. There is barely a positive sensation during. Is the after worth it ?

The week before the MittelGebirge I had been sick. Just a cold, just enough to stay quiet and rest well before the start. By Friday I was feeling better, perfect timing, I thought. But the 1st night, the cold must have waken up the sickness and I did not stop blowing a very runny nose. My under nose dried from the constant passage of tissue, while the inside was getting irritated. Somewhere in the 2nd night, I started coughing and spat something out. Surprised by the feel of it in my mouth, I spat it away, almost frightened. The following time I collected the spit in my tissue (the things ultracycling makes you do...). It was a very dry, solid yellow piece of whatever & did not look healthy.
I always thought that being on the move, outside, kept the sickness away. Also, staying mind focus forbid the body to feel sick. I was wrong this time. While I was not feeling weak, nor over tired, during the MittelGebirge, I was constantly uncomfortable. I have been wearing long sleeves for 3 days, feeling very cold in the descents even at noon with my 2 jackets on. I was feeling hot, without sweat, on all climbs. I hate stopping all the time to dress & undress, but I had to. I was frantically drinking water fearing dehydration.

At the finish, I swore I would not forget, this time, how hard the race was. I would not forget the lack of enjoyment, I would not switch right away, answering lightly to this question how was it ?

It was hell, or paradise. So much pain, so much joy. Nights following days. Up and down. A brutal experience. No place for grey, no subtle way to tell those 1100km.

I usually collect stories on the road. I remember being kicked off a cafe in Italy and welcomed again the next minute. I remember a city celebrating in Spain, and me sitting tired in the middle of the crowd. I remember smiles & encouragement, running foxes & jumping deers. I did not collect any stories on the MittelGebirge. Apart from being cold & being hot, I had not much to share on the finish line. 

Why, during my previous events, did I manage to collect stories during my ride, and this time I could not ? Did I try so much harder, making myself so race focus, that I was unable to absorb anything else ? There is a constant desire, amongst organizers, to make the races harder. Longer, with the most elevation gain. And even if I suffer, I am looking for those intense feelings, too. I look forward to seeing how much I can endure. But, swallowed by the road, I missed my own stories.

Afterwards though, I started to remember. I remembered that I witnessed a bloody red sunset, that I bought a whole piece of cheese and I got locked in a ferme auberge, I slept in a church, I had an epic breakfast with other riders, followed with an epic bakery fail the next morning. So there was bubbles of light, stories to be told.

Jumping forward a couple of days, how was it ? I did not talked about my MittelGebirge race too much. Working again the Friday right after the race (I took the train back in Paris on Thursday night) kept my mind away from the after-race blues. Saying goodbye to Sofiane, on his way to his own crazy challenge, put me back into a pre-race mode. I also needed time to process. I gathered all the good times in my memory. I forgot the pain, the crazy elevation gain, the cold. My post-race reaction, repeating how NOT FUN it was, is now laughable. Everything is true. What I said then, what I think now. It was fun / nice / great / I loved it. I don't want to forget the lack of emotion during the race though. This is new, and intriguing.
I am a bit disappointed by my performance. I wish I could ride faster, in addition to being able to spend a lot of time on the bike. The moving time/stopping time ratio is 88/12, and I don't feel like I needed to stop more. I even indulged myself one or two too many coffee stops, and a long walk to find water, the last morning. The next day, I wasn't particularly tired, nor hungry. It is almost like a 3 days ride is a normal thing for my body. Nothing hurts more than normal. The sickness symptoms faded away pretty quickly, too, apart for that cough that persisted a few days (without spitting !).

The lack of enjoyment, the nice memories, a few stories, disappointment. This is how it was but how will it be next time ?
Yes, there will be a next time, and I am excited for it. How can I still be enthusiastic ? Well, even if that MittelGebirge wasn't a happy experience, it wasn't a bad one either. Sure, I did not have that strong emotion I am seeking when I am on a race, that incredible moment when I feel at the perfect place, at the perfect time, despite all the efforts, but I did not suffer excessively either, if it wasn't for that bad cough. I still enjoy the aftermath. And being disappointed by my performance just makes me more determined to grow stronger. My biggest worry, the lack of emotion during the race, was something new. New is good. 
It is not the distance, the elevation, the always more from organizers that make a race difficult, but the energy you put in it. I need to push myself more, go faster, and get to the edge again. So this next time, I will do what I know works for me (always ride, stop very little, stay focus) and I will add something new to the equation. It started already : less than 1 week after the finish, I am back into training mode. My body is responding well to the effort. There is only 2 months until my next challenge, I have to make the most of it.
It's gonna be fun.
Thank you the MittelGebirge Classique team for the lesson, and Charlotte for the beautiful pictures.

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