Yesterday I competed in the Tour of Changhua race sponsored by Merida Bicycles. It really wasn't much of a race as the sponsors pulled the timed competition out of concern for rider safety following a period of light drizzle that fell on the area. My health hasn't been real great over the past few weeks following an asthma attack in Seattle and an increase in the frequency of the attacks over the past two weeks. I started taking some medication to bring the symptoms back under control, but the cure is as bad as the disease. As I have described before, the regimen consists of 12 pills per day that effectively render me useless beyond daily tasks. They induce insomnia, dehydration, muscle tremors and appetite suppression. I feel terrible. When I asked the doctor about exercise, she said, "don't over do it."
Regardless of this obstacle I decided to line up at the starting line with 4000 cycling enthusiasts to take part in a bike lover's ride.
Saturday, I went to T-Mosaic and collected my race pack; an assortment of swag including a water bottle, electronic race chip, socks, and energy gel. Earlier I went to Famous Bikes to pick up an early birthday present... a Garmin Edge 500 to record training stats and track my energy.
I rode the 12k from my house down to the starting line and was putting up an effortless 22mph. I figured it might be a good sign and rolled on into Changhua, where a light rain had begun to fall.
As I approached the Changhua city, riders of all type were appearing from alleyways and side roads to join a virtual convoy to the starting line.
It was great to see so many riders all together for this event despite the weather. There was a mix of road bikes and mountain bikes, with some folding and 20inch wheeled wonders in there too. Several teams showed up... but mine went home after hearing that the actual "race" component was cancelled and it would be a glorified mass-ride. I saw a few guys from our group who decided to stay and slog it out in the rain, but not many.
The start sounded and the mass of rolling humanity lurched forward into the dark wet morning. I kept my jacket on to stay warm and stuck with my plan to pace myself for a fast century ride.
I used the lead up to Bagua Shan to pass most of the field before the hill climb, which worked well as I had a pretty good run up the hills to the top of Bagua Shan. I was feeling good, and confident. I was also up near the front. I figured with nothing but flats and descents I could plod along at my typical pace at about 19-23mph and end up with a respectable finish. My goal was to make it back at around the 3:30 mark. I have averaged some pretty fast centuries, so I was optimistic.
I went into cruise control on the top of Bagua Shan to recover a bit from the climb and sit in with a small group of riders who were plugging along about the same as I was.
Then my first cramp hit. My left calf tightened up into a ball of pain and I had to unclip to shake it off. That made me increasingly concerned about my level of hydration. I typically can do very well with liquids, but with the medicine I was in desperate need. I had figured to fill at each feed station and there was one up ahead. By that time I realized it wouldn't be a banner day for me, so I took out my camera for a couple of blog shots.
The scenery in the morning was absolutely stunning. The sun provided backlight for Taiwan's central mountain range and a low gauze of fog hung over Cautun in the valley below.
I was still spinning along quite well over the little hill climb before the descent into Songboling. The slick roads with decomposed leaf debris made it too dangerous to pass anyone on the descents.
We quickly spilled through the tea town of Songboling and into the final descent. I have ridden this route a few times and was familiar enough with it to hit 37mph on the descent.
One poor bruiser of a fellow who had managed to power his way up on one of those funny 20-inch-wheel bikes, lost control on a turn and hit the deck in spectacular fashion.
I completed the descent and hammered along at 19.1mph while ducking into some pace lines and even leading for a bit... and then the wheels came flying off. Well, not literally, but at just about the half-way point I was developing a bottomless cough and my breathing felt "tight". I kept trying to clear my lungs, but they just felt full of crap. I made the hard decision to pull back to a touring pace and just breathe. I couldn't pull enough oxygen through my clogged alveoli to keep my muscles running strong.
I watched as all kinds of riders blew on past me. It was shameful, humiliating and rough. I knew where I should have been and felt awful for where I was. I hoped I would recover and get back into it.
Then I was hit with a major cramp in my left quad. This was followed by a cramp in my right quad. I dismounted to ease my legs back into shape, but almost tipped over as my right hamstring cramped up as I was unclipping. I was in total agony. I stopped at the feed stations to keep filling up on water, but I couldn't lose the sensation that any exertion over 16mph would result in a cramp. My muscles just felt dead. I couldn't summon anything out of them. Essentially, I had asked my body to perform lacking the two major ingredients-- water and oxygen. The result was an absolute physical breakdown.
At one point I dismounted to get a sport drink. My leg cramped at a 90 degree angle for 30 seconds as I propped myself up on my bike waiting for it to straighten out.
I finally slogged my defeated self into Changhua city at such a shamefully slow pace, that I didn't care. My wife was waiting for me at the finish line with a big smile and that was good enough for me.
We waited in line to collect my participation award and then I hopped back on the bike for some food before riding the 12k home. Official time: A disappointing and agonizing 4:24:18.
I will just have to get my body back into racing shape and show'em next time.