How do you cope when something you have been looking forward to for ages turns out to be a disappointment? Or more specifically, when you cannot live up to your own expectations and so the experience isn't what you had planned?
I've been waiting to ride the Stelvio pass in the Italian Alps for years and when I finally got my chance today I failed to make it to the top. A combination of back pains, empty legs and stomach cramps stopped me just 2km short of the top with only 200m of climbing left. I had already been reduced to stopping every second corner of the almost endless switchbacks and just couldn't face going any further. Plenty of you reading this will think I should gave just plodded on and maybe there was a way to make it, but by that point I had already been climbing for over 2 hours over 18km.
I should also point out that Rachel had been patiently pacing me up the mountain, riding well within herself and easily made it to the top after I told her to ride on.
I could see the top clearly. I just couldn't get there. To make mattes worse, I found the downhill terrifying: I have completely lost my mojo for descending. I stopped four times to use what little water I had left to cool my fading brakes. Plumes of steam from sizzling discs and calipers drew laughs from those around me in the roadside verges, but did little to improve my mood. After 9 months of planning I couldn't wait to get off this fucking mountain. I was displaying all the bike handling ability of the PG Tips monkey. Meanwhile, Trevor hit 103kph on his ride down.
Over lunch words of consolation and encouragement from Rachel and my friends fell on deaf ears. They were all rightly excited about having reached the top. My friend James enjoyed it so much he went over the top and is currently climbing up the other side.
My normal way of coping would be to try and get up early tomorrow morning and try again on my own, but I can't face it. On the slow ride up I was contemplating going back to the hotel packing my bags on my bike and riding off home alone. That would be pretty selfish behaviour and unfair on my travelling companions. Particularly as there are others riding with pain or conquering their own demons. But I honestly just felt like I wanted to leave.
Of course in the grand scheme of things, it's a bit rich to complain about being on holiday in Italy, riding my bike in the sun with good friends. As Trevor said over lunch: it could be worse, you could be sitting at your desk.
After my pre booked massage things seemed much better. More likely being pummeled for an hour gave me some perspective. The hotel offers the standard three options:
the 'you will instantly regret asking for this ' hard option
The 'correct option for normal people' medium version and of course
The 'try not to become aroused while someone gently rubs your skin' soft option.
Obviously options one and three are to be avoided. Lying on the massage table while someone correctly identifies all the muscles I have failed to stretch game me the perspective I needed. The massage hurt because occasionally stretching for five minutes post ride doesn’t work. Failing to finish today is exactly what I should expect given my level of fitness, volume of training, current weight, previous ability to climb mountains etc.
Another excellent dinner with friends reset my clock to zero.
Tomorrow I will try again.