Curtea de Argeş ‘Irony,’ my brother wrote, ‘brought to your knees by your knees.’
Actually, it was my stubborn head that did that. You know how they say you are your own worst enemy and your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness? It all strikes painfully true right now. I have functioned throughout all my rides and races under the basic mind over matter premise; that the body is essentially a machine and as long as the head could endure and keep going, the body would automatically follow. This is mostly true, until it isn’t. You know that classic film ‘The Big Blue’ where the diver swims down to his death smiling? His head wanted to keep going, even when he knew it would kill him and he keeps diving deeper and deeper anyway.
I knew my knees were not strong. After the Trans Am race last year, I did damage to the cartilage riding half the race with the seat down low after the clamp broke. Then in December I tore the ligament in the left knee and was off the bike for a few months while it healed. Point being, I have done repeated damage to my knees. They are essentially my Achilles heel, the weakest point, and I knew, going into the Transcontinental race this year that they were not up to snuff. I knew this because they would seize up during long training rides. But, I decided to race anyway. I finally had a sponsor. Things were lining up for me. I was itching for an adventure and I was sure I could pull it off as I have always done, by making my body do what I wanted it to by sheer force of will. There was nothing wrong with the software.
I rode 515 kilometers the first day, another 400 the second, and was reaching the first checkpoint of Monte Ventoux in the south of France, when the hardware malfunctioned. Both knees failed at the same time. One minute I was riding, the next I could not put even the slightest pressure down on the pedals. I was on flat terrain going 10 kilometers an hour, and then, total failure. I had to stop and hobble the last kilometer into the nearest little town. The machine, for the first time ever, had failed me completely.
It took an hour to even comprehend that I could not continue the race. I don’t do quitting. My head was still in the lead, powering on strong as ever. Even my muscles felt good. Physically, I was in good form. Scratching from the race had never been an option, and I had to face the hard reality that it was my only option. It was over. I called my sister who lives in Avignon and at the words ‘I need rescuing. I can’t pedal anymore,’ the frustration of feeling helpless and yes, weak, was unbearable and I burst into tears.
Rationally, I know my knees simply collapsed and it happens to athletes the world over, but I was still gutted. Something Mike Hall said kept it all in perspective. “You can’t take yourself too seriously. It’s just riding bikes, not curing cancer or anything.’
Like any machine, the body needs a certain level of maintenence and it was my fault for not paying better attention to it and caring for it as I should have. I am not exempt from the rules, much as I like to operate as though I were. With each ride and race, I learn something new about what I can and can’t do, and how I can do better next time. I am taking this experience as one more notch on my learning curb.
I have gone to see a knee specialist. I’ll need some injections and therapy, but the damage is not incurable. Fortunately, I was not given the chance to completely destroy them, which I may well have done had I continued. So, I am going to go the distance this time and get myself completely better and make sure I am functioning at 100% before I go into my next ride. I’ll end this update by castigating myself with a bit of Radiohead.
Ulsan You do it to yourself, you do
And that’s what really hurts
Is that you do it to yourself
Just you and no one else
You do it to yourself
You do it to yourself