Standing outside the church in Rathgarogue in a pool of my own sick is not how I spend my average Tuesday lunchtime. If I wasn't wearing Lycra or straddling a bike I could just be the local alky. Instead I'm a heaving, wrecked shell of the man I was eight minutes earlier.
You see, I was trying to beat a record time on a Strava segment. And I'd nearly lost my mind.
For the uninitiated, Strava is an App where you can record your exercise. I cycle, so I can see the distance, elevation etc. of any spin I go on. And to make it interesting there are segments, point-to-points that pop up, allowing you to try and beat them. The fastest are called KOMs. I like this element and I use it to measure myself against other cyclist's fitness or quite often, to see where my fitness is compared to other times I've ridden that segment. Strava is great because it can liven up training and really challenge you.
So why did I nearly lose my mind? Segments are often named. And my nemesis just happens to be called 'Dig me a plot'. Not surprisingly it passes two graveyards, has a vast array of elements, conditions and elevations to deal with, is the hardest segment I've ever done, the most rewarding, the scariest, the one that finds your weaknesses. And until this morning I was obsessed. Obsessed because I wasn't the fastest. In fact, I'd given up on it. I'd fired every marginal gain at it in order to find extra seconds. Over the last while I'd had a few shots at it and fallen in love with the toughness of that stretch of road but felt it was beyond me. I reckoned I needed a westerly gale, tubulars, weight loss, no bottles, a skinsuit and luck to get it. I was wrong.
Let me explain why this strip of road drove me crazy. Firstly it starts up a rough, pock-marked, pot-holed hill that is hard to sustain any effort on. It eases a bit but then bites back. Over a false flat at the top it turns into an eyeballs-out screaming-along classics back lane that must be hit at top speed, for here is one of only two rapid sections. So the Amstel Gold climb has been followed by a Ghent-Wevelgem streak that saps any chance of recovery. Turning a tight right and hoping not to get hit by a car you are into a smooth boreen, passing the first graveyard. This road doesn't wait long before starting to rise in increments. At this point, passing the lodge entrance to a stately home, your body breaks down or breaks through. The hill hits hard and digs in, a real Ardennes effort... you either come to a standstill or get a rhythm and battle on. I usually blow halfway up.
If you survive the hill then you must once more floor it as the road levels and then winds slightly downhill and runs to the second church. For the 90 seconds you are on that section you are ostensibly Flandrian. You can't see the open fields and shelter belts but they are there. You, only see the next 50 feet.
It all ends there. The pain, the doubt, the white noise. And I'd grown sick of not being good enough. So today I met Paul, a college student that I've been mentoring over the Winter and we went out there with a plan. He started before me and was waiting patiently at the top of the first climb. Instead of me burning all my matches before halfway I hung on behind my Baracchi Trophy teammate and was delivered onto the second climb with something left in the tank. It wasn't wind, tyre pressure or caffeine. It was teamwork. I never cycled as fast in my life and as I write this I'm paying for my efforts. Vomit is one thing; jelly legs, wheezing lungs and muscular pain another. The relief of just finishing eight minutes of horror is forgotten in the frenzy of hoping you are a (temporary) God and the afterglow of psychosis. It has filled your waking hours for weeks and really isn't healthy.
But Strava KOMs are not trophies you get to keep. In fact quite the opposite. They become targets. I aimed to beat the fastest time and it stands to reason that will be my fate too. We don't own segments, we just keep them (virtually) polished for the next winner.
But I learned a valuable lesson today. I am not as good as I thought I was. I threw everything, absolutely everything at it and at some point all my efforts will come to nothing. Cyclists aren't normal anyway but the focus and time needed to achieve even small goals borders on mental illness. And as early as tomorrow I might get that notification that someone has taken my KOM. I can think of a bunch of locals that will wipe the floor with that time. I'm gonna give trying to top leaderboards a break and look over the ditches for a while. When my breathing gets back to normal.