Sunday, September 11, 2011

Me and my faint heart

I moved to Colorado several months ago, long story short, for the simple purpose of going pro.  Now that I've made it, in an ironic twist that only life can deliver, I can't race in Colorado (generally speaking).  How does that work?  Well, the cycling association of Colorado is called ACA.  The national governing body of cycling is USACycling (USAC for short).

Many years ago, ACA separated from USAC, choosing to be independent and run their own show.  Now, in an effort to pull ACA back under their umbrella, USAC has begun enforcing a rule that says professionals cannot race in unsanctioned races.  Since ACA is not a Local Association under USAC, their races are technically unsanctioned, meaning that pros can't do them.  Promoters can permit a race under USAC if they choose (and therefore bring pros to the race), but everyone here has an ACA license.

There are a few races left on the calendar that I need to stay fit for.  As much as I enjoy my regular 140 mile epic rides, I was looking for any races I could do to keep my top-end fitness up (it's the point in the season where I really struggle to push myself on training rides as hard as a race can).  There was an awesome stage race just a couple hours away that I couldn't do.  I had to widen the search area.

I chose the Tour of Austin last weekend--good money, tough racing, a well-run event, and my family and friends are there.  It was 3 crits over Labor Day weekend, and if I got there on Thursday I could race the Driveway weekly series as well.

Fort Collins to Austin is a 16.5 hour drive with my marathon driving methodology: only stop when the truck needs gas.  Because I had stuff going on here Wednesday, but wanted to be in Austin by early evening, I devised a plan.  I would pack up Wednesday night, sleep for a few hours, then hit the road at midnight.

The best laid plans....  I had been running around for hours getting everything ready for the trip and was so excited about going home that I got into bed an hour later than planned.  And I couldn't fall asleep.

Okay, if you fall asleep now you can get 2 hours of sleep before you have to get up.

Okay, if you fall asleep now, you can still get one and a half hours of sleep.

Seriously, go to sleep.  Just an hour and fifteen left.

Dude. Seriously. 45 minutes.

20 minutes?! Well that didn't go as planned.

So I got out of bed, put my clothes back on, and hit the road at 11:38 pm (this is important because I nerdily calculate my average trip speed every 30 minutes).

The first few hours weren't bad.  Around 4 am I cracked open the Monster.

I made it through all of college without relying on coffee, energy drinks, or even sodas.  I hardly ever take in caffeine, so when I do I get really, really, hopped up.  So all I had to do was sip on the Monster regularly and I was wired.

As I rolled into Amarillo at 8am, I was finally starting to feel the fatigue of the previous day's yard work and the lack of sleep.  I pulled into the back of a gas station and napped for 15 minutes.  And I bought another, bigger, Monster.

Back on the road, re-energized, I had talk radio to keep me company and knocked out the rest of the drive without problems.  Strangely, I didn't feel tired anymore.

I finally made it through Austin's rush hour, met up with broski, and we headed to the evening's race.  I had not had more than 15 minutes sleep in the last 32 hours, had 24oz of Monster coursing through my veins, it was nearly 100 degrees, and I had just finished a 17 hour drive.  Boogity boogity boogity, let's go racing?

It was so bizarre.  My legs were sluggish, but strong.  My heart was in a serious tizzy, going through the roof at the slightest effort.  At the same time, I was down from altitude and could recover in half a second.  So the whole race consisted of a hard effort, a fantastic explosion, and half a lap later was ready to go again.

I left my truck in Austin and Shane drove me back to Aggieland, where I said hello to Mr. Lee (and Elizabeth) and proceeded to sleep for 14 hours.  After a fun day of hanging with broseph and co. (and a bonus nap), Shane and I were headed back to Austin.

A decent field turned out for the first race of the weekend.  I and Dahlheim from Bissell were the only pros in the race--the main opponent would be the dozen blue and white riders from Elbowz, comprising 20% of the field.  On the first lap, I let the initial break go thinking that it couldn't possibly stay away the whole race.  Dahlheim and I attacked many times, but the course wasn't hard enough to really break it up and we had underestimated the sheer number of Elbowz riders.  Every move we made was shut down immediately, and there were still a handful of blue guys in reserve to counter our moves.

So that race didn't go well.  At the end of the race I didn't care anymore, so I led Shane out the last half-lap.  He got 2nd in the field sprint, finishing 10th.

Sunday would be a much better day.  A cold front was blowing in on a tougher course.  The temps were down a little (only low 90's!), and the very strong winds would certainly blow the race up--this swings the odds much more in my favor. I was still refining my heat-management strategy.  I was wearing a mesh skinsuit that breathed like you couldn't believe.  I had 2 polar bottles crammed with ice water.  I had a 2lb ice sock on my back, and poured a half gallon of water on myself before the start.

The racing started in earnest.  Everyone knew that the winds would destroy the field.  Elbowz assembled at the front to echelon. Carlos Vargas, me, and Ian Dille attacked to put pressure on them and stayed away for a bit over a lap.  The field was already splitting up just minutes in.  We were caught the next go around, and I fought for position by riding on the upwind side of the echelon.

Not in any difficulty when the first attack was brought back
I was pretty much smiling, knowing that this was my race.  I felt fantastic and the conditions were right.

The next lap around, Elbowz crushed the pace in the gutter on the penultimate straight on the course.  We were getting slammed by a brutal crosswind and they were doing nearly 30mph.  I dove into the last corner of the lap, which was a tiny bit off-camber.  I was going a little bit faster than the leaders, as I had just sprinted to close a gap.  I tucked low and railed the corner, and then the gust of wind hit me hard from the side.  The wind got underneath me and just blew my front wheel away.

Just that quickly, I was on the ground.  Apparently I have crashed enough in my life doing bmx and mountain biking that I've trained myself well:  I don't like sliding.  As soon as I hit the ground, I pushed myself up so that I could tumble instead of slide, and did some crazy judo apparently to keep my head off the ground (my helmet hasn't a scratch on it).

Did not hit my head....
Popped up, looking for my bike
I was immediately up and back on the bike, but just as quickly decided I was not getting back in the race.  I had just reopened all of my wounds from US Pro Crit and added more, and frankly I was tired of falling off my bike, especially after having done nothing wrong.

I rolled to the pit, found the medics, and sat on the back of their cart as they tended my wounds.  Nothing bad.  I was missing a good chunk of skin from my knee, scraped off a bit of skin on my calf, and had a nice huge strawberry on my left hip where my old scabs used to be.  I had also ripped open the tip of my left middle finger and pulled my right thumbnail up a little.

The medics cleaned the big stuff first--my elbow, hip, and knee.  Then he non-chalantly asked if I wanted him to clip the flap of skin off my finger.

Hold that thought, we're going on a short detour.

I used to never have trouble with my own blood and gore.  I split my forehead wide open in a go-cart accident at my 9th birthday party.  I split my chin open twice, stitches both times.  Somewhere before the second time, though, an innocent flu vaccination in which the nurse apparently got points if the needle came out the other side of my thigh gave me a serious aversion to needles.  Enough so that I nearly passed out getting my chin stitched the second time.  Enough so that I did pass out my freshman year of college getting a flu shot.  Enough so that I nearly passed out getting a blood test earlier this year.

Also somewhere along the line, I developed a debilitating weakness towards finger injuries.  My shins and knees and elbows are covered in scars from my bmx exploits, and none of that ever bothered me.  But hands...I don't handle hands well.  Once when I was a kid, I cut my finger with a box-cutter.  I went to the bathroom and bandaged it up, and came to on the floor.  I once slipped with a small flat-head screwdriver and cut my finger pretty good, had to sit down and focus hard not to pass out.  A couple years ago in my shining moment of idiocy, I botched a shoe adjustment and got my hand stuck in my front wheel, darn near taking my pinky off.  After running to get help, I promptly passed out.

So back to Austin last weekend.  The medic innocently asked about the flap of skin on my finger.  Light switch.  I told them I was getting dizzy, and then I remember coming to and being walked to sit inside the medic's cart.  They told me I had passed out--twice--and I nearly started laughing.  I attempted to explain that I'm just a sissy, but they were convinced I was having a heat stroke.  They started packing ice packs under my arms and inside my thighs, and told me an ambulance was on the way.  Oh geez.

They were asking me state-of-mind questions.  I told them I hadn't hit my head (check the helmet), but answered the questions to humor them.  My name is Chad Haga.  I turned 23 last week. I'm in Austin.  Today is Sunday.  There are 10 dimes in a dollar.

I continued explaining to them how unnecessary this all was as they drove me out of the course--that I wasn't having a heat stroke, I simply pass out when I cut my fingers.  I then explained it to the EMTs.  It's not the heat, it's the boo-boo on my finger.

My name is Chad Eric Haga.  Maybe the inclusion of my middle name will convince them I'm fine?
Today's still Sunday, and I'm still in Austin.
I'm now 10 minutes older than the last time I was asked, but still 23.
Still 10 dimes in a dollar, although they're probably not worth as much as the last time as I was asked.

I defiantly walked into the ambulance under my own power.  I answer more questions.  They're concerned about my heart after passing out, so they're going to do an EKG.

"Okay, but you should know that you're going to find a right bundle branch block on there, so you don't get to make a big deal out of that--I know it's there."  Side note: my mom insisted on getting a physical before moving away to race bikes, and in my first physical ever that was found.  An echocardiogram proved that it's of no consequence, just something to be aware of.

Wouldn't you know it, they found a right bundle branch block and were unsettled by it.  Despite my arguing to the contrary , they wanted to take me to the hospital down the road and make sure everything was okay.  Matt Hattaway came along to keep me company.  As they shut the ambulance doors, all I could think was efffff  emmmmm elllll.  If there's a body-posture equivalent of rolling your eyes, I was doing it.

On the ride to the hospital, the EMTs remarked about my vitals.  "Wow, only 47bpm, you're really healthy."

Uh, dude, don't insist on taking me to the hospital to check on my well-being and then compliment how well I am.  I couldn't believe it was that close to resting, considering how worked up I was at the moment.

I was then wheeled in to the hospital on the gurney, where I proceeded to wait nearly an hour for "treatment". This wouldn't have been a problem normally, but remember, they thought I might have been having a heat stroke.  I was covered in ice packs.  I still had ice left in the sock on my neck from the start of the race.  I was still soaking wet with sweat and the water I poured on myself before the race.  They keep hospitals at -12 degrees.  My adrenaline had faded and I was getting pain shooting up my wounds.  Matt went and found some warm blankets to keep me from shivering too hard while we waited.

The hospital did another EKG and found nothing new.  After hearing me tell Hattaway about my history of finger injuries, the nurse said he was going to prick my finger for a blood-sugar test.  "Don't pass out on me," he said. Everyone's a comedian these days, I swear.

After hearing about my near-death experience (we would later "learn" I had hit my head and was carried away on a back board...), Shane found out the truth from friends ("Chad hurt his finger." "Oh.") and came to the hospital after the race ended.  They finally cleaned my wounds and sent me on my way.  Can't wait to see the bill for my finger boo-boo.

Shane had to get back to College Station for school on Monday--it seems most Aggies forget that we never got Labor Day off after we graduate--so I bid him farewell as I got myself cleaned up and headed to Wheeler's for some Aggie football viewing and feel-better ice cream.

The next day, I decided that, although this was a get-back-on-the-horse situation, I was tired of hitting the deck and was concerned about the course for the day.  There had been several crashes already that day on 2 particular corners, and in the P1/2 race there were more.  So I didn't regret the decision to skip the race too much.

Then I went home to see my parents for a couple days.  They immediately put me to work in the yard.  My mom fixed my favorite foods to make me good and fat--apple pizza, waffles, and my favorite strawberry belated birthday cake.

With that, I was on my way back to Colorado, but not without a stop in Amarillo for lunch with the largest Ian in my life.  Although the race portion of my trip was less-than-successful, it certainly felt good to see family and friends again.

Now if only my wounds would finish healing.  I'd really like to sleep on my left side again.

Also, I'd be remiss not to share this.  I'm not certain who's responsible for this, but it's pretty funny.