It’s hard trying to mentally plan for a race that, deep down, you know you shouldn’t be doing. Not in the “ooh, this isn’t in the training plan and coach will think it’s a bit naughty” shouldn’t be doing sense, but in the “I am nowhere near competent enough physically/mentally/psychologically/spiritually/financially/culinarily/sartorially” sense. It can’t, rightly, be described as the least confident I have ever felt going into a race. That implies that a level of confidence exists and can be measured. I have a black hole where confidence should be. Confidence has been swallowed by the kraken. Confidence lies dead and dreaming beneath the waves, somewhere in a city of corpses, far beyond mortal comprehension. It’s long gone, is what I’m saying.
In the last week, which should’ve included some of the heaviest work before the Swedeman, I have completed 1 single day of training. First, it was the depression that prevented me from having the will to move, preferring instead to lie on the living room floor (not great extreme triathlon prep). Then it was a humbling morning cycling in Kent, the morning after the first rain in months had washed an overwhelming amount of shite into the roads. Four punctures later, including a double puncture/tyre blowout whilst coming downhill on the TT bars that by all rights should have killed me, and that idea went out the window. I’d been Lanzarote’d. Stupid me, thinking a paltry three spare tubes would suffice on roads that I’ve previously suffered one puncture in a year of cycling through all seasons.
But, y’know, sometimes these situations have valuable life lessons all of their own – like not judging books, or random friendly bypassers offering you lifts, by their covers. As I sighed and began a long, emotional trudge for the second time this year, this time towards a train station 75 minutes’ walk away, a man hopped out of a 4×4 a few meters in front of me. We exchanged pleasantries, I explained why I had seemingly decided to take a very expensive, very muddy TT bike for a morning stroll in my clippy-cloppy shoes. Kind chap in some odd clothes (but not that odd – I grew up in the not-quite-Ozarks of North Cornwall) offered to give me a lift to the nearest train station, because he was ‘early for the shoot’. Lefty liberal luvvy alarm bell numero uno, but whatever. A lift is a lift, right? Until, as he was popping the boot, I spotted a confederate flag sticker. Oh, Christ. Now, persistent thoughts of suicide? Sure. Sleepwalking into a cockney rendition of Deliverance? Oh, fuck me – wait, no poor choice of words. But I’m sure you get the gist. I’d already said yes at that point and my anxiety was going into overdrive.
As it turns out through 15 minutes of humbling small talk, the shoot wasn’t an animal hunt, and I wasn’t the only one in the vehicle with a hobby demanding ridiculous attire: the ‘shoot’ wasn’t a hunt, at all, it was a cowboy reenactment. Guy just liked his six-shooters, and it explained the flag. Also, he was very sympathetic towards me, because his wife was a triathlete and they’d just come back from Ironman Austria, so we chatted about that while I felt like a complete berk and tried to fight the rising urge to throw myself into the nearest hedge and burrow into the undergrowth to hide my shame. There was no piggy-squealing, which is a stark relief.
But after a 45 minute wait for a train, then a 2 hour journey home, I lost enthusiasm to do any more with the day. The most I could muster to do was weigh myself, and discover I’d not only hit race weight, but dipped below it. Turns out depression-induced appetite loss is good for something after all. That, and commuting on the tube in the middle of a heatwave. For the amount of bodily fluids that get shared with complete strangers on the Northern line right now, you’d think we ought to be putting our car keys in a bowl before we get on.
Sunday went okay, and then Monday went catastrophically bad (race prep wise). A slightly drunken incident while trying to climb over the gates of a local park (we didn’t realise they closed the gates) concluded with the bottom of my foot dramatically losing a standoff with a 6-inch iron spike intended to dissuade exactly This Sort Of Thing. Kind of hilarious at the time, because only one of us had a bike, so I was left to put my drill sergeant coach voice on and shout encouragement from the rear seat while my compatriot swore at me and pedalled up Brixton Hill to drop me off home.
Less hilarious in the morning, when I couldn’t put any weight on it and thought I’d broken something – a misplaced fear, but it was a pretty deep cut (impalement?), and I’ve only just today been able to move around the flat again without major discomfort. This means I’ve been stuck working from home; which when you combine me overcoming my lack of appetite by reverting to the mindset I have when I need to force-feed myself in a race – little and often, coupled with lack of tube-sweat and compounded by my favourite working from home pastime of discovering what sports nutrition tastes best when dunked in peanut butter; all of this means I am probably no longer at race weight. And also that I need to order more High5 Chocolate Caramel energy bars.
And that brings us to now. I fly out to Sweden in less than a week, and I couldn’t feel less ready. Fortunately, there’s a few things that might just save me from being left to the wolves.
Listening: Wolves in the Throne Room – Prayer of Transformation; does anyone know what Thujone is?
Reading: Dan Roan – Geraint Thomas wins Tour de France: What does victory mean for Team Sky?; probably the most balanced view on the funny quiet Welshman winning the cycling thing I’ve seen (or maybe I’m just a miserable sceptic)