In which I get heatstroke.
The forecast for Saturday's San Ardo Road Race called for highs in the low 100s and winds increasing in speed throughout the day. I know from previous races that I don't handle heat well, but I figured I would go down and give it a shot anyway.
About 10 of us cat. 3s rolled out at 8:30 AM for 63 miles through central valley farmland. I had a teammate in the pack who was interested in doing well. My target for the race was to work for her. I helped set pace early in, tried to keep the speed up to discourage attacks, tried a few escapes on downhills to warm everyone's legs up. Everyone must have been feeling good early on, because the response to my pace increases was for the whole group to keep things hot through the first 10 miles.
At about that time, a rider who had come from Florida to collect some upgrade points countered a little attack I'd made and got a gap. At that point we'd already dropped a couple of riders. The lead group was only three strong, but that was enough that every team except ours was represented. I got to work trying either to chase the group back or get it close enough that my teammate could bridge across. Then there was a hill--the last short kicker before a long, straight, flat stretch. I got caught out there and dropped. That was around mile 12, and that was the last I saw of the main group.
I knew at that point it was nothing but a training race for me, and settled in for the long haul. I realized I'd forgotten to start my Garmin so I didn't even have training data for the hardest part of the race. The two groups ahead of me kept getting farther and farther away. The scenery was boring. The pavement was awful, possibly the worst I've ever had in a race. I've ridden gravel roads that are less obnoxiously bumpy. I was pretty salty about the whole thing and planned to throw in the towel after one lap (about 21 miles in, or 9 miles on my Garmin).
Then I had a snack and some water at the end of the first lap and figured I could soldier on at least until I got 30 miles in. That would be a good training ride. I planned to turn around when my Garmin reached 15 miles and head back to the start. I was passing plenty of traffic doing the same thing, mostly coming back after flatting (San Ardo is notorious for goatheads). I passed Tobin Ortenblad going back towards the finish after flatting. I was still feeling good when my Garmin hit 15, and about that time a group of masters came past me. I sped up a little to tag onto the back of their group and figured I'd go until they dropped me, then head back home.
FYI, it's against the rules to hop onto the back of a pack like that and draft. But I figured as long as I stayed out of their way, didn't interfere with their race, and withdrew at the end of the second lap, it wasn't going to do anyone any harm. And I felt much safer in the pack than I'd felt solo; I could follow them through better lines instead of staying on the rough part of the road close to the shoulder. I stayed with them through most of that second lap, but dropped off when they started attacking each other. A chase group from the same race (Masters 4/5, I think) came by me eventually, and I hopped on that train as well. They caught up to the first group I'd been with and I rode them until we passed the 1 km to go sign. I figured they'd sprint it out, and I didn't want to be in the way. I still wasn't feeling too awful, although I was annoyed at the terrible pavement (and glad that I didn't have to jockey for position leading into a sprint on those roads). I felt hot, but not overheated. I was starting to get chills, though, and that's never a good sign.
I rolled over the stop line and told the officials I was withdrawing. They didn't seem too interested. Started heading back to my car and felt worse and worse. By the time I got back to where I'd parked, I was so out of it that I got off my bike and stood there for several minutes, unable to motivated myself to take the next step. I finally managed to prop my bike somewhere and sat down in a camp chair for what felt like 20 minutes, with waves of nausea and dizziness washing over me. It took me that long before I could start getting changed, and even then I had to do it in short bursts--a little bit of activity, then a pause to let the nausea go away, then a little more activity. I changed into fresh clothes and went to a nearby bathroom (good thing it was there) to run cold water from the sink over the back of my neck. That helped, but I had to keep going back over there for more, and it was getting hotter and hotter. I'd ridden with teammates and had to wait for them to finish, but I was in no condition to drive away at that point anyway. Finally, the ambient temperature got so bad that even sitting in the shade with a cool breeze was too much for me. I hopped in my car and ran the AC. Then I remembered riding past a little gas/liquor store in San Ardo (pretty much the only thing there). I went over there and bought a bag of ice, then drove around the block with the ice in my lap and the AC blasting. I finally started to feel back to normal. That ice worked magic.
Lessons learned: don't do races in the central valley in August. Always bring a cooler with ice. Don't attack 10 miles into a 63-mile race, even just to test out the legs. Don't get dropped. But mostly don't do long, hilly road races in the central valley in August. Did I mention that I shouldn't race in the central valley in August?
The rest of the race turned out okay. The two groups came back together, and my teammate was one of only 5 women to finish the race. She got on the podium. And we had really tasty burritos on the way back.
But the consequences of that race have been with me all week. My lymph glands in my neck were swollen on Monday evening, and by Wednesday I felt so run-down that I could barely get out of bed. I think the combination of heatstroke and the gross, smoky air that I've had to breathe for the past several weeks (wildfires on the West Coast) have weakened my immune system to the point of almost but not quite getting sick. I failed a workout on Tuesday, left work early on Wednesday, and have made a point of not exercising at all since Monday. I'm feeling a little better today, so I plan to attend a CX clinic tomorrow and see how it goes.
That was my San Ardo. Reminder to self: don't race in August in the central valley!