Last week’s FBF race was my return to racing after a three week period of almost complete inactivity. It was probably a bad idea to shove myself back into the cauldron of exertion after such a long layoff, but I have my reasons. Mostly I started racing again because training is boring. You see, I like racing bikes, but not bike training. Training requires long lonely durations spent huffing and puffing away, while racing allows a pretend bike ride racer to be out among other pretend bike racers in a quasi-social context (I say “quasi” because we are trying to immolate each other with effort, which isn’t really a “social” thing to do), and I find that racing makes me faster faster than any training I do.
But I am getting ahead of myself, I’m sure curious readers are dying to know why I had such a long mid-season hiatus. The first week of my disappearance from racing was a family vacation which I planned to use as an opportunity to rest from bike season and soak up any wayward tequila that I might stumble upon. And my plan worked flawlessly for five days. I may not be the fastest racers around, but no one can rest like this guy. It was at day six of my vacation when things took a turn for the revolting.
You see, while in vacation I managed to develop a case of the shingles. Let me repeat that. Shingles. Before I downloaded my personal version of the virus, I probably thought about shingles the way you do, that it’s disgusting (true) and that it is for old folks (I suppose that I am nearer to the section of the spectrum that would be considered old, but I think most people view shingles as a malady for the bingo and mobility scooter set—I have yet to play bingo), but I am here to tell you that while it is disgusting, it can happen at any age. Shingles is zombie chicken pox. If you’ve had chicken pox, the virus sets up a permanent Airbnb on your spinal column and waits for an opportunity to burst forth and build a disgusting highway of blisters along a neural pathway of its choice. To most people, these blisters define shingles as a disease, but I am here to tell you that the blisters are a byproduct—a more accurate description is that shingles is your nerves vomiting pain through your skin.
I would like to be able to describe the pain to you, but I can’t really do it justice. The pain comes directly from the affected nerve, and it simmers as an ache which then throbs into a searing shock of agony at random intervals. These shocks of pain would come every minute or so, making any rest or normal human interaction impossible. My pain started at my neck and shot down my right arm, using my shoulder and elbow as depots for torment. There was no respite or escape from the pain—it was relentless—and for two nights I lay in bed and soaked my sheets with sweat. After the second restless morning, I went to the emergency room and found out I had shingles, I got my medication (mostly for the pain, and no I won’t share), and I began to feel like an old person.
Of course, downloading (I’m not sure how to describe “getting” this virus, do you “come down” with shingles, you do’t really “catch” shingles, so I’m going with “downloading”—as if it were a computer virus, and yes, I know I downloaded it many years ago—just suspend disbelief for a second, OK?) shingles doesn’t make me an old person, but it’s hard to prevent your mind from considering this as a stepping stone to infirmity. I began the process of waiting out the virus, which means waiting for the sores to crust or scab over (oh, I’m sorry were you eating something?). This process took approximately ten days, and after my new skin coverings had fallen off, I attempted to return to the bike racing world. This is when I really started to feel incapacitated. I was weak. I was slow. I couldn’t do any hard efforts without tears of sadness. I was back to square one. So naturally, I returned to racing because, you know, I’m an idiot.
I lined up on Tuesday night hoping to finish. The wind was blowing so there would be its of attacking and race-type things going on. Those things happened, my teammate Paul got away early and finish a fine fourth in a breakaway. I stayed at the back of the race, employing every trick and tactic I knew to hang on like grim shingles. I lasted ten out of twelve laps, which I would consider a win if I were a blindly optimistic person (I’m not). It’s going to be a long trek back to being a non-disaster in a bike race, but I’ve crusted over and fallen off and I’m ready to ride again.