Facing the Music

It’s silent actually, the feeling in my guts the morning of a race or event. They call it “butterflies,” but that’s awfully cute. It feels more like ants, lots of them, trying to get out. It feels, honestly, like the opening salvo of methamphetamine hitting your system. It’s unpleasant. Whatever deep current of motivation I’d been in the day I signed up has now run dry.

I’m probably trying to eat some oatmeal. I’m also trying to keep my s*%t together.

This is “facing the music,” dealing directly with the consequences of your decisions. The phrase dates from the 19th century, possibly from the military where soldiers who’d neglected their duties were literally drummed out of their regiments, or possibly it’s theatrical in derivation, where actors had to step out on stage to face the orchestra, playing up at them from the pit.

Here’s a self-portrait from a particularly hard day in the saddle. Again, I paid for this.

I’ve done this enough to know, even the day I register, and no matter how casually I regard the event, I’ll eventually have to face this music. And the music will be even louder if I know I’m going right to my limits that day, even though that’s exactly what I probably wanted to begin with. Sometimes what a bike rider wants is a reason to turn themselves inside out. And we pay money for that, because that’s our mania.

Oh, sure. There’s a buffet afterwards, maybe a t-shirt. But I’ve come for an ass-kicking.

In fact, I’ve been kicking my own ass for weeks and months leading up to this point in an effort to make the big day as painless as possible. The training days are likely all I wanted in the first place, actually. I’m one of those race-to-train types, not the train-to-race folks, who might think they have a shot at winning a thing. Often, I regret even showing up for the event (although I never feel regret afterwards), because I already have what I wanted, the training.

It seems dumb to do all the studying and then skip the test.

And you know how this goes. If you’ve done a good job, if you’re properly fit and ready, you just go harder than you ought to, because you paid for an ass-kicking, and you’ll be damned if you’re going home without one.

I don’t understand any of this.

Back over my bowl of oatmeal, basically the only thing my stomach will tolerate on the big day, I’m wrestling with the cognitive dissonance. There I stand, fit, healthy, and well, and yet I know that a few short hours later I’ll be crippled. I’ll have faced more than one demon by then. I’ll have struggled in ways I didn’t anticipate. I’ll have visited my wits end and returned, hopefully. And I’ll be shattered physically.

I stand there wondering if it will be worth it, if I need it. But there’s no way to know without turning the pedals, covering the distance, climbing the climbs. I’ve paid my money and this oatmeal’s gone cold. There’s nothing left but to face the music.

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