By: Barley Forsman
It’s true, in 12 years of riding/racing centuries, doubles, brevets, and other long events, I had my first ever DNF. I couldn’t articulate the situation as it was happening, but after-the-fact I determined that I probably experienced my worst ever Asthma attack, probably brought on by the exceptionally high pollen count (late rains coupled with the high heat created the perfect storm of debilitating allergies).
It was my first double attempt of the year – I know, I’m a slacker! I had planned to ride with the local speed demon, usually referred to simply as “Susan”, or the “Honduran Rocket”, or as she calls herself: “Tati”. So, my arrogance got the best of me as I decided to push the pace at the front with the “big boys” for the first 35+ miles, believing (for some reason) that the rest of my ride might be “easy”. In reality, the only “easy” part of the ride was soft-pedalling for a couple of miles until Susan caught up to me at mile 44, just as we make the right turn onto highway 1. But, she wasn’t alone – she had about 3 guys with her. We all fell into line and hammered most of that coastal section, picking up several other cyclists along the way – for the record, Susan did her fair share of pulling.
Having been at the front, I knew that Susan was the lead female rider and we were going to do our best to keep it that way. We turned onto Nacimento and kept the pressure on. At that point we had skipped two stops and only stopped once (for less than 5 minutes). It was during this climb that I realized that my “easy” ride wasn’t going to be so “easy”! I certainly wasn’t trying to drop Susan, but I decided that I would try to maintain a good tempo up the climb: go hard, but a sustainable hard (7 miles of hard). Every time I would look back, Susan was right on my wheel, or only a few feet back – wow, she is in great shape! So, I try to pick it up a little, still with me! Now I’m starting to think that I could be in trouble as the ride progresses – I’m not going to be much help if I have to hang onto her wheel! Let me tell you, she has definitely earned her doubles this year!!
We pull into lunch (116 miles) and decide to rest a bit (although, probably no longer than 15 minutes – which is looooong for Susan). After lunch we grind away into the wind and the heat – sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both. After about 150 miles, I’m guessing we are easily in the top 20 or so of the riders – we’re making good time and we aren’t getting passed (or so we think…) At the lunch We were about 20+ minutes above schedule (for a 13 hour finish).
After about 160+ miles is when I start to develop problems.
1st problem: my stomach is not doing well and I’m starting to feel bloated (usually a good sign that you are not processing valuable calories!) In my experience, this is usually caused by 1 of 3 things – too many calories, not enough salt (excess water retention), or the wrong mix of foods. What was concerning was that I didn’t really think it was any of these problems.
2nd problem: I was starting to loose power in my legs. To be clear, I wasn’t getting slower, I was simply trying to survive – Susan was starting to pull away from me and I had to give it all I could to spin in my lowest gear up even the most tame of rollers. I could easily dismiss this as a lack of training, but even this seemed unusual.
3rd problem: and my most obvious concern – I seemed to be having trouble breathing. My chest became so constricted that I had to start breathing with my diaphragm. My mouth was wide open and I felt (and probably looked) like a fish out of water. I started to wheeze with fast, short breaths – I can only assume this was hyperventilation.
We made it over the second to last real climb of the day, skipped the water stop at the top and proceeded to roll over the other side. Ok, perfect chance to catch my breath and recover… Hmmm, not so much. At the bottom I still had very heavy, labored breathing and it seemed to be getting worse. I couldn’t stay with Susan and she started to pull away from me on the flats. Every time she would look back I would try to wave her on: “just go! I can’t keep up.” She was so far down the road, that she couldn’t see me. Then the world started to close in on me and the tunnel vision took away my ability to focus. My hands and feet started to tingle. Susan pulled off the road and just as i caught up to her I started to feel the tunnel close – I got off my bike as quickly as I could and laid down. Everything was starting to spin and i couldn’t stop hyperventilating. Susan told me later that my face was very pale and my neck had started to turn blue – not a pretty picture. Luckily the park police rolled up and hooked me up to some oxygen. It took about 5 minutes but i started to feel better – although, I still couldn’t take a deep breath. He wanted to call the ambulance, but I didn’t think it was necessary so they made me sign a form saying that I was refusing medical treatment. I promised that I wouldn’t finish the ride if he didn’t call the ambulance – I’m not sure what my rationale was at this point, but I know that an ambulance is VERY expensive!! Funny, the things we think…
At that point Susan had given up her ride – she had decided that I was more important than finishing the ride. I cannot begin to express to you how this made me feel. In spite of all of my medical problems, I felt great comfort in knowing that she was there for me – I’m pretty sure that contributed to my feeling better (well, I know my heart felt better!). I was confident that if I didn’t continue riding that I would be ok, so with much convincing and a large stick, I convinced her to ride on: “ride like the wind!”, I told her!
At the next rest stop (Bradley) she told the workers about me. Apparently there was some mis-communication, so it took about an hour before anyone showed up, but I did get picked up and driven to the finish – and I was grateful for it!
So, back to the ride…
What we didn’t know is that Jeanine Spence had rolled through lunch and passed us – we never saw her. Unfortunately, when I had my melt-down Susan had to finish solo into the wind for the last 40 miles – she couldn’t find any help. I don’t know if Jeanine had help for the entire ride, but I do know she finished with help. I estimate that Jeanine finished about 15 minutes before Susan (although I don’t have official times), Susan waited with me for over 15 minutes, maybe 20, and there was a headwind the last stretch. So even if I couldn’t have helped Susan the last 40 miles, I think she could have caught her near (or before) the finish if it weren’t for my problems. Not that it really matters too much in the end, but Susan is riding incredibly well this year and I really wish I could have helped her win it. I’ll have to wait until next year!
In retrospect, I believe that an allergic reaction to the allergies caused the asthma attack, and the lack of oxygen cause the stomach problems as well as the lack-of-power problems. I guess you never fully appreciate oxygen until you don’t have it.
I’m a little disappointed in the official “DNF”, but I am slowly coming to terms with it being a necessity. As soon as I get an inhaler, I’ll be back!