Think of those moments as a kid where you tried to stay underwater to swim a distance or find an object at the bottom of the pool or lake – and then of that last burst of frantic, lung burning energy as you exploded to the surface and finally breathed the fresh air of recovery.
Now imagine the same maneuver - doing that same impulsive set of thrumming kicks normally reserved for breaking back to the surface – but instead use them to knowingly enter a tunnel: a darkening culvert with the water rising - the dark spirals of the galvanized ceiling pressing down – lips pursed to capture a breath just above water in the dark as the air disappears. This is the sprinters choice – continue these death throes or back up and hope for more air.
Often the right choice is forward: thrashing forward under the dark nape of the water and all air gone, the horizon closing. Lungs are on fire, legs become molten lead and every evolutionary fiber in your body tells you to dart for a surface that is no longer there – asphyxiating paroxysms of fear threaten to undermine your survival…
This is fear in one of its most raw, painful, debilitating forms – that deep inner panic starts to simmer and boil over – to pervade everything – it tells you to find a way to surface, to escape this intentional drowning. But there is no short cut and those that try to find one – by diving into corners or by taking them too fast – find disaster and wash up on the shores of the barriers. Instead you must discipline yourself, duck lower, and kick through to the other end of this tunnel of pain before you can rise to the surface.
It is as a result of exactly these kinds of panic attacks that I’ve ended up burning through my own skin on the tarmac at various races – not my panic, rather the dying gropings of another drowning rider panicking – groping, and pulling me under.
It is this element of fear that makes racing difficult to describe - after all, we choose this fear right?