What’s worse: not starting or not finishing? That question stirring in my head as the demons churn my stomach taking my confidence away piece by little piece. The pressure in my sinuses and the fatigue increasing with every mile of elevation gained from the drive to the starting line of the Stagecoach 400 – a race I have been training for over the past five months. Countless hours of intervals, tough sessions in the gym and hundreds if not thousands of miles of endurance rides have been the norm in my life. In fact I have become so at home with my training plan that I don’t even have to think about doing it. It just comes to me like breathing. Come home, change clothes, set up the bike, make some bottles, throw a leg over the saddle and hop in the pain cave. Hard effort followed by relief, repeated over and over again. Even though it hurts, this masochistic regimen has brought me so much pleasure that I am willing to jump in and take the beating even when my body tells me to stop. In late January I boarded a flight to San Diego for a recon and training trip of the Stagecoach route. After a brief stay in the city, I hopped on the bike for a climb up Pamo Valley and Black Canyon and then over to Warner Springs. The ride turned out to be a great introduction to what was to come over the next few days of riding. The desolation of Oriflamme Canyon followed by an adrenaline-filled thrill ride down Indian Creek was enough to make me stay the course and ride all the way to the ocean. After cresting Viejas Grade into Alpine, I could smell the salt water as I descended the gravel roads and singletrack into the urban sprawl of Chula Vista. I finished my ride confident and craving more. Upon my return home, I quickly noticed that I was coming down with something. My sinuses pulsed with intense pressure and a sore throat set in. Before I new it, I was down. Lying in bed aching all over and doing everything I could to maintain some sense of well being. To make matters worse the doctor couldn’t find an infection, yet put me on antibiotics and steroids in an effort “cover all the bases.” Even with the big pharma cocktail, I only improved slowly for the next few weeks. With the race coming up quickly I found it important to press on with training. Hell, I could get my intervals done no matter how hard they were. Even on the long side they were only an hour to ninety minutes. A walk in the park in comparison to the hours upon hours of pain I was accustomed to every weekend while putting in the long miles. And hey, I was slowly improving. On a weekend of shorter loaded bike rides about two weeks ago I found myself feeling fresh, snappy and at 100%. Finally, I made it over the hump. I was telling all my friends how excited I was that I was feeling good and ready to race Stagecoach. And then, just like the quick snap of a whip, I noticed some congestion. What did I do? Why is this happening? I wanted to blame someone or something, but after a quick karma check I chalked it all up to bad luck, remaining positive that I would be fresh for the race that was only a couple weeks away. Now while sitting at the local pizza joint eating a slice and sulking over my decision to pull the plug on the race, my fresh wounds are seared as I watch all of the racers file in, order their pre-race dinner and sit down to discuss the start planned for tomorrow morning. The pain and embarrassment of not starting Stagecoach is far worse than the nasal congestion and the pressure building in my ears. I lay down my napkin, stand up and head out the door – crushed.