What a Difference a Year Makes
Yesterday marked my one year anniversary of mountain bike racing. Last year I raced Winding Trails in the first timers category, and I was scared out of my mind. I lined up, having only been on a mountain bike 2 times prior. I started and finished in dead last, and I managed to go over the bars on the first downhill when I squeezed my brakes like you do on a road bike. I finished the 4.38 mile lap in 47:16, 10 minutes off the leader.
Fast forward a year, and I am racing my first cat 2 race. This is not only 2 categories up from where I raced for this race last year, but it is also an additional 2 laps of the course (which were about .6 of a mile longer this year than last).
I was planning to start mid/back of pack, since I had just upgraded, but the officials stuck with the rules and had the women line up by age group. This means I ended up on the front row of the start line, since there were no 12-18 women. I didn’t want to blow myself up on the start, so I figured I would take it kind of easy, and allow the faster riders behind me a good amount of room to pass. I’m not sure if they got stuck behind others in my age group, but much to my surprise, none of them came up to me during the short sandy climb at the start, and I was actually sitting in 3rd place! Not bad for not going all out I figured. Once we hit the short singletrack wooded section, however, I got very nervous as I knew I had 20 women on my tail. I was worried about screwing up and being “that” girl. I definitely backed off as we hit another gravel section, again hoping some of the faster women would pass me before we got into the next single track section.
Things slowly spread out a little, and I was able to get into a rhythm. With the exception of one where the girl in front of me had a problem and I had to unclip, I was going over every log (even though some were over the size I felt comfortable doing). I was sitting midpack or higher and feeling very confident. My goals for the race were to not get last and not get lapped, so I felt great at this point. I didn’t feel like I was really pushing, yet I wasn’t in the back of the field either. I knew this was going to be a great race.
The good news is, the rain to this point had held off. The bad news, the course was way too dry. Since I was feeling so confident, I decided to heed the constant advice I get from Rich (he always yells “no brakes!” to me on downhills) and try to go faster on the downhills. Well I still used my brakes a little, but I definitely was flying down a particular downhill that had a 90 degree turn at the bottom. Unfortunately, because it was so dry the bottom of this hill was very sandy, and I started to lose control of the bike. I thought I saved it, but then I tumbled in the other direction. I landed pretty hard, realized my bike was about 10 feet away, but I hadn’t had anyone on my tail, so I thought I would just hop back on and not lose any places.
As I picked up my bike, I realized the handlebars were twisted. My mind started to race, and I tried to use my strength to muscle them back. This of course did not work, and I started to panic. At this point, I had a woman go by and ask if I was ok. I think I just said a quick yes as I continued to assess the situation. I remembered I had told Rich the night before to put anything I would need in my camelbak,so if I had a problem like a flat I could fit it. As I was taking it off, a pack of at least 3 more women rode past. At this point I started trying to rush, but that just made things more difficult and it took me a while to pull everything out and realize I had no multitool. Now I began to ask myself what now?
I decided to go back to trying to straighten my bars using sheer will power. I thought what else can I do? I knew I couldn’t ride my bike the rest of the lap, much less two more without fixing the bars, and I didn’t know what else to do. Panic set in, followed by frustration, and then defeat. After being there for many minutes and not having seen a woman in at least 30 secs, I realized I was just going to have to walk my bike out. I really didn’t want to do this, so I decided to try to think for any other possible solution. Just as I was giving up, a man preriding the course stopped and asked if I needed help. Thankfully for me, he had a multi tool. Yes, I know this technically breaks the rules, but there was no way I was catching anyone at this point, so I didn’t care. I just wanted a way out of the woods without walking.
My bars were fixed, and I got back on the bike, only to discover that every pedal stroke I made with my right leg, caused me pain in my hamstring. I mentally gave up at this point. I even thought about riding backwards to the start, since I knew it was a shorter way out. I realized that the cat 2 men could be coming soon, and I didn’t want to get in their way, so I decided to just continue on the course. As I pedalled, I began to go through a mental battle; half of me wanted to just DNF as soon as I got to the finish area, while the other half said no you have to finish. Obviously, this makes it difficult to push yourself and ride hard like you are supposed to in a race.
The further I went, the more I realized I HAD to finish. I knew it was going to be in last, but I had to prove to myself that I could do a cat 2 race. I knew I was going to get lapped and that was just that. I slowly finished lap 1 and proceeded to lap 2. I was surprised bc I still hadn’t been passed by the men yet. At this point I thought maybe I can finish without getting lapped by one of the women. I tried to pick up the pace a little, as the rain had started at the end of my first lap and the ground was in perfect condition now to really hammer.
Just as I began to push, however, the men’s leaders caught up to me. I was probably only about a mile in at this point, and I knew I had to deal with them the rest of the lap. Again, I mentally gave up at this point, figuring I’d just get pulled when I came in on lap 2 anyways. Because there were more areas of single track this year, that meant me getting off the course and giving them room to get around me. Most were very firendly and nice about it, but of course there were a couple jerks, even though I was clearly giving up on my race to help them. Unfortunately, the men were just spaced out evenly enough, that I always seemed to have one coming up on me. Now I was thinking, “what the heck was I thinking upgrading to cat 2. As soon as I finish this race I’m going to downgrade back to 3 where I belong. This is just stupid.”
Well, I managed to complete a second lap and miraculously they didn’t pull me off the course, so I continued. Now I knew I had no one out there to worry about but myself. I refocused and decided to make this lap count. I still thought I had a chance at hitting the goal time Rich had come up with for me, and I knew I had made it through without getting lapped by any women. All I had to do was finish strong, and I’d be able to finish right around the time the pros were starting.
Unfortunately, it had now been raining for at least an hour, so the course was getting slick. I started slipping on logs as I went over them and my control was definitely getting worse. I wanted to push and go faster, but the course condition and my skills were holding me back. I kept having to slow down in order to avoid hitting trees and things. I was also more cautious, due to my crash in the first lap on descents. On one particular descent, the bike just rolled right out from underneath me and I slipped. I quickly jumped back on, but as I looked at the time, I began to worry the pros would catch me as they would be going off soon. I again tried to push my pace, as I had plenty still in the tank, but I just found myself loosing too much control that I had to back off.
In the end, I did finish. I didn’t get lapped by the pros, and me and the bike were in one piece. As soon as I got off my bike, the pain in my leg intensified. I immediately went to medical to get an ice pack and then went to the car to change into dry clothes. I am normally really into cheering on my friends and hanging out at races, but I was miserable at this point and just wanted to go home. I felt bad for not staying for the awards ceremony, as my teammates went 2&3, or for the rest of the pro race to cheer on a teammate on, but mentally I was DONE.
Overall, I have chalked this up as a learning experience. I am not proud of HOW I finished, but the fact that I did finish was a mental victory. I hope both my body and mind heal over the course of the week, as our next race is Sunday. I want to prove that I do belong in cat2 and can be competitive. Am I expecting a podium? No, but after the way things started yesterday, I do hope for a midpack finish. Yesterday taught me, my fitness is there, I just need to get my technical skills up to the same level. And to end on a positive note; even without really trying, I beat my time from last year by almost 10 mins. Yes, what a difference a year makes.