Race day in Davidson, NC brought sweltering heat and humidity. Just during my warm-up, I went through a bottle and had to refill at a nearby ball park. It was a 10am start and already the temperature was 84 degrees.
It was a strong ladies field and the butterflies were fluttering in my gut. What more could I do? Coach had me dialed in for an "A" race. After 8 months under her tutelage, I was confident that I had a strong chance to take it. When Bruce called us up and asked, "Who wants this today?," I think I was the only one that immediately raised my hand.
The mayor sounded the horn for the start and we were off ... fast! There was a sharp left-hand turn onto the greenway and a curb to negotiate. I was surprised no one went down. I hit it so fast I think I closed my eyes and prayed to stay upright.
I stayed close to Rebecca through the 7 miles of pavement/greenway. A woman in a Barbasol kit took the lead and grabbed the first QOM (Queen of the Mountain) climb. I wasn't worried about her. In years past, I claimed the QOM prizes, but this year I had my sites set on the win.
When we hit the singletrack, we immediately began a 150 yard climb. It was so humid that my glassed began to fog. Rebecca and I had our eye on Mrs. Barbasol, who was about 30 seconds ahead. Once we hit the techy singletrack, we reeled her in and passed on a grassy, off-camber downhill section.
From there, I just focused on staying on Rebecca's wheel for as long as I could and watch for any signs of weakness (Yeah, right ... who was I kidding ... Rebecca doesn't have any weakness!) But I was hoping that the horrendous heat and humidity would hurt her more than I. After all, I had 3 weeks to acclimate!
As we went through the third section of singletrack, the roots were still pretty slick from the past week's rains. Rebecca was kind enough to point those out to me as she fish-tailed and nose-dived her way through this section.
Once out in the open flat field section, I was a bit afraid that she would power away from me. I held onto her wheel pretty comfortably. Soon, however, she got a stick caught in her wheel and had to pull off to dislodge it. It was now or never; I accelerated a bit more to try to put as much time between her and me. Three climbs at the end of the lap were coming up fast and I know how domineering she can be on this type of terrain.
I felt really good powering up the climbs and I loved Taylor's little "Snowshoe downhill trail." I had practiced it pretty heavily the day before because I knew that this section could make you or break you. It was a slip-slidy tricky descent between trees immediately followed by a short uphill where you had to hop over a slicker 'n snot diagonal, off-camber log. The first lap it was still so wet that I did a cyclocross dismount, hop over, remount move. I was able to clean it on laps 3-6.
Upon coming in to my pit area after the first lap, my awesome pit crew of Mom, Doug, and Carly were awaiting. I did not stop but slowed down enough to where Carly fed me a new bottle and Doug doused my back with ice water.
Upon starting the second lap, I was just waiting for Rebecca to come up behind me and pass me like I was standing still (as she had in the previous Cowbell's). But, to my surprise, that did not happen. I was feeling really good. Legs were happy, breathing was under control. So I do what I do best ... rock 'n rolled on the singletrack and stayed consistent on the open flats and climbs. I was feeling the love of the Cowbell today. The second, third, and fourth laps flew by! I could tell it was getting hotter, but my body was adjusting. My pit crew did a fantastic job of keeping me cool and hydrated.
Beginning the fifth lap, I could tell the heat was taking its toll. Racers were lying and sitting around everywhere. It was beginning to look more like a social ride than a race. And then the heat began to affect me as well. A couple times I got a bit dizzy and had to dial it down a notch. I also took two bottles on the 5th lap and drank them both (42 ounces in 45 minutes!). At this point I was beginning to think ... just a bit ... that I could win this! I had no idea how far Rebecca was behind me. So I kept it pegged, just below heat exhaustion level.
As I began lap 6, Zeke told me that I had 8 minutes up on Rebecca and that it was my race to lose. Holy cow! I had never been in this position before. What do I do? I was still feeling pretty good, so I treated the last lap as an XC race ... for about the first 4 miles. Then my hamstring began to tighten. Nooooooooo! Not a cramp ... this cannot be happening. I immediately backed it down and began to soft-pedal. Everytime I thought it was gone, I would slowly bring it back up to speed, but then the cramp would come right back. I finally figured that if I kept my HR under 165, the cramp would not come upon me.
The last 4 miles felt like an eternity. I just knew that Rebecca would reel me back in. But then I would think that she has to be hurting at least as much as I. Upon climbing up the last little powerline climb, I looked back to see who was behind me. No one!
I rolled through the finish with one of the biggest smiles of my life. I gave it my all and took the win! I tried to cool down on the bike, but with a finishing temperature of 100 degrees, that was not happening. I rolled back to my pit and fell into a chair. My Mom immediately began to put cold, wet towels on me. It took 15 minutes for my HR to drop back down to normal. And all that time I was pretty weak and light-headed.
This was definitely a victory for the family. I could NOT have done it without them ... it was a team effort! They were able to get me in and out of the pits in less than 30 seconds ... the first three times I did not even stop. Carly gets the award for "Best Bottle Feeder" ... she did not drop any. After I got my senses back, I asked Carly how my demeanor was when I rolled into the pits on each lap. I thought that at one point I was pretty bitchy. But she summed it up best when she said, "It's o.k. Mommy, you were just trying to win."
Taylor, the race promoter, was all over the course, during the race. From working on the Snowshoe downhill to make the log crossing a bit easier, to cheering on us racers at various points, to hosing us down with water on the last lap, Taylor was there. The course this year was definitely tougher than last year. I loved the new technical sections! Kudos to Taylor and his efforts. What an awesome event!
Rebecca Rusch is to women's mountain biking what Chamique Holdsclaw was to Lady Vol's basketball. A fierce competitor as well as an inspiration to all women wanting to excel on the bike. I have great respect and admiration for her and am glad to be her friend. I can't wait to see her kick a$$ at 24 Hour World's! I am glad that the Cowbell wasn't a 12 or 24 hour event as I know she would have kicked mine.
Thanks to Coach Lynda for her expert guidance and perfecting my training.
Dedicated Athlete's Rapidade kept me hydrated and almost cramp-free. But I don't think my cramps were brought on by electrolyte imbalances but by just pushing beyond what my body was capable of.
Indy, my Specialized Era, rocked the course and never faltered. What an freaking sweet machine!
Chamois Butt'r Eurostyle kept my butt happy and chamois-brand free. Unlike last year at this course, where I had a reminder of what sand and pitiful chamois cream can create down there.
Congrats to Sophie, a 13 year old who won the 17 and under class ... and who girled her Dad in a sprint finish! You are awesome!