I arrived at the venue with enough time to worry some more. I got my bike and gear ready. I was going with bottles although there were just 3 spots on the course where I could comfortably drink. Hydration packs and single speeding just does not work for me. I needed to be light, not like a sherpa. To ease the unease, I started my warm up. I found some trail not being used in the race and reintroduced my body to the technicality of this trail system.
The lap was 6.7 miles long, with 900 feet of climbing. Initially, we were to do 3 laps. But after the Cat 1 Men race earlier that morning in which it was taking well over 2 hours for them to finish, and with alot of heat casualties, the officials changed our race to 2 laps. I don't think anyone complained. At 10:30 am, it was already 85 degrees and extremely humid.
As we were staging, I was trying to figure out my competitor's gearing. Most seemed to be running anything from a 32/20 to a 32/22. I chose a 32/22 for several reasons: uber technical course, tight passing lanes, and short, grunty climbs. The start was on gravel: a short, flat section, followed by a steep, loose climb up to the the single track.
"GO!" First pedal stroke and I was clipped in! First goal accomplished. I hit the gravely climb with one racer who was ahead by a wheel length. I noticed from her pedal stroke that she probably had a taller gear than me. At the top of the climb there is a short flat before the "holeshot." At this point I was behind her. She slowed ever so slightly just before the single track. And here I accomplished my second goal. I hit the single track first. I wound it up and climbed like a mountain goat being chased by a leopard. I knew that I needed to break the "rubberband" between me and 2nd place. This race was short enough that I could push it for the first 10-15 minutes and then settle. And so I did. I had no idea how strong my competition was, but each one of them I imagined to be a Rebecca Rusch.
I raced like a "scalded dog!" My heart rate was the highest it had ever been this year. Hello 180's! But to me, it felt good. I wasn't hurting like I had been earlier in the season. I was racing with no chain! Unfortunately, we were the last wave to start: all the age groups were ahead of us in 2 minute increments. Within the first mile I began to catch them. I passed about 23 women the first lap and about 16 the second lap. I chose my passing lanes wisely so as not to burn too many matches. It was a little frustrating as I had to wait longer than I wanted to with a few passes, but I kept telling myself that it would allow me to motor hard to the finish.
|More rocks than dirt on this course!|
Even though it had rained the day before, the first 2/3 of the course was in great shape. No slick spots, even the section with the "spiderweb" of roots was fine. I was railing along, passing racers when they would bobble or when the trail opened up enough for me to squeak on through. I was feeling the flow of the trail and carving the turns with ease.
|Spiderweb of roots.|
As I approached the infamous rocky switchback descent, I heard a dull roar that soon escalated into a cacophony of sound. Riding down the first steep rocky, rooty descent, the noise was like that of a SEC football game. Unbelievable! I was so focused on the trail that I could not see the people, but I felt their presence. There had to be over 100 spectators yelling, screaming, shaking cowbells, blaring air horns. It was deafening! It was awesome! This is what a National Championship race ought to be like! I smelled hotdogs! I caught the whiff of beer. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a devil.
Other than 1 planned run up, I had cleaned this section during the pre rides (with only the sound of my tires and brakes). I had found it a bit hard to focus at first. There was a wall of people on either side of the trail. After the run up, I could not clip back in and so rode the hardest part with two rock drops on top of my pedals. That was quite interesting. Lady Luck was with me, I had no forced errors, and once the trail leveled out, was able to clip back in. The first switchback was easy peasy. As I approached the second switchback, I came up the leader of the 44-49 class. She was walking the tight left-hander. I shouted out to her, she ran quickly through the switchback, and I was able to roll right through.
I quickly caught up to her as there was more tricky descending. After that, I figured I could get on by. She was racing hard, too, and did not want to give up her position, even though I was not in her class. This part of the course was pretty slippery from the rain the day before. At times, I kind of felt like a pinball. The woman in front of me was all over the trail. Her "bobbling" made me bobble; the game was getting old fast. I needed to go!
By this time my heart rate had settled down and I began a one way conversation. "Nice lines!" "Are you in first?" "You are rocking it!" Finally the trail opened up and she let me on by. Climbing up the loose gravel to the Start/Finish banner she tried to hold my wheel. By this time, I was in no mood to play anymore and kicked it up a notch. First lap complete in 47:35.
As I climbed up the beginning single track, I tried to look back down at the finish line to see if I recognized anyone in my field. I did not, but I still felt pressure to go, go, go! And I did. And it HURT! The climbs seemed twice as hard and if I redlined it, I would get the chills. My body's way of telling me to slow it down or I was heading for heat exhaustion. So I settled ... as much as I could.
The ladies I passed this lap were much more pleasant. I think they were feeling the effects of the heat and the brutality of the course as well. The first 3 miles of the course had about 80% of the climbing. After I had topped out, I began the initial descent, which were several segments of trail connected by gravely double track. On one particular sharp right hand downward turn onto the single track, I was tag teamed by a tree and a rock. They SLAMMED me down pretty hard. With cat like reflexes, I was back up in the blink of an eye. My bike was o.k. but my right forearm was bruised and bloodied. No bones sticking out, all joints still worked, fingers able to grab the bar, so I continued on like a rabbit being chased by greyhounds.
I was anxious to get to the technical, bouldery descent with its infamous switchbacks. When I arrived, I was hoping to be alone, so I could just work my magic on the rocks and drops. But alas, that was not meant to be. I had caught up to a younger racer who was not at all happy playing on the rocks. She went down pretty hard. I had to dismount and maneuver around her. Thankfully she was o.k. Had she not been, there were at least a hundred people that would have tended to her.
|Finishing up the rocky descent!|
After remounting, I was able to clip in and joyfully ride the remainder. How I loved these Pennsylvannia rocks. You not only had to be fit, but technically proficient. A real mountain biker's course!
The last couple miles I had a clear trail ahead of me. I had no idea how far second was behind me, so I just hammered as hard as I could without blowing a gasket. With just a 1/4 mile of so of single track left, I came upon Tiffany Ballew's wheel. She was riding strong. I encouraged her to keep pushing until the end. And she did.
We kicked it up a notch together and rode across the finish line together, each of us earning a Stars n Stripes jersey! What an incredible feeling!
|A dream come true!|
Second lap completed in 48:24. Even though I imagined second place to be breathing down my neck the whole race, she ended up 7 1/2 minutes behind. When I told my Mom, she said, "You had time to have a picnic." Those were her words, not mine. But it was good to feel so strong on a day that you have been training for so long. It was truly a no chain kind of day. I am thankful for all those who have helped me to get to this point: family, coach, sponsors, and friends.
Jay Sandefur was there for me when my brake broke during the first pre ride. He "MacGyver'd" it with duct tape and zip ties. He also had the perfect bottle hand off and ice water down the back maneuver during the race. Ursula Sandefur raced as well and earned a silver! It was great to hang out with the Sandefurs for the week. I learned alot about bikes and components as Jay builds frames. His brand is Wild Card.
I have challenged Coach Lynda with all my trials and tribulations the past two years. I have made her really earn her coaching fees. At times she knew my body better than I. She helped me stay focused on the task at hand and not dwell in the past. Thanks, Coach!
A huge shout out to Bruce Dickman who was able to hook me up with Chris George, the Stan's No Tubes Pro Women's team mechanic, who swapped out lever assemblies the day before the race.
|Call me superstitious, but I left the duct tape on.|
And thank you, Zeke, for being the best training partner I could have. I would say when and where and he would be there. No matter how long or hard a day in the saddle or how many times we might wander and wonder, he was always there for the next adventure. He can't complain ... he was the one who got me into this racing craziness to begin with.
Hmmm ... what is next?