|The spectators' favorite #. For me, it was a finishing time to shoot for.|
The butterflies were thick as I completed my warm up. I managed to stay away from the start line until they called us single speeders up to the start. After a few brief pleasantries were said to my competitors, I clipped in and took a few deep breaths. This was the day I had been preparing since January. Although there were a few hiccups along the way, the last 2 months had been very promising and my fitness was exactly where I needed it to be. My competition was unknown, but they looked super fit with impressive quads and glutes! Yeah, don't tell me you don't size up your competition just like I do!
When the gun went off, Desiree took the lead, and I followed her wheel. LaJuan hopped onto mine. The first lap was a 4 mile loop, of which 2.5 was relatively flat pavement which then funneled us into the last 1.5 miles of the 25 mile course. It was a nice warm up, as I could only spin so fast. Sitting behind Desiree, she seemed to be spinnier, as her butt bounced on the saddle. I was running a 32 x 18, so it looked to me that she might have been one gear easier. Turning onto the double track climb, Desiree made a move. I stuck to her wheel like glue. Towards the top and with no let up in sight, I was hoping this was just a little test and not something she could sustain for 50 miles. We began catching the age group men right away with this burst of speed. Towards the top, LaJuan popped off and it was just her and I.
Finishing up the start loop, she once again surged ahead on the initial climb up Yellow Trail. I was able to counter and hold her wheel. She was definitely setting a hard pace. I felt pretty comfortable matching it, but knew it was a bit faster than my race pace. With only 5 miles into the race, I began to see carnage: first a saddle in the middle of the trail ... and then guys off their bikes working on flats. This course was loaded with sharp pointy rocks and it was definitely better to be a ballerina than a bulldozer!
Finishing up the Yellow, I had a short bit of pavement before the Green Trail. Desiree and I passed a group of old farts, powerful ones I might add, and one of them called out, "I LOVE you Carey!" It was The James Hoffmeister. I am so glad he did that as it made me feel so special and gave me just a bit more "umph" to my race.
|Beth and Jim, Senior Speed Specialists!|
Heading up the long, arduous climb of Green, I felt that Desiree was backing off a bit. Thank goodness, my heart rate had not left zone 5 for a very long time. Halfway up, an age group woman passed us, paying us a nice compliment. At the top, Desiree told me it was my turn to take the lead, and so I did. I held the pace steady for awhile, but towards the end of Green, decided to pick up the pace for a couple minutes and see what happened. I slowly pulled away and by the time I crossed the pavement and hit the Orange Trail, she was out of sight. But definitely not out of mind.
The Orange, Blue, and White Trails went by in a blur. I was still feeling great at this point and wanted to get as much distance between myself and second ... or at least not have her close the gap down. The Green trail on the way back is one of the funnest sections of the course. It is mostly downhill and has several neat rocky features. As I was beginning the initial descent, my left foot felt funny, My Xpedo pedal has some float, but not as much as I was feeling. I shrugged it off initially, just overthinking it I told myself, but over the next few minutes it kept getting worse. Oh, shit! As much as I did not want to, I pulled off the trail, sat down, turned my foot over, and saw that my cleat bolts were 1 turn away from falling off my shoe. Unbelievable! I had checked all the bolts on my bike the day prior, but forgot to check my shoes.
|I don't recommend this for your "A" race|
I pulled out my Park IB-3 tool and attempted to tighten the bolts that I could barely see. I have presbyopia and use 2.5 reading glasses. I was having the fight of my life! What with the dirt caked in the bolts and the #4 allen wrench being less than a mouse dick in length, I could not firmly seat the tool and had no leverage. Normally I carry my trusty Park IB-2, but was thinking I needed to carry the bigger one because it had a chain breaker. Finally, after what seemed a life time, but in reality was 90 seconds, I got it tightened.
As I stood up to hop back on the bike, Desiree comes flying by. Great! Just great! I took off after her, not like a bat out of hell, but with steadfastness. No sense blowing up as there were still 29 miles to go. Slowly, over the remainder of the Green Trail, I reeled her back in. As we hit the pavement connector back to the remaining Yellow, she asked if I had a mechanical. To which I responded that I came close to having a one-legged race.
|Getting the lead back, but not for long.|
We pulled in the pits together. Zeke was there. I handed him my spent CamelBak, chugged a Red Bull, and then got my fresh CamelBak. My frustration level was rapidly rising as the tubing somehow managed to come undone from the strap to which I had attached it to. As I spent precious seconds re-securing it, I watched Desiree pull out of the pits. I had to tell myself out loud to calm down. By the time I entered the trail to begin Lap 2, she was out of sight.
Having used up my adrenaline during the past 30 minutes of playing catch up, I was hurting on the initial Yellow climb. I needed that Red Bull to kick in soon! I got caught behind some traffic on the second switchback climb on Yellow and had to get off and run a few short yards. When I remounted, I felt IT. The cleat was loose again!
So ... after finishing the descent down to the pavement connector over to Green, I pulled off, sat down, got my tool out, prayed, and began to work. This time, all the while answering questions of the volunteer who was seated next to me, I got the damn thing tight! This time I lost 2 minutes.
As I pedaled to Green, my heart was heavy. All the training, all the planning, all the eating clean, all the recovery ... all for naught. Now I was racing to hold on to second. I had a good ole pity party as I struggled up Green. Moving on to Orange, I was not only beating myself up mentally, but the trail was dishing out a pretty good ass-whippin', too. My body was fatigued and I was beginning to feel like a pinball in the rocks.
Something changed, however, when I hit the Blue Trail. Maybe it was the caffeine kick from the Red Bull or maybe it was just the fierce competitor in me kicking the monkey off my back. But my attitude changed, and I was not going down without a fight. I hit the White Trail with wheels a smokin'! This trail is the flowiest, rippin'-ist one of the bunch and I enjoyed every mile of it. As I was making my way up a climb, I passed a dude who told me that Desiree had passed him about 5 minutes ago. That was what I needed to hear. I yelled back, "The fat lady has not sung yet!"
|Yellow Trail with multiple short, but sketchy creek crossings.|
Hitting the Orange, I came upon the mud puddle from hell. This time, instead of going left I hit it full throttle through the middle. It swallowed my bike and almost sucked me under! I lost sight of my bottom bracket and feet. Fortunately I came away unscathed and worked my way up the climb, crossed the road, and entered the Green Trail. As I was approaching the spot on the first lap where I had to stop, I checked my pedal while coasting through a section. It was still tight, and I exhaled a breath of relief!
Towards the end of Green, on a climb, I passed a dude. He said that "she" was just up ahead. I have heard this line before and a bit skeptical. As I motored on, I drank several big gulps and swallowed a gel ... just in case. I hit the 0.6 mile pavement connector to the Yellow. No one in sight. I kept my cadence high, came around the corner on the straight away. Saw a dude just ahead. Kept pedaling. Saw someone beyond him way up ahead. Kept pedaling. Got closer. Jersey looked familiar. Got closer. Were those two pigtails coming out from under the helmet?!? As I got within 100 yards, I knew it was Desiree! The game is on! I have got a race ahead of me!
She hit the single track about 75 yards in front of me. At this point it was almost 2 miles to the finish. I began to inhale deeply, saturating my lungs with oxygen. I needed to close the gap by the time we hit the double track climb. There were two slightly sketchy creek crossings ahead. Focus and stay steady, I said to myself. No stupid lines here.
I caught her just as we crested a slight climb that would bring us to the left hander onto the double track. I passed her, using every fiber of my being to max out the torque. It felt like I was going to rip my handle bar off. On to the climb, I fought like a criminal on an opiod high! I prayed that my quads or hamstrings would not seize up.
I needed to open a gap on this 0.6 mile climb! Desiree hung on for an uncomfortably long time ... and then she cracked. I unleashed a monster inside of me, breathing like I was at 14,000 feet, and embracing the lactic acid that had filled my legs! I passed 3 or 4 others on this climb, who thankfully let me on by immediately.
I powered through the final rock garden. and then flew like a peregrine falcon down the powerline descent, praying a sharp rock would not rip my tire to shreds. At the bottom of the descent, I looked back and did not see her. I still turned myself inside out on the final stretch to the finish. I crossed the line at 4:26:32, defending my 2016 National Championship title!
A-freaking-mazing! It was true! I won! I was so spent; I started seeing stars and had to sit down. Desiree crossed the finish line a mere 30 seconds back. After feeling life flowing back into me, I went over to Desiree and we gave each other a great big hug. She said, "That is what racing for a national championship is all about." Words well spoken from a truly amazing woman and competitor.
We ended up being 3rd and 4th overall (excluding the Pro/Open). I say this not to brag, but for the mere fact that she is 54 and I am 48. Proving that age is but a number and that you are never too old to strive for the top step. And if you ever line up next to Desiree White, be afraid, be very afraid!
Thank you to my sponsors who helped make my way along this path to victory a little easier:
- The Outdoor Store
- Niner Bikes
- Industry 9
- Christopher Bean Coffee
- Chamois Butt'r
- Endless Bike Company
- Revive Massage
- HandUp Gloves
- Backcountry Research
I must give Lynda of LWCoaching a big shout out, as without her 12 week plans, I would be a little lost puppy in a pack of wolves