|Post race great state of mind|
Having not raced since October, I was a helluva lot of nervous about my fitness. Back in the day, I used to get butterflies about my competition. That flutter in my stomach has since been replaced by a new one: how would I stand up to my former self? My coach, Lynda Wallenfels, told me back when I was 41 that I was at an age where I still had room for improvement, but at some time there would be a plateau, and then you would be fighting tooth and nail to stay on it. I did not want to admit it last year, but as I turned 48 last month, I do believe I am on that plateau. I don't think I am at the point of slipping off, but I want to do everything within my willpower to stay there for as long as possible. And still have fun! Because once it stops being fun, it is time to move on.
So I toed the line with a different plan in mind. Ride the first 20-25 miles and if the legs were feeling frisky and spirits were good, then race the last half. The weather was perfect: 50 degrees at the start ... for February! We were let off in 5 second increments. I lined up a bit early and was able to get off within the first 30 racers. Less passing for me = less energy expenditure. I gauged my progress both by feel and heart rate. I had already left my ego tied up in the closet that morning, so it did not concern me one bit when I was passed by half a dozen racers in the early sections of Dry Creek.
Within the first 4 miles, I had my first laugh, as I listened to 2 racers ahead of me have a war of words when one passed the other. I did not think the pass was that bad, but I could have missed something as it was up the trail 20 yards or so. A few minutes later when I made the pass on one of them, I made sure to give wide berth and let him have the trail, as well as cheer him on.
So I rode the Dry Creek system at a fun group ride pace: spinning up the climbs in granny, holding a steady L3 effort on the flats, and trying to limit brake usage on the descents. Time and several recent rains had removed much of the trail debris, including leaves and babyheads, making the creek crossings and tight switchbacks easier to negotiate without the fear of a rock taking out your front wheel.
Once I exited Dry Creek and began the climb up the double track, I made a conscious effort to eat and drink. I heard racers behind me talking; one of them sounded like a woman. My gut tightened and my body wanted to go, go, go, but my mind kept me from doing anything stupid. There was still 32 miles and 5500 feet of climbing left to go. Never looking back, I stuck to the plan.
Hitting the first bit of single track, I felt back in my element and the legs were happy enough to sustain a constant pace crawling over rocks, roots, and surging during the steep, grunty sections. Lots of guys who went too hard too quick were feeling it and having to dismount on the steep, loose sections. Everyone was playing nicely until the final super steep rocky climb just a hundred yards or so from the gravel descent. I was motoring along and preparing for that final climb where one misstep can equal a rear wheel spin and having you walk it to the top. Well ... I had to let loose on one young racer like a mother wolf does to her pup when he gets a little too rough! He attempted to pass me on that last tricky section at the absolute worst time. Needless to say I showed my teeth and snapped at him. He backed off (laughing a little, as if I was not capable of cleaning this section). Showing him and several others who had gotten off their bikes, I maneuvered around them, cleaned it, and at the top told the young lad that he could now pass me on the left, even though the gravel was just 20 yards ahead. As he passed by, he said, "Thank you, ma'am." Wow, I just got ma'am'd! I will take that as a compliment and hope that he learned a little patience.
Just a tip to all you new racers. If you want to make a pass, it is YOU that needs to yield the trail, not the one being passed. The passee may get to one side of the trail, but they are under no obligation to stop or get completely off the trail. For example, during the race Thomas Turner passed me so quickly and smoothly that I never felt like he was going to knock me off my bike. He also let me be aware (prior to passing) that he was making the pass. I never slowed, but got to the right side of the trail, but never off of it, and he was around me within 2-3 seconds. And that, ladies and gentleman, is how to make a clean pass!
I was happy to see that Pine Needle Hill had returned to its former self (well, mostly) after being heavily logged in the fall. Having taken it easy up until now, and without feeling any heaviness in my legs, I began to race. I hadn't heard the female voice in quite some time, so she had either popped or had gone into stealth mode. That gave me a little boost of confidence and I was able to tackle the next 4 climbs (dare I say it?) with ease. I came into the Snake Creek Gap Sag with offers from beer to Cliff bars to massages. There was definitely a party like atmosphere!
Making quick work of a Red Bull, dropping my CamelBak and grabbing a bottle for the final push, I was out of there before my legs had a chance to think they were done. This climb is one of the toughest on the course. Gaining 700 feet in 1.4 miles, it throws everything at you: several quad busting grunts, 1 tight steep switchback, and two false flats. And if you spend too much time in the pits, your legs will scream the whole way!
But once up on the ridge, you can rage it ... if you have anything left. Which today I did. All that conservation early on allowed me to find my happy place and work my Niner RKT and the trail. Coming down the descent to the creek crossings, a large Kamikaze stick leapt into my rear wheel. Anything less than an Industry Nine and I would have been probably been walking out. After the initial jerk to the bike which almost caused me to crash, the stick snapped, but half of it remained wedged in amongst the spokes. It took a little muscle to get that bastard out and I cannot believe it didn't break any spokes!
A final on the bike refuel for the last 7 miles of gnar and I was eager to tackle the funnest part of the whole course. A lot of people dread this section and I get it. This is, by itself, is THE HARDEST section of The Pinhoti. But throw in 40 miles of racing prior, and it can really test your character. Every year, I hear lots of cussin' and swarpin' along this ridgeline of boulders. I love testing my skill when fatigued. It takes such sheer motivation and perseverance to find that absolute last bit of power in your drained body. You must also stay mentally sharp or you will find yourself floundering around in the dirt and rocks like an overturned turtle. Hurricane Mountain always shows me that I am stronger than I think I am.
Hitting the pavement, I dropped my post, tucked in, and screamed down the pavement to the finish. Rolling in at just under 5:32, I knocked 5 minutes off of last year's fastest time. I guess this old dog still has some tricks up her sleeve!
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