Thursday, April 28, 2011

Here's Mud In Your Eye

It's 4 days post race, and I'm still digging dirt out of my eyes. And the kit that I washed 4 times (plus one hosing outside) still has dirt in it, too.

I was reluctant to do this race - not because of the course, but because of the weather. Through the night prior, I could hear the rain hitting the skylight in the bedroom. It rained the entire way down to Taunton, and it was WET. It didn't help when the park ranger shared that the forecast was for a pretty good thunderstorm rolling through around 11 am - right when our race was to start. And did I mention that temps were in the low 40s? Not only was it wet, but it was also cold.

After some socializing, registering and getting kitted up, Mike and I went out to do some recon on the course. At that point, it wasn't raining, and the trails were in surprisingly good shape. Pre-race intel told me there were a lot of roots and a couple of bridges - wet roots are gross; wet bridges scare the pants off of me! I didn't think the roots were that bad, and after balking at the second bridge on the pre-ride and Mike MAKING me go back and clean it (he's good like that!), I was ready to roll.

We went back to the car for some last minute fueling and changing and that's when the skies opened. It was DEFINITELY going to be rainy, wet and slimy for our race - hooray!

On the start line, we all stood shivering - Pro women and Cat 1 women all together. We were already soaked through and hadn't yet turned over the pedals! I looked at Karin, whose lips were literally blue and wondered how on earth we were going to make it through 3 laps of this. And I felt a little bit guilty - I had talked my friend
Meg into upgrading (she won the Cat 2 race at Winding Trails by 7 minutes) and I was thinking of her aversion to racing in the rain to begin with, and now she was lined up for an extra lap of suffering (and kudos to her for finishing a strong 4th)!

I made the mistake of removing my glasses before the race, and putting them in my jacket, which I was leaving at the start line. The lenses were spotted with rain, and were fogging up on me making them pretty much useless. I decided it would be best to race without them - a decision I would come to regret less than 5 minutes into the race!

On the whistle it was a mad sprint up the pavement to try and beat the chaos into the woods. I managed to get in right behind the pros, Karin and a couple of younger Cat 1s, with several racers still behind me. The initial pace was fast and furious and before I knew it, I was following those in front, digging mud out of my eyes, and riding over both the bridges that I had not really liked on the pre-ride. Thankfully, I didn't get caught out - behind, I could hear someone miss the entrance to the second bridge, holding up the riders behind. I was now in the front group, with just Rachel in my category ahead of me.

I chased Rachel for quite awhile - slipping my tires on a climb I had made on the pre-ride, and being forced off the bike. This opened a gap that I was having trouble closing. Soon, I came upon Rachel on the side of the trail. I asked if she was ok, but kept riding. She chased on, and on the next technical climb, passed me again. I could see her for the remainder of the lap, but after missing the dreaded bridge on the second lap, she got away, never to be seen again.
At that point, I almost shut it down - I just didn't want it bad enough.

Fortunately, every time I looked behind me, I could see Michelle P. - not quite close enough to catch, but close enough that it made me uncomfortable, and I went just a bit harder, even though she wasn't in my category! That got me through the second lap of the race, at which point, I lost sight of Michelle as well.

The third lap was pure misery. I was cold and the course had turned into a giant power-sucking mud pit. The hills were now all runs as traction was gone on all but the most impossible of lines. I had no one in front, and no one I could see behind. About 5 miles from the finish, I heard the dreaded sound of a stick in my derailleur. Oh no! After looking down, I heard and saw the stick dislodge, and figured that someone was smiling down on me. Walking the final 5 miles would have been more misery than I could have managed!

Unfortunately, I now only had about 4 gears with which to work. I figured that either the stick had tweaked something in the derailleur or the hanger, or that the mud had caked into the drive train badly enough to ensure that shifting was now pretty much out of the question. I got a clean line down the treacherous "point and shoot" mud chute, and spun what gears I had as best I could on the remaining flat/downhill sections.

As I came into the final 2 run-ups of the course I caught a glimpse of a racer coming up from behind - NO! At this point, I was absolutely NOT getting caught. I had two near perfect cross remounts, and pushed as hard as I was able to cross the finish line in 2nd place. The advertised 21.3 mile race was actually almost 25 miles and over 2.5 hours.

Mike met me at the finish, and saw that about 2" of my free-loading stick was still stuck in my derailleur, having broken the jockey pulley! It was luck that I didn't completely shatter it during the race!

Then it was back to the car to try to get warm and clean-ish before heading home. Not only did I have dirt in places no one should EVER have dirt, but I learned that the reason I couldn't get anything to drink from my Camelbak was because it had leaked - my legs were dyed blue! With the weather conditions, I didn't even notice...

Was it fun? Well, I'm sick now and cleaning up was a disaster. The race itself was an exercise in suffering. But it makes a good story, and left a lasting impression on my eyes ;)

Monday, April 25, 2011

I Fought the Demons - And I Won!

It was a hard fought battle!

Racing is supposed to be fun. We don't get paid to go out on the weekends and ride around as hard as we can for 2+ hours, so it should be fun. Right? Then how come this race got in my head so badly, making the nerves and anxiety what I remember most?

I like the Winding Trails course a lot, and was really looking forward to this race - especially after a really good solo MTB ride during the week prior. I had heard about changes to the course, and on pre-riding, determined that they were for the better - more twisty windy singletrack, but even fewer places to recover. It was going to be an all out sufferfest for sure.

The nerves and anxiety started on the line. I have always done well at this venue - winning twice, and finishing second one other time. I looked around at the women in the Cat 1 field, and was suddenly intimidated. What if I didn't do as well this year? My nemesis, Sue L was here - I can't beat her, was what I told myself (in my defense, the last time Sue raced here she beat all of the Cat 1 and Pro women, and put 11 minutes into my time). I wasn't where I wanted to be on the start line. It was going to be tough, and the mental demons were waging a war that they were intent on winning.

Thankfully, on the whistle, the demons quieted their war temporarily - enough for me to focus on getting a good position going into the singletrack. Oddly, as the first woman on the trail endoed on the log in front of me, cursed like a sailor, and then cut me off as she got back on her bike, it was me telling her that she needed to be calm. Me - 1; Demons - 0.

With only two young'uns off in front of me the first lap, I went hard. Too hard (and I knew it). Approaching the finish of the first lap, I knew that Sue was gaining on me. Then, she passed me, and I couldn't counter. I had gone out too hard for the first lap, and it wasn't going to be sustainable for another 3. I watched her ride away, and never saw her again. Me - 1; Demons - 1.

I pressed on in the second lap and was surprised to be passed by another racer late in the lap. I was now in 3rd place. Me - 1; Demons - 2. This wouldn't do. I had resigned myself to 2nd place before the race even started, but I was intent on NOT finishing 3rd! I got my head back into the race, and out of the war to chase her down and pass her back. Me - 2; Demons - 2.

Despite lapping traffic (including causing Mike to bobble and slow as he tried to get by me - never a good thing to get in the way of your spouse ;)), I managed to stay in front of the remainder of the women for the rest of the race (although in the final lap, I could certainly see people gaining, and had to put in an extra effort to maintain my position). I crossed the line in 2nd place - goal achieved! Me - 3; Demons - 2. Sue bested me by 6 minutes (hey - this is an improvement!), and I managed to hold off the next woman in my field by a mere 32 seconds. It was a victory with a slim margin, but I would take it.

In the battle of me vs. the demons, it appears that I won ;).

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finding Zen

I had a long day in the office, I was cranky, and the last thing I wanted to do was ride my bike. Add that my trusty riding companions couldn't join me, and I was even less motivated ('cause I REALLY didn't want to go and suffer with the boys!). There was a time when any one of those would have kept me indoors - especially the thought of going out and riding in the woods alone.

I still suited up, strapped on the helmet, grabbed the bike, and went out the door, fully expecting I would ride just for an hour or so - enough to say I had done it.

But once I was on the bike, and finally into the woods, things changed. It was quiet - just me and the bike. I focused not on the results of the day or the week, but on the trail stretched out before me - leading me further into the woods. The bike wanted to ride, and who was I to hold it back?

I became one with the bike - floating over the rocks and roots, nailing the turns, clicking, shifting and pedaling without thinking. I was savoring the woods - I didn't hear the traffic, and was only interrupted from my zen-like state a few times, while passing other riders out for the same reason. A quick hello, and we passed, each off to continue to get the most out of the ride.

I cleaned the Smash Your Hooch trail from end to end, and let out a small whoop of joy. I smiled as I rode the Gravity Cavity, past the Mini Mangler, across the Bridge Too Far, both directions on the Refrigerator Door trail. I was muddy and I was happy, and grinning while I rode.

As the sun finally started to dip, I heard in my head the voice of my mother from my childhood. "You need to come in. It's getting dark out." So I did what every good kid in the same situation would have done - rode one more trail, just because, and then took the long way home.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When the Cat's Away...

OK. So the cats stayed home and Mike and I went away. But, I specifically told them both that they were to be NO PARTIES while we were gone, and that if there were, we would find out about it. Apparently, they weren't listening, or thought the consequences wouldn't be too harsh...

Sure enough, we received the photographic evidence of their shennanigans. But how can you stay angry at such cute kittens? And who among us hasn't tried the same thing at one time or another?

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools

One of my all time favorite April Fools jokes growing up was to get up early, and then tell my little brother that it had snowed overnight. I'm not sure why, but every year when I said this, he would get up and look out the window, and I would yell "April Fool"! He didn't think it was funny.

This morning, I don't think it's funny either. The overnight storm waffled an apple tree in the backyard as well as dislodging a huge limb from a maple tree that just missed a fence.

Enough already - this really isn't funny!