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 ;)