I have been racing competitively now since the late 90s, but I am still learning lessons about racing all the time. Unfortunately, it's usually the hard way.
This past weekend was the annual Hodges Village Dam MTB race - part of the Root 66 race series that Mike and I have been participating in for several years. This was our fifth attempt at the race (well, Mike's fifth, and my fourth since I had to miss one year) which also doubles as the MA state championship. Mike is humble, but he has won this race (and the championship) four out of five attempts, including this year. I haven't had quite the same luck...
Every other year, the weather conditions seem to be different - dry and dusty, or a monsoon that causes butt deep puddles, or lakes. This year was the former - not only were the trails incredibly dry and dusty, but the temp was in the low 90s, and the humidity was as well. With an 11:30 (ish) start, we were racing in the heat of the day, and it would be tough to stay hydrated.
I like racing this series because I know all the women in my field, and we have become friendly competitors over the years. Sue L remains my nemesis (and is on her way to her second attempt at Leadville this week). It's all smiles and chatter on the start line, and then we get down to business (though we still do look out for each other - more on that later).
On the whistle, I went out as hard as I could, getting the hole shot and quickly creating a small gap. Smart, yes? Um - remember the weather? Probably not so smart in the long run. But I led for the first part of the lap, with two of the younger women coming around me early, and then Sue going by on an uphill (now THERE'S a surprise :)). I passed one of the younger racers, Tina, back, and it was game on.
There's not a lot of room for recovery on this course - lots of roots and rocks, and even though there are long sections of flat dirt road or trail, I was going flat out to use those to my advantage. Heading into the final third of the course, I was still ahead of Tina, with Vickie M coming up behind as well. In my haste to stay ahead before the hardest climb, I did something I don't normally do in a race and went down. Hard. Both Tina and Vickie asked if I was OK, and my quick response as I tried to get my bike off of the singletrack was "Yes. Go. Go. Go!" What I realized then was that I had hurt myself, but not enough to stop racing. Back on the bike, and head down to begin the chase. Lesson 1: Bumbles don't bounce.
Not long after, I came across both Tina and Vickie on the side of the trail. I would later find out that Tina had crashed and taco'd her front wheel, bruising her hand/wrist in the process, and Vickie was suffering from a case of heat stroke. I asked if they were OK, got a negative response, and told them I would send someone back for them, which I did when I went through the start/finish to begin my second lap.
The second lap was relatively uneventful. I still felt reasonably good, and knew that only Sue was in front of me, with two more racers behind. Mike passed me near the end of my second lap, and gave me some much needed encouragement as he went on to race for his win.
Somewhere in the third lap, the wheels started to come off the bus. It was hot, I was sore, and I was getting tired. I got passed by Katina, who kindly asked me if I was doing OK before she rode off. Undeterred, I kept thinking as I went through each section that I only had to ride that hill, those roots, that darned bridge one more time. Nearing the end of lap 3, I was low on water. My hands hurt, my feet hurt, my back was screaming, and my right side (knee, hip and elbow) was throbbing and swollen. Did I also say it was hot?
Mike was near the start/finish having completed his race, and offered encouragement and water. I knew I could do one more lap. And then, as I crossed over the line, I was asked a question - "Do you want to go out again?" I stopped to question this - would I still be scored if I finished? Was the 4th place rider still out on the course? I reiterated that I COULD do another lap, was assured that I would be scored if I did not, and was told that the 4th place rider would be given the option to also be scored after 3 laps. Given how I was feeling, I made a [bad] decision - I packed it in.
When I looked at the results, I saw that I had been moved to 4th place - the rider behind me, who I assumed would be scored after 3 laps, opted to finish her race. The placing was fair, but I was disappointed. My disappointment is only in myself - of having taken the easy way out and thrown in the towel. Lesson 2: NEVER quit racing and NEVER take the easy way out.