Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why I Race

I've been realizing more and more why it is that I like (love?) to race my bike. Yes, I love to ride. Yes, I love to push myself as hard as possible on the bike. Yes, I like the sense of accomplishment. Yes, I like the rewards that hopefully result (though the disappointment is often bitter, it is still a learning experience for the next time!).

But there is another aspect to racing that is equally important - the people and the camaraderie, the social interaction, the encouragement.

This past weekend was the first race in the Root 66 Race Series - Hop Brook Dam. The last time Mike and I did this race, it was 38 degrees, pouring rain and I was worried about getting some sort of infection from all of the dirt and grime in my bike shorts. Sunday was sunny though, the trails were dry, and the temps were reasonably mild. The conditions were going to be great.

The night prior to the race, Liz A posted something on Facebook about drinking wine the night before a race. Before we even got to the venue, a few of us from the Women's Cat 1 and Pro fields were bantering back and forth about drinking and racing - having some great laughs. This carried over to race day as we met, laughed and caught up. Other racers we hadn't seen since last season gave hugs, handshakes and we spent a lot of time before the race socializing. This really set the tone for the remainder of the day.

The Cat 2 Women - the Cat 1 Women's
field was equally as large
I have been racing MTBs since the late 90s, with a brief break from it in the early 2000's. I have raced in large fields and small (so small that I just had to finish the race to win). I was SO EXCITED to see that the Cat 1 women's fields at Hop Brook had 16 racers! SIXTEEN! And with the Pro women, we all stood before the race chatting with old friends, and making new friends (who are, now, just like old friends). And this wasn't the first time this has happened - it happens at every race. We are competitors, but before and after the race, we are all equals and friends, sharing a passion for the bike and competition.

Being the shy person I am known to be, I promptly introduced myself to Stacey B, whom I knew of from CX racing. We immediately hit it off, and proceeded to chat, quickly becoming "old" friends (sorry for the pun, Stacey) before the race even started. Kate L joined in, as did others. We joked about the hole shot when Kate commented that it was likely a Rowell given and I said there was no way I was doing that... Smiles, jokes and wishes of good luck to all right up until the whistle.

Yeah - and that not going for the hole shot? Um, yeah. Apparently race brain promptly kicked in, I made it to the front, and I led into the woods. Good for me, not so good for the people caught behind me going over the first technical log crossing (sorry everyone!). Onto the pavement and through the field I kept expecting to get passed. I continued to lead, however, through the off-camber single-track, messed everyone up on another log/rock crossing (oops), and started into the first big climb still in the lead. That's when Kate and Stacey came by me, but I managed to stick close enough to come out of that section still with Stacey, and on her heels as I cleaned the steep/technical climb (I managed it twice, but was too tired in the remaining laps to clean it). She pulled away after that, I made a mistake, and now Liz B was ahead of me too. And someone from Corning. I continued to race my own race (I think I went out a bit too hard, as evidenced by the feeling that I was surely going to poop my pants from the hard effort!). At the end of the first lap I passed the Corning racer who was having a technical issue, but was passed by Tina S.

At the end of the second lap, Mike lapped me in the feed zone where I was reluctantly downing a gel, shouting encouragement as he went by. I knew I was having a good race, and as the laps ticked by, I started to feel even better. Coming into the end of the third lap, I passed Liz B and encouraged her, saying "Let's go", but unknown to me, she was bonking from the hard effort and long distance (Liz just upgraded to Cat 1, and the increase in race distance is significant). I finished my final lap to cheers and happy to realize that I was 3rd in the 35+ race and 4th overall. It was a good day on the bike.

After the race, we once again all reached out to each other - to offer congrats, to share war stories, to offer encouragement where it was needed. THIS is why I love to race, and why, in two weeks, I'll be back in the woods with a number on my bike. Thanks to my fellow racers for making this such a big, important part of my life.