Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Beauty of the Ride

The sun setting on 2014

Normally in this space at this time of year, I reminisce about the year gone by and the adventures that Mike and I have had. Instead, I am going to share a post I drafted in May of this year, but never published. It's an important sentiment - one I (and many of us) too often forget. And now that Mike and I are enjoying some quality riding time in Maine and New Hampshire, it is even more relevant - especially as I spend that riding time reflecting on the past year, adventures shared, accomplishments achieved, family, friends, and most recently, a friend we lost too soon.

May your 2015 be filled with peace, and may you always revel in the Beauty of the Ride. xo

Last Thursday, the weather here was gorgeous. After work, the boys were heading out into the woods for a quick-paced SS MTB ride, but I didn't feel like trying to keep up. So, I kitted up and headed out for a solo road ride, intending fully to just enjoy my ride. 
Before I even really got going, I came across two youngsters on bikes on a neighborhood street. The boy, I noticed, was wearing a helmet, but backwards. I slowed and commented, "Buddy, your helmet is on backwards. Can I help you fix it?" He rode right up to me, and we took it off. I showed him how to tell the difference between the front and the back, and put it on his head. It was really too big for him, and the straps also needed adjusting. I asked him to have his parents fix it for him, and showed him on my helmet, how tight they should be. By then, we were friends, and he thanked me for helping him and exclaimed to me about how he and his friend were "racing" their bikes on the street, and when they got to the big puddle, they lifted their feet and rode right through. I left him to play, with a huge smile on my face - a beautiful start to my ride.
Not long after, between Bedford and Concord, I stopped again - this time to strip off gloves and arm warmers. The temps were warm, and I was really enjoying the beautiful weather. Cars were giving wide berth and being respectful, other riders were waving as they, too, enjoyed their rides. It was a beautiful night and everyone seemed to be enjoying and taking it in.
As I was heading into Concord, I encountered my friend Paula. I stopped to say hello, and we stood for quite a long time chatting. Sadly, Paula and I share a common bond - losing someone in our family to suicide. We chatted about how she was doing, and the upcoming 5th anniversary of my brother's death. It was good to talk to her - so many people don't talk about surviving suicide, and it's hard. Paula and I may have bonded over that commonality, but we have also quickly become good friends. I treasured that time, and rode away, again, with a smile.
In fact, I spent a good portion of my ride smiling. Instead of being down, I was happy. It sounds counter intuitive, but I thought about my brother - remembering good times, remembering bad times, but also thinking about what a big part of my life he was, and continues to be. I smiled at memories of rivalries, fights and the love we shared. I smiled because I know Paula will also be okay, and because I am glad to have her as a friend.
As I continued my ride, I saw the springtime beauty everywhere. The flowering trees, the daffodils and tulips finally in full bloom, the sun setting in the sky. I thought also of my late grandmother - she loved flowers, and the spring, and I was reminded of happy times with her. And then, in Carlisle, I passed a farm. Farms have a distinct smell, and I was reminded of my aunt - as a child, we used to visit her farmhouse and that smell was the same! More beautiful memories. I am lucky. I may have lost these important people, but they each left an indelible beauty mark on the fabric of my life.
So often, I go out and ride, and I have a purpose - usually it's training, sometimes it's getting to a defined place. Those rides are good, but with purpose, I often miss the joy and the beauty that surrounds me as I pedal down the road. It is rides like this, with no purpose, and riding only for the joy, that are the best.
When I got home, I was happy and still smiling. Mike asked, "How was your ride?" and I replied, simply, "It was beautiful".

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Winter of Great disContent

It's everywhere - on Facebook, Twitter, blogs. It's on the news, and all the weather reports. It's part of every conversation I've had recently with friends, acquaintances and even strangers. People are generally sick of winter - not just sick of it, but they're complaining about it at every opportunity. They want spring, and sunshine and warmth, and they want it NOW. Some have escaped to warmer (tropical) climates to try to infuse some non-winter into their lives, only to return to the bitter cold and snow of New England, longing even harder for the Spring to come. And this week's forecast for more snow isn't helping.

Me? I LOVE this weather! Yes, you can hate me now. But really, this IS New England, it IS early March, and Spring doesn't officially start for another two weeks. Think back to when we were kids - winter was a time when we continued to play outside, and we had LOTS of snow. And it was cold - the kind of cold where your nostrils stuck together when you breathed. Our parents sent us outside bundled up like Randy in the Christmas Story, and we only came home (reluctantly) when they called us.

Woolen mittens and hats, and felt boot liners were constantly on a drying rack, with snow pants, scarves and jackets not far away. We made our fun - sledding, building snow forts and snowmen, catching snowflakes on our tongues, making snow angels, making war with snowballs and just plundering away in whatever the weather gave us. There were no snow days, and trudging to the bus stop in the winter was an adventure.

This winter, a REAL New England winter (OK, so I'm Canadian - it's not that far off) has reminded me of those winters of my childhood. My nose has been constantly running, the mittens are always on the register, and the snow pants hanging over the rail to dry. I've embraced the bitterly cold temperatures and the mounds of snow, playing outside almost every day, and loving [most] every minute of it.

It might melt - by May
Mike and I have been lucky this winter. We've spent most of our time at our house in Maine (much of January, over half of February, and all of March so far). It has definitely been winter here - we've woken many mornings to temps in the -5F to -10F range, with highs not getting above the mid-teens many days. The wood stove has been a blessing, creating both heat and atmosphere on the dark, cold days. There is a huge base of snow that I don't expect to completely melt around the house until sometime in May, maybe later. And there is a HUGE outdoor playground right outside our door.

The primary activity for us this winter has been riding the fat bikes, something I wasn't sure I would like initially, but have embraced whole-heartedly. We've had some awesome adventures riding to places inaccessible other times of the year. I tallied things up today, and I've got between 45 and 50 days on my bike since I got it in November, am approaching 650 miles, and an astounding 42,500 feet of climbing (did I mention that it's not flat in Maine?). I currently have over double the miles on the Charge Cooker Maxi than I do on the brand new Cannondale Evo I bought in August of last year. And I hope to put on even more before the winter is through with us!



I've raced the fat bike, and shared the passion I have with other newbies. We've done social rides, had date nights, and just ridden to see where we the trail would take us. The trails here are endless, and the conditions have been spectacular. We have literally been limited only by some extreme temperatures (keeping hands and feet warm for 2-3 hours on a 10F night is pretty difficult). Some nights we go out for a ride and don't see another soul the entire time - those we do see are courteous, slowing and waving, and even offering encouragement and kudos. We were recently home in MA on a weekend road ride and I commented that I had completely forgotten how to ride in traffic!

We've also spent some time at the local cross-country ski areas, skating in beautiful weather on well groomed trails. We've done some snow shoeing as well, blazing trail from the house in knee deep powder. All of the activities have been fun (OK, there have been a couple that have been questionable, and there may have been tears once or twice) and ended with smiles and a sense of great accomplishment.

I, for one, am lamenting the pending end of the winter. I will miss riding on the snow, into the wilds, not always knowing where we will end up, or where the adventure will take us. But I do know, that when spring arrives, I will switch gears as well, and you won't hear me complaining. It is, after all, what you make it, and your cup can be half empty, or half full. Clearly, mine runneth over!

Monday, December 30, 2013

The End

I am a voracious reader, but still am sad and even melancholy to a degree when I reach the end of a good novel. I'm always left wondering what happened to the characters next, even if the author managed to tie everything up well before the ending.

As we end 2013, I am, as always, left wondering where the heck the year went. I am also melancholy over the year gone by, but able to revel in the adventures we had. It, has, without a doubt, been one of the best years ever. Here are a few of the highlights.
Day 1 Worlds - MUD!
  • We went to Louisville where Mike managed to best the worst racing conditions I have EVER seen, and finish very strong in an ice/mud bog. The trip was full of challenges besides the conditions, but we weathered it together, and managed with a little help from our friends.
  • Mike "retired" from the corporate world at the same time as we were leaving for Worlds. It was the best decision ever. He is much happier now - working on home projects, some projects for friends and following his real passions (which, by the way, NEVER included software development). I told him that he isn't allowed to go back to work in a corporate environment - ever :)
  • We went to Allentown, PA to compete at MTB Nationals in July. It was the hottest week of the season, with temps over 100 degrees, and full on humidity. I rode a course that scared the pants off of me, and watched in wonder as Mike fought back from not one but two mechanicals early in the race to still land on the podium. His determination inspires me to never give up, and to always give every endeavor my very best.
Playing bikes with friends at Winding Trails
  • We focused more on MTB racing this summer. I had mixed results early in the season, but ended the season much stronger, managing to win the state championships as well as coming away with a Root 66 Series victory. I was inspired to see so many more women out racing this season - at one race there were 19 Cat 1 women out! I truly hope to see the sport grow even more for the women in the coming year. The competition is strong, and it is always great fun to be out playing bikes with my friends on the weekends.
  • I did ONE road race this season. Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing was fielding a master's 45+ team at the Purgatory road race, and I was convinced to line up with the master's men and give it a go. All was well for the first 3/4 of a lap, and then it was TT/chase mode for me. Those old guys? Yeah - they're stinking FAST!
  • We started and grew a new race team this season. While we started small with Mike and I and a few racers from Bell Lap Racing, we have now grown to a team of about 20, including a U23 contingent, some new women, and a slew of FOGs (fast old guys). I am really excited about the team in the coming year - we're planning some world domination :)
  • Mike and I bought a small, rustic camp in Kirby, VT - a scant 8.5 miles to the Kingdom Trails office! We had been looking at properties in the Northeast Kingdom for awhile, and had even had an offer accepted on a two bedroom log home (that fell through due to the sellers, which turned out to be a blessing). After deciding we weren't going to look anymore, the perfect listing fell into our laps. We have already spent one vacation there, and have plans for many more adventures on the nearby dirt roads and trails.
  • We had an awesome visit with my parents and niece this summer, with them visiting all three of our houses! I took Faith on a hike up Mount Will in Bethel - despite her wondering just how far we were going, and if we were there yet, she did awesome, and we had a great time together. We also got to spend more time with my mom and dad later in the year, and it was so incredible to share our CX experience with them at the MRC Lancaster race, followed by a day of sight-seeing in Salem, MA.
  • We rode in the inaugural Dirty 40 race on Labor Day weekend (using the new camp as home base). A 60 mile bike race in the northern most section of Vermont, with 40 miles of dirt roads. It was well run, and one of the most fun "races" I did all season (of course, the boys will say it was the hardest race of the year!). We had so much fun we are already signed up for the race this year, as well as the new Spring version in April.

  • Cross season started in August and went full tilt every weekend through mid December. I had one of my best seasons ever, landing on the podium at Gloucester (WHAT?!?!?!?), finishing 3rd in the Verge Women's 3/4 35+ series and winning the Zanconato SS series. The best results, however, came for me at the Regional Championships. Despite an issue with my neck (I literally couldn't turn my head, and had an emergency chiropractor appointment the day before), I managed on Saturday to fight for and hold a lead in the Women's 45+ race. The following day, with temps in the frigid zone (and a head that still wouldn't turn), I managed a second win, this time in the Women's SSCX race. Both races had me besting my MTB nemesis (and new teammate!), Sue Lynch - not a small feat! Mike had an awesome season as well, with Verge wins, awesome competition in the Men's 45 + races, and the overall Zanconato SS series win as well. 
  • I was overcome this year in particular, with the notion of what a family we have in the cycling/racing community. Through the good and the bad, wins and losses, week in and week out, whatever the weather, the MTB and CX community is strong and vehemently loyal. I am lucky to call so many friends, and even luckier to consider the community at large as an extended family.
  • We bought fat bikes. Yup - and we spent the entire Christmas vacation riding them in every weather condition imaginable - mashed potatoes, ice, rain and finally, on Christmas Eve, stellar conditions on the local snowmobile trails. I foresee many more of these adventures in our future!

And sharing all of the adventures, was Mike. None of this chapter would have happened without his support and encouragement. He inspires me to be the best I can be, always. I watch him work hard, and revel in his success as a result. I am proud of him, always. We really are a team in every sense of the word.

A year of change. A year of great accomplishment. A year of adventure. Maybe now you can understand, just a little bit, the melancholy I am feeling with the year drawing to a close. The good news is that our story isn't ending - we are just turning the page to a new chapter.

Happy New Year to all of my family and friends. May 2014 bring you happiness and adventures a plenty.

Friday, July 26, 2013

MTB Nationals

Warning: You might want to settle in with a coffee for this one - it's a bit long-winded!

That was, definitely and without a doubt, the HARDEST. RACE. EVER. But, I need to back up just a little bit.

I have been racing the MTB quite a bit this season, but the results haven't been stellar. Regardless, I have been having fun - challenging myself and competing against friends. I have also been doing A LOT of training with Mike and the Bikeway Source/Bell Lap Racing team, so my fitness is in a really good place. Despite that, I never intended to race at Nationals this year, but a halfway decent race at Stonewall Farm had me pulling the trigger right before online registration closed.

So, with the van fully packed, Mike and I set out from the house last week on Friday morning en route to PA. The temp when we left at 5:45 am was already over 90, and it was only going to get hotter. We were lucky enough to be able to navigate around any rush hour traffic in Hartford, CT, as well as skirting those heading into NYC for work, and the drive was pretty uneventful. The only thing was - no rest areas between CT and PA! Holy heck!  What do people who drink coffee do on those roads????

After just over 5 hours, we arrived onsite at Bear Creek Resort in Macungie, PA. Blazing sun, high
To the summit
humidity and temps over 100 greeted us as we got out of the air conditioned car. It didn't take long for our clothes to get pretty wet. We headed over to registration to pick up numbers and check out the scene (racing was already underway). The venue was pretty impressive, although distinctly lacking in shade for spectators on such a hot day. Many were forced back inside the lodge to the shelter of the AC.

We caught up with friends along the way and heard over and over about the course. I was quickly becoming pretty intimidated by the accounts of how technical it was, and the fact that the descent was "no joke". I tried, however, not to let my nerves get the best of me before I had even ridden the course to see for myself what it was like.

The official schedule had time for warmups after all of the racing for the day was done - at 6:30 pm. Given the heat, we didn't really feel like hanging around all day, and decided that since
The starting stretch
others were getting out on the course in between junior races (they used part of the course we would race, but not all of it), we would try to do the same. Kitted up, and hit the trail just before the 2 pm waves were to start, careful the entire time to NEVER interfere with anyone racing.

The good news is that I have FINALLY convinced myself that I can climb . We started up some pretty rocky singletrack close to out of the gate. I liked the climb - a good mix of technical rocks and roots, as well as some open/cross slope areas and some flat sections. The course went almost to the top of the mountain, descended some technical singletrack, and then climbed on fire road back to the very top. The views from there were impressive, but there would be no time to even notice them on race day.

From the summit, we encountered A LOT of rocky trail, some bridges (which I cleaned! I hate bridges), and more rocks as we started to descend. This was really technical, but I was riding most everything and thinking that I wasn't sure what everyone really had been going on about...

Just as I had that thought, we hit a pretty gnarly section of rock and bridge that gave me some trouble, but was still ok. And then we started "the descent". I went from thinking that this really wasn't so bad to "OMG - what am I THINKING?????"  Steep, rock-filled descents that scared the pants off of me had me off the bike and running. I later learned that at least I wasn't the only one . There were also a couple of 180 degree switchbacks, going downhill, filled with rocks. Yeah - those were going to give me trouble...

The last part of the course was filled with even more gnarly rocks and roots. This course was not going to be a complete test of fitness, but an equal test of skill. We finished the lap and I was even more nervous - the course didn't suit my ability.

After changing and getting some much needed hydration, we decided we'd stay for a bit to watch some friends in the Master's races. We watched them all start, and were just heading back to the car when the skies opened. I can't IMAGINE what that course would have been like in the wet. Kudos to all of them for riding in that weather.

Ready to race
Saturday was race day for both of us - Mike at 8 am and me at 10:30. Temps were a bit cooler, but still in the upper 90s with a good amount of humidity. All along, my focus has been on Mike and his race. He has worked really hard all season and his racing form has been amazing. I believed, as did others, that he had a legitimate shot at taking home a new jersey at the end of the day. In fact, I told someone there that my race was really irrelevant . I wanted this so badly for him.

We both kitted up and prepped for our races. Mike gave me VERY explicit pre-race instructions: what to eat, what to drink, when to do both; stay out of the sun; stay off your feet... It was a lot to remember  I was also going to be in the feed zone for him - while we both race with a Camelbak, having another bottle on a hot day might be needed.
The face of determination

I saw Mike off to staging, and line up, and watched as his field took off for their 3 lap race, happy to see him enter the woods in 2nd place! And then, I lost it. The emotions were so high that I couldn't hold it in. Thankfully our good friend Jill was nearby and helped to calm my nerves. Knowing it would take about 40-45 mins per lap, I headed to the shelter of the lodge, put up my feet, ate some food and waited. After about 35 minutes I decided to head into the feedzone to be sure I was there when Mike came by. I stood with good friends Kristen and Chris supporting other racers, and we joked and cajoled about the race. And then the racers started coming through. I knew the number series for Mike's age category (there were SEVEN separate fields all on the course at the same time), and started watching for the leader. There goes one, then two, then three, then four and no sign of Mike. More racers in his field went by, and still no Mike. My panic grew. Did he flat? Did he crash? Was he hurt? I got a report that he had passed Melissa on the course and he was still in second. That had to have been early, because now a large portion of his field had already gone through the feedzone, and still no Mike. I started to lose it. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he came by. He had broken a spoke AND his chain on the first lap. My heart broke for him and I literally broke down in tears. 

My pre-race gear
One lap and two mechanicals down

Mike soldiered on past, and the next time through the feedzone I could see that he had made up a significant number of places. He yelled to me to let air out of my tires before starting - the tire pressure was too high. Yeah - um, I don't do that . I decided to wait until he had finished and let HIM do it instead - I would inevitably end up letting out too much air.

Too. Much. Tire. Pressure!
Attrition in the men's races was high - between the heat, the pace, technical issues and injuries, over 25% of the racers who started didn't finish. And the lap times were significantly longer than anticipated causing two results - 1. my race was delayed from 10:30 to 10:45, and 2. instead of 3 laps, we would be racing just 2 (HOORAY!). As I finished prepping for my race, I continued to watch the finishers from the men's race.I watched as first, second, third and fourth place in Mike's race went by. And then, to my utter delight, came Mike! He had battled back from his mechanicals and being near last in his field, to finish 5th overall, and on the podium! He was ultimately disappointed, but I am really proud of him for his determination. Many racers would have quit/given up, but he fixed his bike, and continued on. In fact, he had two of the faster lap times of the field on the second and third laps of his race. He didn't end up with the jersey, but was still a winner to me.

A quick hug and kiss, and a request for him to let air out of my tires, and I was off to the staging area for my race. Like the men, there would be seven fields of women on the course at the same 
time, though many fewer of us than them . In my field (45-49) there were 9 starters. I had obsessed over the
This is really happening
points, each racer's results and the race prediction... Two of my competitors (Stacey and Katina) were known entities, but the rest were mysteries - women from CA, PA, OR and CO. Surprisingly, I was predicted to finish 3rd (HA! predictors are often WRONG!), so ended up getting called to the line second 
. We all wished each other good luck and safe racing, and the countdown to the start began - 1 minute, 30 seconds, 15 seconds ...

When the whistle blew, my race brain kicked in, and I found myself with the hole shot. Yup - it was 800 degrees, we were racing for all the marbles, it was a course that didn't suit me, and I was OFF. THE. FRONT.  The good thing is that this let me lead through the first part of the
Too bad the race didn't end here
course, seeing the lines, and choosing my own way through, controlling the pace. There weren't a lot of places to pass once we got into the first section of woods. At one point, the woman behind me was just a bit too close, and as I took a corner more slowly than she would have liked, she bobbled, causing mayhem behind me. This gave me a small gap, and I just put my head down to continue moving. Unfortunately, the effort was VERY quickly catching up to me - my HR was over 171, and I was beginning to feel like going out that hard was probably not the smartest thing. Just then we hit a wet, rooty, difficult uphill section and I bobbled. Five of my competitors passed by, but I thought I was still ok - surely someone would end up coming back to me.

I continued on, now alone, able to see where I wanted to go. At a rocky technical downhill, I hesitated, and now another competitor passed. Ugh - this was not going well. On the final climb to the summit, my back started to cramp - I downed a gel to try to stave that off, and took neutral water at the top, worried I would deplete my Camelbak too soon in the heat. Later, I bobbled another section, and another competitor got by. I'm pretty sure I was now in last place. And then, I saw Stacey on the side of the trail. "You ok?" I called. Sadly, while being predicted to win, she had a flat and would end up walking out... As I passed, Stacey asked if I was ok as well I replied that I was, but that I had gone out too hard. The response made me smile - "Yeah you did!" Determined, I continued, hearing Mike's "Ride your race" in my head.

Leading into the nasty, gnarly downhill section there was a HUGE crowd of VERY loud spectators. They were encouraging people to make it up a tricky climb,before the real descent began. As I approached, the noise was distracting me as I attempted to negotiate a tricky downhill with a dropoff at the bottom. Sensing my unease, someone from the unruly crowd yelled out, "Silence!". You could have heard a pin drop. I was oh so grateful to whomever that was! Unfortunately, I still didn't make it down the dropoff, or up the next hill, but the encouragement there was overwhelming (and if you were the person who actually yelled, "Go Cathy" at that point - THANK YOU!). 

I ran much of the downhill since it was pretty scary, hopped back on the bike where I could, and continued on. After the descent, things got pretty tricky with rocks and roots, and I about wanted to cry at that point! Thankfully, a woman in the SS category caught me, and she and I shouted encouragement to each other through the remainder of the lap as we traded places back and forth. At one point she lamented, "Aren't there anymore downhills?", to which I replied, "I'll ride the ups if you ride the downs!". We both laughed, and continued on.

Mike was near the end of the lap to take pictures and shout encouragement as well. In one of the photos I look as if I am saying "Do I really have to do this again?"  In reality, I have a "too stupid to stop" gene, and there was NO WAY, barring an unfixable mechanical or an injury that I was going to quit. Through the feedzone I was looking for my bottle handup, but it was with Mike... I managed a neutral bottle, and was back on my way for lap #2.

Again? Really? OK.
The second lap for me went better than the first in that I rode more than I had the previous lap. I was pretty excited about that, and proud of myself, too. Again, Mike was on course late in the lap, which was awesome. In the final section, I talked my way through, congratulating myself for everything I was riding, talking myself INTO riding certain things, and telling myself it was almost over.

Take the picture quick!
Before this happens.

After 2 hours, I had done it. I raced in my first ever MTB National championship, and I SURVIVED! No crashes, no mechanicals. I didn't quit. I didn't meet my goal (I secretly was hoping for at least a podium), but I was happy with my result. In the end, I finished 7th of 9 starters.

I know that Mike is still disappointed about his race, but I am proud of both of us. That was a truly difficult course, and we both overcame obstacles to finish - he had his mechanicals and I had my mental challenges. We both could have quit, but we didn't - that's not who we are or what we are about. We went, we raced, and we survived!

Many thanks to all of our family and friends for their support and encouragement. Your kind words and actions mean a lot to both Mike and I, and are what keep us going in this sport.

Now I think it's time for some non racing before CX season starts next month, or maybe not. 

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.