I’m happy to say that all the things I did wrong last week didn’t apply to this week at all:
- Get a good night’s sleep. Check
- Eat a reasonably healthy lunch. Check
- Don’t get all edgy and nervous. Check
I was much more relaxed physically and mentally going into this one, plus I’d heard that the course was going to be a lot of downhill singletrack and not as much gut-busting climbing. This made me happy because, while I’m not much of a climber, I can go reallyfast on some of the downhill sections. The course was a bit shorter than last week (maybe a mile and a half? I’m bad at estimating distance) and it was FAST. It went something like this:
Confusing zigzag pattern up and down the big field, long stretch of field down to the trailhead, fast fast trail around the edge of the field, down a hill, up the bridge with the stairs, across the walkway, more up-and-down singletrack, out and around the parking lot, down a really twisty switchback, down a long fast straight decent that ends at theconcrete bridge, across the bridge, a right onto fire road, over the cobbles and a right across the dam bridge, around the walkway and UP THE HILL OF DOOM. Then a quick left, ride down stone stairs, bunnyhop up a stone ledge, then another horrible steep climb up to the race start. Then again, then again.
Oof. On every lap the fun ended where the Hill of Doom began. It was paved, but long and steep and endlessly horrible. (Did I mention I don’t like to climb?)
First lap: I got a decent start and dropped into the trail in a good place. Unfortunately that place was somewhere behind 20+ other riders and the trails were all a haze of dust. Like last week, I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t swallow. Awesome! I stayed behind a couple of riders who were going slower than I felt like I could be going, but it was fine because I needed the time to gather myself back together and relax into a steady pace. I passed them before the twisty switchback (love!) and freaking sailed down it and also the long awesomely fun oh-my-god-I’m-going-too-fast decent after that. The decent ended at the concrete bridge and the dude in front of my chose to walk, so I passed him and rode right across.
Then, I made my first mistake. The section of road between the gravel fireroad and the dam bridge is pretty wrecked from the last hurricane - buckled asphalt, cracked pavement and giant rocks, with a thin strip of cobblestones to the very left edge. That thin strip is the only clean line across and I missed it. I ended up standing in a pile of rocks while everyone behind me passed me in a blur.
I realized pretty quickly what that meant - I was going to have to catch them all at the Hill of Doom or not at all. So up I went, red-faced, panting and mad as hell. I caught, I passed, I thought I might die. (I didn’t die.)
Second Lap: It went better and it ended up being my fastest lap. I rode alone for most of it and took the switchback down so fast that some dude ahead of me pulled over to let me past. I think I was freaking him out. I was feeling great until I hit the Hill of Doom for the second time and where I thought I might die the first time, I was SURE I WOULD the second time. I think that four or five minutes was possibly the worst I’ve ever felt in any race, ever. I vaguely remember a friend cheering me on as I hit the second part of the climb but I was so close to stopping that I couldn’t even spare the energy to acknowledge him. I didn’t stop, though, instead I went for my third lap.
Third Lap: At this point it was after 7pm and the sun was setting. I kept seeing lights through the trees and eventually realized they were the street lamps around the lake. The wooded trails get dark really fast and by the time I hit the switchback I was riding more from memory than sight. I spent the entire lap dreading the climb at the end and wracked my brain for a way to make it suck less.
Then I remembered something from an article I read years ago, which is sometimes all you need to make it up a climb is a better attitude. I stole a mantra from that article and spent the entire climb chanting (out loud, mind you) “I LOVE TO CLIMB. I LOVE TO CLIMB.” And, while it didn’t actually make me love to climb, it did force me to breathe more deeply and pace myself more evenly up the hill. I made it up the first hill, rode down the stone steps, did the saddest bunnyhop up the curb and began my final slow ascent up the steep grass hill to the finish. And I finished, red-faced and shaking, but I finished.
I came in 4th place in women and 27th overall, which means I beat nine dudes. Yeah! Oh, and the guy I beat last week, Mr. You Could’ve Used A Harder Gear? Didn’t even show up.