Heading into the race, I was beyond nervous. More nervous than for any other race, ever. The day before, I couldn’t really talk about it without feeling the urge to poop. The morning of, I couldn’t really stomach any food, and definitely had the urge to vomit a few times.
I managed to loosen up the legs the day before by riding a portion of the climb. While preriding, I chatted with another NJ rider who I had raced against a few times.
The morning of the race was chilly, in the 50s as I rode to the expo. Cloudy skies made me think that maybe the race would be relatively cool. Even that morning, I was still unclear about whether a few key sections would be included in the course: 1) the “rock garden” in the prologue loop, and 2) the rock drop approaching the finish. I was personally hoping that the rock garden would be included, as it might allow me to gap the field early in the race, since I knew most women would have trouble with it. They ended up pulling out both sections for the cat 3 course.
A bit about the course: there was an approx 1 mi prologue loop, which involved a few rocks, some tight turns, but nothing crazy. After that was maybe 1.5 miles on the paved, flat bike path, before beginning the 7 mile, 2000+ ft climb. The climb began on a gravel road, then veered onto a fire road, then onto some single track.
There are two shorter climbs, midcourse, but I’m told to expect to be climbing for the first hour of the race.
Right before the start, the groom in the wedding appears to cheer me on. Such a great surprise, and it helped me calm my nerves.
My strategy for the race unfolds pretty well from the start. I get the holeshot, heading into the prologue single track in the lead. Even though there were only 5 women in my field, they started all 30+ women together. I know the rocks will foul up some folks (even the wimpy remaining rock garden), so im glad to be in front through it. I get passed very early on the bike path by a girl from Texas, but figure she’ll blow up on the climb… Because there’s no hills in texas!
I’m wrong. I see her for maybe the first mile of the climb, but realize that she’s gone.
Another 40-49 woman passes early in the climb, and I start climbing along with a girl I’ll call CA-capo girl, also in the 40-49 field.
About a mile into the climb, I get off my bike to walk a really steep loose section. CA-capo girl rides it clean, but I think she expended more effort than I (and wasnt any faster) so I remount and drop her, not to see her again for the rest of the climb.
So I’m climbing alone now. Passing juniors, but mostly alone. I’m pretty certain nobody in my field is anywhere close to me, so I settle in and keep my heart rate at a level which I know I can sustain for at least an hour. The climb is pretty steady. Not much rolling, just climbing. Doubletrack turns to wooded singletrack. It’s kind of drizzling, and definitely cool, which I appreciated. I choke down a couple GUs, drink a bunch.
The wooded singletrack gives way to side-hill singletrack, totally in the wide open, surrounded by sagebrush. It reminded me a lot of the Marin headlands, where you can see the roads on distant hills. So I can see what’s ahead of me: more climbing.
The climb seems to go on forever. Eventually I start passing men, who were nothing but gracious and encouraging when I’d ask to pass.
I’m keeping an eye on the garmin, and expecting to be done with the first climb around mile 8. Mile 8 comes up on my garmin, as well as the 1:00 mark, and I come around a bend to see thud climb continuing on distant mountains. I see tiny bikes, far far in the distance, still climbing. For a moment I’m kinda discouraged, until I remind myself that I’m feeling great, and I’m a CLIMBER, damnit! So the climb ended up being longer than I expected, but I’m feeling pretty good, and excited to start descending. While I’m climbing, I’m occasionally checking the hillside behind me, and I know there’s no women nearby. Texas girl is nowhere to be seen, so I’m firmly in second place. My lungs feel surprisingly great, considering I’m at 8000+ feet, and didn’t really have time to acclimate.
The views are amazing, but I’m doing my best to not look as I’m trying to keep my focus.
Finally, the decent starts.
It’s amazingly fun, fast and buffed out. I’m able to pass a few more dudes, which makes me feel like a rockstar. I can see a girl up in the distance… She’s wearing white, wasn’t Texas girl wearing white? I manage to catch up to her, but it’s a junior. I come into the first short climb after the descent, and get stuck behind another junior. At this point the trail is pretty narrow and rocky with a huge drop off. I ask her to pass and almost plummet down the mountain doing so.
Finish up that climb and head into more fast descending, but I’m not feeling as flowy. The trail seems to be less buffed out, a little more loose. Lucky I come up behind a dude and am descending behind him, probably a bit slower than i would have otherwise, but being behind him saved me from launching off the edge a few times. I’m kinda just content descending behind this guy, and all of a sudden CA-capo girl comes up behind me and is like “pass this guy”! I shout out that I’ve been trying to (a lie) and that he won’t let us. He hears me and let’s us both pass.
At that point, my ego is running my brain, and I let loose. I’m flying, and taking risks.
Not long after, I think I lost control of my back wheel, it slides off the trail, and I endo, flying face first down at least 20 ft. CA-capo girl stops, looks at me and shouts that she’ll get the medics.
I ask her if my face is really bloody, but I know the answer already. There’s already blood dripping on my frame.
I hear hissing. I do an inventory of my teeth, they are all there. Shoulders seem to be moving properly, all other joints are a go. I collect myself and somehow drag my bike up the steep hill to get back on the trail. People are passing me and saying holyshit are you ok. I assure them that I am.
I’m realizing that I feel ok. I decide that I can keep going, and that the first step to doing so is to change my flat. I’m a little out of it still, but get the tube, my pump, tire irons out and get to work. The tube, though, is a shrader, and wont fit through the presta hole in the stan’s rim. That realization occurs before I realized that my wheel is basically a pringle.
So I start walking, eventually come upon the medic, who i convince that I’m ok. We walk to meet more medics, who offer to drive my bike down to the valley later in the day. I call Eric, bring him up to speed, apologize for trashing the new wheel, and ask him to meet me at the Warm Springs lodge. All this walking, I don’t think another girl in my field passes me.
I walk down to the base, and am in good spirits in spite of the blood and the DNF.
I’m glad to have experienced the rush of competing at nationals, but really disappointed at myself for the lapse in concentration and judgment. I knew that I didn’t need to be taking risks at that point, yet I did.
Luckily, my wounds are of the fleshy variety (vs the bone variety) but at the speed I was going, I could have done a lot of damage. I’m just really lucky to have walked away bruised and scraped but otherwise OK.
At some point I’d like to go back and finish the loop!