Monday, August 18, 2008

I finally won a bike race.

Sunday morning I woke up at a late 8:00, opened my tent door and decided to race. I was surprisingly not that sore from my 4.5 hours the day before, but as I started to pack up and shuffle things to the car I could hear just about every bone in my body creak and snap back into place. It reminded me a lot of the first three minutes of the ballet classes I used to take when we were all warming up.

My class, beginner women, didn’t start until 11:30 so I had some time to meander around the campsite, make sure everything was organized for the race, and say goodbye to the group of West Side Michigan Mountain Biking Association members that were having their monthly campout to ride that had taken me under their wing on the Yankee Springs Trails the night before.

I got to the race site with time to kill and I registered early. I lounged around introducing myself to people and hunting down some chain lube for my dusty, dusty bike. Eventually it was time to gear up. I was a little concerned because breakfast had consisted of a can of coke and a bag of FlavorTwists, and I was about to embark on a 16 mile mountain bike time trail with a “pre ride” of 35 miles the day before in two different state parks. It was not a winning combination.

Once I got into my kit I started trying to focus. I ditched the people I had been chatting to, and warmed up off by myself. It was bad. My legs were dead. I spun easily, trying to get them to loosen up and stretch out. Ten minutes to go I ate a gu with caffeine in it and sat under the tree with all of the beginners. I started calming myself down, telling myself how much fun I would have and if I walked the hills, so be it. I had pre-rode about half of the course, so I knew what to expect in the first half. They lined us up two by two like Noah’s Ark. I was next to a chatty masters dude who was riding his home course. I explained to him that I wasn’t much for talking before races and that I would be happy to chat with him afterwards, and he said he understood.

We counted down the clock and slowly moved up until I was at the start and off masters dude and I went. He got into the single track first, knowing exactly where he was entering and all the obstacles and I never saw him again until the finish.

I told myself to calm down and keep pedaling and that helped immensely. I started to focus in on racing. Usually I try to distract myself from how much it hurts by thinking of other things, making up puns, singing, anything to distract myself but this time I focused only on the racing. I looked at the MPH number on my computer a lot trying to keep it up in double digits on anything that wasn’t too technical. I was very comfortable, technically, on the first section. I was a bit tired but I was starting to be able to ignore it. I caught two guys and passed them, my first time passing anyone in a Mountain bike race.

The noon hour hit twenty minutes into my race and I started to feel the heat. I was drinking water at every flat I could drink water on, constantly reminding myself that I CAN pedal faster and harder and I CAN go down the drop and I CAN get over that log pile and up that hill.

Somewhere just short of granny’s garden a girl came and flew past me up cinderblock hill which I was trying to pedal up. She turned out to be the beginner women that beat me in the overall section, with a time that would have put her in the money in the expert category. (All the other women were grumbling “sandbagger.”) Shortly after that I caught up to the girl who had started a few places in front of me. I figured if I could stay on her wheel or pass her it would be one place down so I tried to stay on her. She, like every other person in the mountain bike world, would head into the single track and rock the technical stuff, but I outdid her on the fast flats and fire roads. We were neck and neck until we hit a steep, rooty downhill hairpin turn when she panicked, braked, and flew off her bike. I stepped around her, continued down the hill and didn’t see her again.

The middle of the race went uneventfully, I just tried to stay focused and have fun. I ate a gu on schedule at mile 7.5, where I had planned to and got a little energy boost. I pushed as hard as I could and went for everything I knew I could handle, went down all the hills, and then headed onto the green loop which was unfamiliar territory for me. The green loop turned out to be very flowy with rolling hills and long shallow climbs, not technical at all. It was almost like the kettles, but less gravely. I slowed down a bit because it was unfamiliar to me.

Around mile ten I started really loosing my focus. I was tired, hungry, and I could feel my brain slowing down. I had to really, really focus on the trail and making sure I was riding my best, not grabbing the breaks in a panic, and staying safe through the narrow trees. I get sloppy when I get tired.

I just kept telling myself “Focus” out loud and that seemed to do the trick and I was able to pick up a little bit more speed. One of the guys I passed in the beginning of the race caught up to me and he was trying to pass me about two miles to the end but there were no good places to do so. I was going to dismount to walk up a three foot shelf and let him pass and he went for it and crashed. I kept going as he tried to get up and crashed again and that gave me a little gap to keep him behind me, which I definitely had to work for. He didn’t attempt to pass again but I could here him breathing behind me.

The crowd was gathered in the woods near the finish and all of the sudden I hear “Way to go Elizabeth, only fifteen minutes left!” and I thought “Who here knows my first name?” Turns out it was masters dude cheering for me.

The last section was a long flat grass road with a quick downhill and a gradual uphill. I was worried that the guy was going to pass me so I shifted down and cranked it down the hill to try to get a little gap, and put myself into sprint finish mode. I passed the finish line, threw my timing chip in the bucket and went to jump in the lake with all the rest of the people who had just finished racing.

The results came out and I looked and my name was no where to be found! Turned out they had me listed as a guy. I was hanging in a respectable 10th place for the beginner male category at that point, but I was very obviously not a guy.

I went to the race officials and they cleared it up right away and…what do you know! I was first in my age group, second women overall. I’ve been waiting to win a bike race since I started racing in March and this was a great race to win. I definitely felt like it was not an easy win, I put a lot of effort in and the results paid off. I am going to try to focus like that on my next race, and see if that is the key to placing well. I’m racing the Mayburry TT next Saturday and pre-riding it on Thursday night, I think. They have a lot of TTs here in Michigan.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:52 PM

    Wow!!!!!! I am so proud of you! All that effort! It all paid off.
    Next time when you get to mile 10 and you are hungry, just get out your little box of chinese food and a fork and have a little snack. ;)

    lol Love ya,