I lined up at the start and glanced down at my watch. 104 bpm, and I hadn’t even started racing yet. Nerves and anxiousness pounded through me. I knew that I had a tough race ahead of me. I had nothing behind me to boost my confidence. I had not pedaled a bike in over two weeks and that last time I rode, I had found myself tired and slow.
5 second count down and we were off. I had the hole shot. How? I never get the hole shot. I didn’t want the hole shot. This is a cross-country race and we have plenty of time to play cat and mouse with each other. 4 years ago for my first race, a friend and seasoned mountain bike racer told me, let the girls get ahead on the uphill, you will smoke them on the downhill. Sage advice through all my years of biking since the downhills are my strength. The uphills, not so much.
That being said, riders passed me quickly. But, only by about four girls. We rode the top half of the course as a gradual uphill. My nemesis in last year’s race-a 55 year old woman with an AARP plate on the back of her bike-passed me on her rigid single speed. I cheered her on and she replied “see you soon on the downhill.” I love that woman.
I made it to the downhill and cruised past those that had passed me. I felt redemption for a moment. I passed JWail taking pics. (He has a bruised/broken rib and is taking some time off the bike). Then I hit another gradual flat uphill. I looked at my watch 24 minutes and 4 miles had gone by. Not even half way on the 9 mile course. I kept pushing. In sight were 4 girls in my division battling it out on the double track. I blew through the water crossings, spraying water up to my chest. It felt good as the sun set to the west and pounded down at us.
We turned onto Middle Aspen-the dreaded uphill. With the same four girls in my vision, I started to hit a wall. The trail was steep, dry, and technical. I switched into my lowest gear hoping to at least keep momentum. My calves started to cramp. I wanted sugar. I was bonking. I wish I had trained even a little bit on the bike. I wish I had done a warm up. I lost traction and got off and walked to a reasonable spot to get back on. Two more girls passed me. I cheered them on-“you got it girl, keep pushing.” “I’m hurting” and “this sucks” they replied. Sweat poured into my eyes, as I kept it in the granny gear, just praying for a downhill. My heart beat was ringing and throbbing up my neck and into my ears. Jesus, this was torture, I thought to myself. I looked down to see 191 bpm on my watch! Yikes! Why do I do this, I asked myself cursing more of the rooty, rocky, steep uphill.
I got to the top of the climb and looked ahead-I had lost those I had been chasing. I glanced behind me and didn’t see anyone. So, I dialed it in and rode moderately trying to recover. There was no one to chase and no one chasing me. Nothing to do but settle in and enjoy the ride. It was a Tuesday night in Wyoming and I was racing my mountain bike on a righteous course amongst the tall grass and wildflowers.I was grateful for a lot at that moment.
I finished in the middle of the pack.(Final results not posted yet). I feel good knowing that I held my own and it is only the first race of the season. I know with more time on the bike that I will get stronger and hopefully not bonk so early (or at all for that matter).
Five minutes after the race was over I had a beer in my hand, chatting with fellow racers, and suddenly the misery and suffering that I had endured only moments before had shed itself. This is why I race.
The exhilaration, the suffering, the glory, the companionship afterwards. We all suffered. We all hated ourselves. We all finished proud.
Do you suffer during a race and quickly forget about it?
How do you keep your mental strength during a race so that your physical strength doesn’t suffer?