I come in to the Rumble at 18 Road race every season with mixed emotions. It’s usually some combination of fear and nervousness- as it is my first start of the racing season- mixed with happy excitement for the season to begin, as well as for the race itself. It is about dusting off the cobwebs, remembering how to sail smoothly through my pre-race routine and my warmup and get ready to roll up to the line. It is about seeing old friends, hugging and high-fiving, and meeting new faces, welcoming them to the world of racing.
Today I was one of the new faces. This was my first start in a professional women’s race. I knew who a lot of them were, but they didn’t know me. Some of them I had met briefly before. The weather was cold and blustery, and the ominous clouds in the sky saw only eight pro women lining up for the mid-morning start. I was nervous, but it wasn’t really for the race. Only three days ago had I finally had a hard workout feel good, not awful. Having mono pretty much crushed my spring training, and this race was to serve as the testing ground for my health. In less than a week, I was set to fly out to Monterey, California to compete in the Sea Otter Classic, my first national pro race. I had been looking forward to Sea Otter for months, and I wanted to be as ready as I could be, despite some setbacks. This race in Fruita would be my first real hard effort of the spring.
The gun went off, and we sprang into action. Within the first minutes of the race I had already lost the mental game. There was a fire road climb before the singletrack, and when we all went to enter the singletrack together, I gave up ground. I thought “I couldn’t possibly be faster than these girls on the singletrack; I should hang back so I don’t hold anyone up.” Strike one. I soon found myself frustrated as the top four riders opened up a gap, and I was stuck in the back with no place to pass. I panicked and let the frustration boil up inside me, and when we hit the gravel road again I stood and unleashed. I sprinted as hard as I could and bridged up to the front riders. I caught on to their wheels… and promptly died. Strike two. The road turned uphill, and because I had burned the critical match, I couldn’t hang on. I wasn’t strong enough. I felt crushed as they rode away from me- as did the riders I had sprinted past in my effort to bridge. “You idiot, the race is over,” I told myself. “Maybe you don’t belong here in this pro field- what were you thinking?” Strike three.
Well, that was the first eight minutes of the race. Oof. Not so graceful. Okay, I still had twenty-five miles to go. I could recover. I stopped the negative thoughts in their tracks and refocused. I collected myself, settled into a pace I could manage, and started to slowly gain ground. I calmed my breathing and focused on the things I could control: cornering smoothly, staying loose on the bars, pedaling consistently… and feeling the flow. Yep, there it was. I finally remembered why I loved bike racing. I was flying through the rocks and trees, grinning at the spectators as they cheered me on, and nailing the technical sections, as I was more concerned with riding smoothly than riding fast. As it turns out, smooth is fast, and as I came around the corner to start the second lap I started to catch the 5th place rider. She had about forty seconds on me. When I saw her, I felt the familiar rush of adrenaline and I again felt myself pushing hard to try and bridge the gap. I had to catch her fast! There were only twenty miles to go. Haha. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever learn. I burned another match as she smoothly and quickly rode away.
For the last two laps I kept my focus on my own riding, pushing hard but not burying myself, and came across the line still in sixth. I felt out of shape and out of practice, but I had ridden smoothly and was pleased with my ride. I usually have trouble with that course, feeling jerky and stiff instead of loose and smooth on the flowy twisty trail. This time, feeling the flow of the course was nearly effortless. The cobwebs are clearing.
The Short Track
The next morning, after an epic wind event at the campsite sent Becca and Matt’s tent on the run and my tent snapping and ripping, nearly carrying both of us away like a giant sail, and us finally ending up on Talitha and Josh’s hotel room floor, we were back at the starting area to race the short track. It was going to be twenty minutes plus three laps, making the race about thirty minutes long. Short tracks are short, fast, and painful. And usually, for me, sort of boring. I love racing criteriums on a road bike, especially when they’re fast and technical, but I struggle to find any redeeming qualities about going in circles on a dirt path on a mountain bike.
The race started, and as soon as it started for me it was nearly over. I hung on for the first lap, about five minutes, and then that was all I had. I was completely cracked. I was pushing as hard as I could, and I was going backwards. The other riders flew past me. I felt like I was going to die. I looked down at my Garmin, and my heart rate was barely above 150! What was happening? My legs just would not go. I finished out the race dead last by minutes, at a snail’s pace, still pushing as hard as I could. Sometimes, you just don’t have it.
On the way home, and that evening and the next day, I felt awful. I could barely get out of bed, and sort of shuffled through my day like I was floating in a fog. I felt like I was knocked right back into the middle of mono. I sank into a funk as I wondered if my season would be over before it even began. My coach, Alison, suggested that maybe I wasn’t ready to expend so much energy traveling so far to another two-day race, just days afterwards. I didn’t want to listen, but in my gut I knew she was right. My head and my heart wanted to ignore it and push on so badly. But the pit in my stomach said wait, hold on, slow down.
I sat with it for a couple of days and the feeling became clear. Continuing to push through when my body and my gut was saying no would quite certainly be more harmful long-term, and could potentially end my season. I had to accept that I wasn’t superwoman, and that this time, my limitations of being human had won. With a heavy heart, but confidence in my decision, I pulled the plug on Sea Otter.