Regardless of the level at which we race there are any variety of reasons with which we compete. Whether it’s to chase or demons or to run from them, to bask in the type two fun of driving yourself deeper into the rabbit hole of physical output, or to live for the moment of ecstasy when you have indeed surpassed any expectations that were had on your performance. There are fitness goals, levels of status or respect to attain, people to meet and friendships to make. Despite the inclusion of more categories than most race directors can keep track of there are still many fewer folks who stand on the top step regularly than those who can even catch sight of it.
It can sound like a poor way to set up a start line but I’m a realist; in a large pro field my chances of getting on a podium are much less likely than my missing the pedal at the start gun. During race preparation I occasionally I get caught up in a moment and loose track of the larger picture leaving myself to ponder the why. These feels never last long but I feel it is important to acknowledge as well as validating to do so. Besides the endorphins the beauty of racing is the dynamics, once the start gun goes off there is too much stimuli coming in to lend attention elsewhere.
I recognize that I live for the moments mid race when that zen like quality of a quiet brain and unhindered flow take over, your motions become an effortless dance of corners, transitions, and full gas efforts. When you love what you are doing or feel a connection with the crowd, the bike, or the course, or have an epiphany of what makes you tick in situations beyond racing. Or that moment on the finish line when you realize you achieved a level of exertion and focus you weren’t aware you were capable of.
I have the same fears as any person, generally focused on the unknown, the danger of getting caught up in a tangle and consequent injury, or breaking my equipment beyond my ability to repair mid race when every molecule of my focus is involved in a chase. Of my quest not being financially sustainable or justifiable. Of being irrelevant, getting old or too out of shape to stand the ground I earned the year before, of not feeling like I belong.
Last year I was privileged to earn a spot in both U.S. world cups. That was not the case this year despite my being the ready alternate and showing up for each weekend. The first in the world cup series this year was the Waterloo, WI - Trek Cup where not only did every athlete qualified desire to race to show off their early season fitness despite their current health status, equality permeates the forefront of the weekends atmosphere, making it especially desirable for the money and points that would likely still be distributed throughout the womens field despite the type of race you had.
So I sat this round out. There were still races to line up for, Friday in Wisconsin and Friday and Sunday in Iowa. There were still friends to cheer for and that rare opportunity to observe a race I’m normally in, but I was disappointed missing Trek, if ever there was a course designed to suite all the key skills and racing I love it is that one. Even the conditions were my absolute favorite.
It’s tough to stomach the disappointment of not being able to line up on start line you feel especially ready for but it’s a good reminder that if the biggest hurt you can have is not being allowed to try you are doing a lot of other things right. There will be other races, other chances to pursue objectives. I know I’m not the strongest out there but I still have a lot of things going for me, namely that I’m present, consistent, and genuine.
It was fantastic to watch and cheer my peers through their race at Trek and move on to Iowa; we had a week of hotel life as the pleasant weather turned otherwise and the shorts, short sleeves, and file treads I primarily brought to race on proved less than adequate. I still had hopes after the mid-week torrential downpours that it might dry up by the weekend but as the rain came again my hopes were dashed.
Now this is ironic because I love me nothing more than some serious mud and proper cross weather. The exception is not being prepared; I bought some sweat pants and eventually mud boots at Wal-Mart, borrowed a front wheel and a rear tire and went to battle. Despite the level of awareness over what was rolling around in my head, there was a solid chance I had myself beat before we even started warming up.
The Friday night race wasn’t terrible but I was certainly underperforming. I generally experience an underlying frustration with night races, I rely on a lot of visual cues to motivate me and many of those are lacking in the dark. Combine not knowing with not trusting and you set yourself up for a fairly under-par effort.
I started well and held my space in the field as we transitioned from pavement to mud and ruts. I didn’t start hard, I was still feeling out the tires I had thrown on and getting in touch with the vibe in the field before any shenanigans went down. The race was aggressive but not reckless and as we headed up the run up the first time the poor footing and low light got the best of many and chaos ensued. The course was pocket out from the many feet making their way up the soft footing. Either you hit a hole or you didn’t, the illumination came from behind us throwing our own shadows on the ground where you wanted most to see. I made the top, not in any form that was exceptionally pretty but as I went to jump back on the bike I misjudged the sucking mud engulfing my feet and shot clear over it taking out anyone near me as no one had solid purchase with their footing. Whoops.
I regrouped and made my way over the top of the climb and back down the descent. Not much earlier the amateur races were essentially a non-stop blooper reel as nearly every rider to descend took some sort of spill. By our race the dirt was more tacky but still the descent required a full speed no brake commitment to ride a straight line. I passed a number of girls in this fashion which was a testament to my growing confidence and skill development in bike handling.
I survived this race but didn’t really feel as though I was a factor in it. The world cup was the following day and I did not envy missing out on this one. It was a challenging course dry but with mud, the heavy grass freshly preserved for the day, and extra added in climbing it just looked painful. As the women lined up the rain started again, not a full soaking but enough to make all the smoothed out turns from the mens race slick like ice. Once again it was good to watch the race develop, cheer my peers on, and have a solid look at the strength, skills, and determination the front end of the field raced with. A disproportional amount of the track was running, with the thick mud and elevation changes making it look anything but pleasant. Certainly it was a process to stomach not being able to TRY but this one was less my style. At the conclusion of the womens race the skies opened up again and the course became even more saturated.
To note the field sizes all weekend favored the ladies, Friday was almost twice as many women as men. Sundays race was a deep field, over 60 women were registered. Even with an extra two days to come to terms with the traction (or lack of) situation I still was not feeling prepared. At this point I at least had a routine of borrowing tires and wheels and I knew in some fashion it would get me around the course.
I started center field three or four rows back, not my favorite place to be when the transition to the rutted mud was crowded, full gas, and filled with treachery. I held my ground once again with a beautiful roomy space around me as the whistle blew and we dove without hesitation from the pavement to the soup of grass and mud and ruts. I still maintained a suprisingly large amount of room but somehow managed to hit the puddle across the finish line just right find myself snagged and thrown into the metal barriers on the right side of the course. I T-boned the orange fence with gusto and with no where to go, a number of girls charging from behind smacked into me. Fearing the worst for my derailleur it took a bit to recognize that I had wrapped around the fence so hard that I smashed my ribs….on my LEFT side… over the top of the gate.
I untangled and managed to downshift and rejoin the stragglers in the rear of the field but the course bottle necked shortly after to a solid stretch of running and there wasn’t much I could do besides focus on working through the traffic. The first time up the Mt Krumpet climb was a brutal game of picking the pocked-out foot print that had the least amount of suction, not getting your face smacked or tangled with another racers bike, while also hoping the spot you did choose to set your foot down in didn’t result in a slide.
Once again feeling like I was watching a race rather than competing in it I did manage to handle my bike well, in some cases better than expected on unfamiliar tires, minimal pre-riding, and inappropriate pressures. Whether the outcome is good or bad, there was still a degree of experience gained and value to letting the weekend play out and knowing how you react to it. I know to be prepared as a general rule but this trip wasn't quite set up for success unless the weather gods and packing restrictions played out in my favor.
I managed to grab a few dollars thanks in part to the ideal lack of UCI supervision along the bar built near the crest of the run up. I am going to go ahead and take credit for the insanity of bill handing out that ensued after I was pulled because the one dollar bills that I grabbed were shortly followed with much larger ones. I can only imagine the progression of drunk folk noting the positive response from the riders, running out of singles, and raiding their wallets for whatever they happened to be carrying.
I typically have one race each year when I gloriously - lets call it - underperform and this one was that for me. I was unceremoniously pulled from the race on the back side of the course to partake in the walk of shame back to the quiet tent city with most folks still racing or in the pit. It’s been a few years since I committed to multiple races in one trip away from home sans van and it definitely drove home why I love racing from the ground. It might take me 30 minutes to dig out the right wheels, rain jackets, or weather appropriate gear from the various corners but still I have it with me.
Craning to catch that first glimpse of the mountains is typically a homebound standard and this time it was especially meaningful. Even if I was only home for 48 hours before heading west to Sacramento it was glorious to bask in the Colorado sunshine for a few minutes, have the cat sleep on my pillow, spend an impressive amount of time marveling how the house gets THAT dirty so fast, (also why is nearly every lightbulb blown out) and knowing that I only had one more short trip before I get to reestablish myself in #VANLIFE and head east for the rest of the fall.