Saturday, February 25, 2012

My First Win

This past Sunday I raced in my first second mountain bike race ever (the first one in high school).  My alarm went off at 5:45 am.  I hit the snooze button, still sore and sleepy from a hiking adventure the previous day, and fell back into a dream in which my mother (who lives in Spokane) was asking to use our bathroom.  The conscious part of my mind broke into our dialogue, tapped on my forehead, and whispered in my ear that perhaps I'd been snoozing too long.  I rolled over to check the clock, and it was 6:25.  Shit! Jill was scheduled to pick me up at 6:30 and that woman is never late.  I bolted out of bed in a panic, dove headfirst into my racing kit, ran downstairs and grabbed my bag, which luckily I had packed the night before.  Jill pulled into the driveway just as I was pulling my bike out of the basement.  I collapsed into the passenger seat and settled in to enjoy the comfort of the heated seats in the Subaru for the drive down to Dash Point State Park.
As we traveled south, I medicated with caffeine, to wake up, and Advil, to help my sore hips and legs loosen up. Warm up started off rather stiff and slow, but after about 20 minutes and I started to feel good- loose, relaxed, comfortable.  The course really suited my riding style- lots of ups and downs, plenty of turns and roots, on the technical side, but still nice and flowy. Excellent!

We headed back to the start line about 15 minutes before our start. That's when the nerves and self doubt started to settle in. I had no idea how this was going to go.  My heart sank a little bit when some Team Group Health ladies lined up.  These are ladies I really enjoy racing with, but they generally beat me in road and CX and I was intimidated by their arrival. I actively tried to push those thoughts out of my head and focused on the start. With a "ready, go!" we were off.  I stomped in to my pedals and took off down the incline, grabbing the hole shot.  I  expected someone to come flying around me at any minute, but no one did.  I flew over the first knoll and nearly over my handlebars as the trail dove to the right.  Somehow I recovered and sat back in the saddle, reminding myself to calm down and ride within my means.
A train of TGH and Cycle U ladies coming down the first descent (I snagged this shot from the TGH flickr stream).  

I was still in the lead when I came to a tricky uphill transition with slippery roots.  I didn't pick up my front wheel in time, putting my foot down just in time for Sara from TGH to come around me.  I started to get flustered, but told myself to keep calm and pedal on, and breathe. She quickly opened up a 10 second gap on me, and she was laying down a blistering fast pace.  I tried to catch her but couldn't respond, so focused on staying within 10 or 20 feet of her.  We started up the climby part of the course and I focused on breathing regularly and pedaling smoothly.  The gap between us got smaller and smaller, until finally, at the top of the climb, I caught her.  I moved right to pass, breathing hard-  "good job, girly!"   She wasn't going to give up that easily, though- instead, she took off and gapped me again.  As I chased her across the flats, I returned to my meditative, oxygen deprived zen-like state and decided to wait until she made a mistake rather than trying to pass her again.

Sure enough, a few minutes later later, in a transition uphill with some more tricky roots, she fumbled and put her foot down.  I squeezed past her and pedaled hard to see how much of a gap I could get.  5 seconds, maybe?  10?  I looked back and she was there, but I had enough of a gap to breathe for a second or two.  The gap grew as I moved up the second climb, passing quite a few men on the way up, until I was on my own.  As I passed corner guards, I heard them say "here comes our first woman racer."  These are pretty magic words, I have to admit (words I've never heard before!).  At the top of the climb, I turned around to look for Sara but to my disbelief she wasn't there yet- I had managed to get a decent gap and was by myself, in my own private pocket of the trail, which happened to be in front of everyone else. What a feeling to savor... I turned back around to see that I was careening towards a bush off the trail.  Gah!  "No more looking back!" I reminded myself as I straightened out my wheel, narrowly missing the bush.

I wove through some more twists and turns, then out onto a wide straightaway.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sara  blazing up behind me at breakneck spseed.  We came around a right turn, and I could feel her bearing down.  She moved to pass me, so I stood up and gunned it around the corner.  There, in front of me, was the finish line- I gave it my all and flew across, edging her out by a couple of bike lengths.  Wooo HOO!  My first bike win ever!

I turned around and Sara was there congratulating me and giving me a hug and a high five. We cheered as our teammates followed us across the line in short order- we hadn't had much more than a 30 second gap on  Sara's teammate Carla, who was followed closely by Anne-Marie. Next Jill came across the line, a huge grin spread across her face (which got even bigger when I told her I had won!).  We all hung out at the finish, talking about the race and savoring that endorphin-filled satisfaction that really only comes after a period of pain and suffering mixed with adrenalin.

After the race Jill and I popped in to visit with our friend and former teammate Laura.  Laura is a super accomplished mtb racer who is battling breast cancer and undergoing chemo.  She greeted us at her front door with a gigantic bear hug, displaying shocking strength for someone getting chemo. She shared with us that her docs have her on a very physical recovery plan.  Even through chemo, she's lifting weights to maintain muscle mass, and she has been been riding a stationary trainer every day, even if she can barely walk. We spent the afternoon sharing stories, Laura listening with animation to our play-by-play retelling of the day's racing adventures, then telling us about her experiences racing and all of us collectively planning her return to racing as soon as this chemo is over.   Talk about an inspiration!  Laura is at the top of my list when it comes to being inspired.  Any day I feel a little whiny about riding my bike, or about life, I just think about Laura.

First win ever!  Dedicated to Laura! (That's her hat, which I'm wearing out of admiration!)

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