Conditions were sloppy on Saturday morning. We lined up for our start and it was nice to see familiar faces on the start line including my teammates – Namrita and Eddie. The start felt fast and my legs were already burning up the short, steep climb to the opening singletrack. I watched Amanda quickly pull away and decided to stick with Cheryl. A few guys got in between us as we entered the singletrack. There was the obligatory bobble in the line of people and we were off our bikes walking while the group ahead rode away. I never saw Cheryl again until the finish. I was surprised at how slick the rocks on the trail were. They were limestone and with wet, mud-caked tires, there was zero traction. In fact, it was exactly like trying to ride on ice. My bike would slip off the rocks before and I even know what had happened. I was also horrified to find that I had absolutely no power. Small steep hills that I should have easily dominated were demoralizing. I couldn’t even turn over my easiest gear and was forced to walk up them. I was clumsy and disoriented on the singletrack. My arms were getting hammered on the downhills. It felt like my fork wasn’t compressing at all. I pushed the lock-out on and off multiple times. I slammed my butt down on the seat to see if the back shock was working. Was the lock out stuck? I got passed by a lot of guys. Andrea Wilson came by me on her singlespeed. I admired her as she stood up and powered through the trail while I was bogged down behind a much easier gear. Brenda also passed me as I was walking. I mocked myself saying, “yeah, the Colorado girl can’t ride the rocks!” I knew I was fully capable, but I had NO power.
I got a Garmin Edge 500 and this race was my first time using it. (Product review in the works, but so far I LOVE IT!) What I didn’t love was what it was telling me. I had been out there for 1:52 and had only gone 13 miles. 13 miles out of 77. The engineer in me started analyzing all sorts of bad things. I was doing everything right with my nutrition and even slowing down to make sure I could get good pulls off my gel flask and enough water. My stomach was feeling unsettled. “The granola…” I thought to myself. Then it started happening. Rejection. It wasn’t the type of barfing that’s debilitating, just the kind that adds insult to injury. 5 different times, I’d gag and a few chunks of granola would come up. At least it tasted like vanilla. I actually laughed out loud when I saw a few of the chunks stuck to my leg. I was fed up with it and shoved my finger down my throat to get rid of it once and for all, but nothing came out when I gagged.
I was in a very gloomy place. A place where I was telling myself I was going to quit the race and quit racing all together. I told myself I wasn’t tough enough to do the Colorado Trail Race I timidly placed on my calendar for August 1 this summer. My confidence was completely shot. I also was worried I was digging a hole I wouldn’t be able to get out of for my next race, which happens to be the beastly Transylvania Epic Stage Race. I spent hours talking myself out of quitting. I knew I could cross the finish line, but what would it mean for TSE? I finally decided that I’d see how I felt when I got to the turn off for the “short” 50 mile course. I have ruined an entire season with being so stubborn to cross that finish line weekend after weekend that I became anemic, and I didn’t want to repeat that. I finally was able to end the negative consuming thoughts with a mantra I read in Yoga Journal a month ago. “Thoughts create feelings. Thoughts create feelings.” In this case, my negative thoughts were making me miserable so every time a negative thought crept in, I said “thoughts create feelings” and was able to flip around my mental state.
3 hours in, I was completely fed up with essentially having no suspension on such a punishing course. “I am sucking anyway and I might not even finish.” I made a decision to stop. I always try to be constantly moving forward, but this time, I stopped… multiple times. I pulled my bike to the side of the trail and flipped it over. I turned the rebound knob. I did this on a few occasions, but it was not helping. I had a choice to make. Do I let air out of the fork? I did not have a shock pump. Let too much out and it’s even more disastrous than having too much air. I found a twig and gingerly let air out for a microsecond. Then a little more. Finally! A front fork that would compress properly. I thought about the rear but recalled once letting just a sip of air out of a rear shock and having the whole thing collapse. That was way too risky, so I abandoned that idea. All the stopping and walking was helping my stomach. I had also decided that despite my occasional granola upchucks, I was going to keep shoving gel and water down the hatch. There was more walking and times where I was actually pedaling and my Garmin read 1.7mph.
I found myself riding with a singlespeeder for a little bit. This was the turning point of my race and we were almost out of the humbling blue loop. I looked down at my Garmin. 4 hours. I had gone 30 miles. 47 to go? Fuck.
The singlespeeder told me that at mile 33, things get easier and we’d be at the red loop. My spirits lifted. I also noticed that I seemed to be breathing again. I can’t explain it, but it felt like before, my body was not using the oxygen I was inhaling. My body came alive with each breath and I felt lighter. I sucked in the humid air and was clear and happy in my head. Not only could I ride up the short punchy climbs that previously disheartened me, but I was charging them in a big gear out of the saddle. After the next stop, I was on fire. I had found myself after 4 long, painful hours. Un-freaking-believable. I didn’t know who that person was on my bike the first 4 hours of the race, but I was glad they were gone and that I was me again.
I shifted into the big ring for the first time in a long while and charged the red loop (which is also the easiest). From there, things started looking up. I was reeling in all sorts of people. I went by Andrea and told her I found my legs. I still can’t believe she did that race on a SS AND got 5th! I made sure to keep eating and drinking which can be tricky when there are no breaks on the trail. I started the yellow loop again and found that some of the rocks had dried out. I cleaned almost every technical section. The climbs seemed easy – climbs that I couldn’t even ride my easiest gear on the previous lap. I caught Brenda as well, but after looking over my shoulder, I saw she was going to fight back. I charged forward and what seemed so hard for the early hours of the race flew by as light fun. My GPS had lost signal during some of the race and I wasn’t quite sure how much further. I started cramping in my left quad at the start of the red loop so I had to slow down. A guy came around me and said the next woman was maybe 5 minutes back. (He also said, “I don’t want to get passed again by ‘one of you’…” uhhhhh, don’t like getting chicked sir? I passed him before the end of the race, but he was on a SS) My left leg felt like it had water balloons inside it. It was twitchy and it felt like fluid was jiggling around in there, but I was riding at a pace that was manageable. I came through the final check point and the guy told me 3 miles to go. YESSS! I pushed it to the finish. This weekend, when I crossed the line I didn’t fall to the ground like last weekend. I felt great and locked in the final podium spot on one of the toughest days after 8 hours.
The Comp Cyclist boys cleaned up!! They won each of their respective categories, and 1-4 overall! You have to be fast to work there.
Syllamo was amazing. I will be back next year to get my revenge on Syllamo instead of the other way around. It is a real mountain bike race with stream crossings, rocks, tough descents, fast sections, mud, and roots. It doesn’t test how fast you can go, but it tests all your abilities – physical and mental. I think that having course knowledge would have been a HUGE advantage. If I were to do it all over again, I would have ridden my hardtail because it was already dialed vs. a new bike(although ideally you want either a 29er or full sus). I also would have gotten there a day earlier to ride at least part of the trail – course knowledge would be a HUGE advantage and will certainly be where I’ll pay at Transylvania in 2 weeks. The course was marked better than any race I’ve ever been at and registration was fast and easy. Huge props to Steve Parker for putting on a great race.
Here is a good quote I read today:
“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction”
Thanks everyone for your support out there! I love the crew in the Southeast!
Suffering is humbling. It reminds you that you’re alive. It’s tough when things don’t go as planned, but I always come out a better person, and that’s why I race my bike. Let’s face it, only once in a blue moon do we have a race that goes absolutely perfect.
For now, I’m shaking off the mishaps from the weekend and getting my full suspension ready for TSE in 2 weeks – but first, off to Chicago on Thursday for work. Come out to the New Belgium Urban Assault at Wrigley Field!