I was a few laps in when I realized how amazing I actually felt. No pain, very little resistance in my lungs, and a happy heart. Even though I crashed in the first lap, after a GREAT start, the empty feeling of disappointment fled my body. I knew my shot at staying with the top ladies was a distant memory, but I had a chance to pick off a few chicks and ride my own race. That’s all we’re really striving for anyway, right? A constant improvement from our former self.
During warm-up, I got lost inside my own head. The technical course definitely pointed out a few of my fears. Wet roots, narrow bridges, and a downed tree. All three areas really threw me off during pre-ride. I had a serious case of the jitters, and I was simply ready for my race to be over.
I stepped up to the line with some fast ladies’. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated with some of the A’s in my group. This was my first non-beginner race, and while our field wasn’t deep, it WAS talented. There was also the addition of 10 minutes to my race time. I was scared.
And it was time to go…
I thought if I could get up front in the beginning, I wouldn’t get dropped in the off-camber turns. So I busted my ass to get second behind Deb Sweeney (a total beast on a bike, btw). She looked great in the turns, and I followed suit. I felt anxious. It’s rare that I have anyone behind me, and going into the single track with the field behind me made me impatient. And there it was…
I took the first turn too sharp and crashed.
I could feel everyone behind me pile up, and I felt bad, but shit happens. I quickly stood up, picked up my bike and started running it through the woods. I realized my chain had dropped, and my heart sank into my stomach. Any chance I had at seeing what I was really made of had disappeared. My race was over.
After I took care of my chain, I hopped on my bike and continued through the woods. I could feel the disappointment creeping up my body, but something made me pedal harder. I refused to go down in a blaze of my own self-pity. The race continued.
I managed to pick off a couple of girls hanging off the back, and could feel myself getting stronger with each lap. I was standing up out of every turn, taking smart lines in the single track, and I amazed myself by bunny hopping the downed tree. Who knew I could do that? My bike felt amazing and my leg didn’t hurt for once. I took the stairs like a pro, and realized how all my hard work the last few weeks had left an impression on me. I was actually starting to look like a ‘cross racer, and felt like one, too.
I looked back and realized I had dropped the others, so it was just a matter of being smooth and solid. I was racing myself at this point, and simply wanted to feel good about my performance. With one lap remaining, I gave it everything I had, and it felt good.
I managed to ride every section, nail the turns, and include a few max efforts in the longer sections. I felt laser. I didn’t let my mind wander. I felt something I’ve never felt in a race…not sure what it was…but I want to feel it again. I didn’t cry. And when the race was over, I couldn’t do anything but smile. It was probably the biggest smile I’ve had on my face in a long time. Nothing can beat that.
I may not have been in the top 5, but I surpassed any plan I could have made for myself. My friends were even surprised to see how happy I was post race. I mean, you can’t cry ALL THE TIME, can you? What I thought would be the worst and most painful course ever, actually made me giggle like a little girl.
Thanks for all the support, guys. Thanks for all the cheers from both my old and my new ‘cross families. Thanks to those who’ve made opportunities for me. Thanks to my super awesome mechanic, Kyle Style. Thanks to my brother for sparking the fire to ride a bike in the first place. You are all very much appreciated and loved.