God's Country 2010: A short study in not going down

After being struck on the head by an axe, it is a positive pleasure to be beaten about the body with a wooden club.
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I'm salivating over triathlon season now, having done something much tougher than last year's sprint distances. Off-road duathlon left me exhausted, mentally and physically wrung out. And it was an extremely satisfying two hours. Plus a miserable half hour that I'm still glad I experienced.

You could make the case that I wasn't ready for God's Country. I'd never ridden trails before. I'd never ridden this bike, except around the parking lot. I'm not heat-acclimated and though hydrated like a sea sponge was dry-mouthing during warmup. Mostly given how much I'd have to learn on the fly on the bike, I assumed a two and a half hour effort — about like the half marathon, but far more taxing.

You could make that case. I say: How do you ever do anything new if you only do what you're completely ready for? Sure I have fear. It's as real as any fear. But fear has severely limited jurisdiction.

Fear is my toy, not the other way around.

Tim-L gives me some advice and encouragement in the transition zone. "You're going to hit some down and ups at first. Don't let them freak you out. They look really steep but they're no big deal." This is the first of three critical pieces of advice I get throughout the morning.

What I loved about riding on dirt: How connected I felt to the bike; how it responded to what I asked; how I had to stay in charge of asking it to do stuff. I loved how many dimensions I was riding in — not just cadence but shifts of weight and upper-body involvement. How much perception I got of the trees and nature around me and how surprised I was at that, since on the run I'm paying so much attention to the trail that some of the surroundings tune out. I loved the twisting sections; they felt like flying, like nothing else I'd felt yet on a bike. And these were easy trails — just think what's waiting.
At the first down and up, I am so startled by the sudden rush of speed and onslaught of stuff to pay attention to that I brake going into the corner, consequently fishtailing wildly and almost throwing myself sidelong into a tree. My only two thoughts: "Shit." And, "Not going down." Our pal Rob is standing there watching me try to collect myself. "You okay," he says calmly. "Yeah," I say. "Great," he says, dispensing critical advice #2, "Get your foot back on the pedal and get going. Um... try the other pedal."

The down and ups are hard. Not so much the down — that part's ridiculous fun, just get the weight back and go. ("STAY OFF THE BRAKE!" my inner ass-kicker yells. The whole 12.3 miles. And no, that's not you, Zoolander, my IAK took your hint though and ran with it from there.) On a number of the ups, me and my vanilla pudding quads made it 3/4 up and ground to a halt. Yeesh. Not so bad except for the pedal bites on my calves and for seriously getting in people's way a couple of times. Verbals are good: "Stopping!" I learned pretty quickly to say. Even when there was nobody behind me. Saying it was odd happy evidence of self-possession.
"I like your pace," comes a voice from behind me. "Mind if I hang out?" "Cool," I say. "I'm Ann." "I'm Makaela. I never did this before. The down and up parts are freaking me out." "Yeah, a little here too, but they're fun," I say. "Well, you're doing great," she says. "You too," I say — "your first time at this event?" "My first time riding on trails." "Right on! Makaela! You rock!" We ride a bit. "By the way," she says, "did you know you're bleeding?" Pedal bite. "I'm not surprised," I say. "Is it gushing?" "No," she says, "it makes you look tough." "I like you, Makaela," I say. "Yup," she says, "We're going to get along fine."

I walked the bit of the trail that I learned later had been re-routed and made more technical. I kept getting back on the bike, then off again. Funny. If I slow down to a walk in a running race, I am always a little pissed off. But walking the bike just seemed like a good decision. Ride within my skill level. Which to date was zero, so hey. Then I realized I was losing my nerve, partly because I was tired and didn't trust my reflexes. "GET BACK ON THE BIKE," yells my IAK. "IT'S MORE FUN THERE."

And it was. I think my favorite moment of the entire ride was when my wheel hit a root and the bike skidded out sideways underneath me. No thinking except for "I'm not going down." And moved my weight and jammed down on a pedal and went back up. Crazy.

Second favorite moment: the moment that mountain biking moved from the "Can I?" to the "Oh yeah, doing this" category in the brain, when I knew I was going to finish, and started getting framed in mentally for the second run. Exactly then Zoolander went the other direction on the upper trail, on his second run, and yelled out some encouragement. Because that's what he does. Given my experience yesterday, that is what a lot of MTBers do. But if there were an expert level in yelling stuff at people, ZL would be it.
There's at least one, I heard two, guys on unicycles, with their funky wiggly back and forthing. Nobody in front of us, nobody behind us. "Let me know when you want to pass," the guy says. "Sure," I say, "You're looking great!" The guy laughs and promptly bites it, throwing knobby uni-tire toward my wheel. Evasive maneuvers occur without thinking. I'm not going down.

The second run was harsh. I came in off the bike and passed Susie, who had finished her race. She and Rob followed me to my transition spot and started chiming in with critical advice #3: "Hydrate! Hydrate!" They were very insistent. Wow, I must look really rough, I thought. My legs felt ok — since the ride was an exploratory effort, not knowing what was around any given corner, or whether I was going to overload my capacity and wipe out on any given corner, I hadn't exactly hammered my legs on the bike. Tradeoff: you can work a lot harder and get done faster; you can lighten up but then have to endure longer.

I downed a huge drink, another, poured water over my head, did my best attempt at popping jauntily to my feet. "Do you have water to carry with you?" says Susie. So, maybe not as jaunty as I hoped.

A lot of people seem to have had trouble with that run. I mean, come on. We've all been running in 20-40 degree temps for months on end. Suddenly it's 80? Seriously? I was beyond thankful that the first part of that run went through the shady woods. The part later, on the levee, was like a heat mirage, with the little heat waves radiating up from the white gravel.
A voice floats down from the levee. "WOOOO! Lookin' good! We did it!" I use up some juice: "ALL RIGHT MAKAELA! AWESOME!" I am novice level at yelling stuff at people but hey, am all in.

The heat is a sapping force. I walk up some little hills. And when I get to the levee, I walk a lot. As did a bunch of other people, come to find out. "Oh, this is awful," I say, hoping my IAK will jump up and down.

But even my IAK is no match for the relentless blazing sun. It's APRIL, for cripes sake, it's usually still freezing now. My IAK yells at me to run and I do. On the grassy stretch coming into the finish, my legs go wobbly and my gut goes crampy. "Dammit," I say. I slow way down one last time. I am pretty sure I hear ZL (second in his age group, fourth overall on the bike) at the finish yelling at me to RUN. "Thank God," says my IAK, "I am busted. Listen to that guy."

They were packing up some of the chip mats when I came in. For those of you who care about such things, I finished 96th out of 104. Last in my age group. But first among all the Ann Pais who did the race. Since there were only two people in my age group, I still got a medal and stood on the podium. Which is very cool and hilarious.

And then, not least of the day, tossed back in short order a couple of Copperhead Ales at Free State Brewery, amidst an excellent company of racers, riders, and friends.

Lots of people had great races — ZL, Susie, Seth, Tim-L — and everybody had a fantastic time, except for hating the Sahara Levee I guess. I don't know how anybody could call that a fantastic time.

Race day! If it gets better than this, point me that direction. I'll do what I have to getting there.


Zoolander said...

Damn impressive. It does not get better than that. Different maybe, not better.

Karen said...

Go Ann! I keep wondering though, those aren't your legs in the header picture, right?

Ann Pai said...

Yeah, those are my legs, circa 2008, and that is my shadow. Hey, those are the same socks I was wearing yesterday!

poMotexan said...

Damn, girl, you can really write well.

Ann Pai said...

Thanks, poMo. Tell your friends.

Troy said...

"Since there were only two people in my age group, I still got a medal and stood on the podium."

Remember, there's a lot of people in your age group. They just aren't doing anything but sitting on their butts.