2011 Race 7: KC Cup

Last Thursday, it wasn't even in my head that I would do a mountain bike race on Sunday. I'm nowhere near ready, I would have said. I'm still a pedal-dropping, rock-dyslexic greenhorn half glued to my saddle, braking in the middle of tight turns.

Yet there I was Sunday. Nowhere I'd rather be. At Landahl, in a light drizzle, pre-riding. You know how people say the important thing is that you finished? Sometimes the important thing is that you start.

Gearing up, signing my name on the registration, ignoring the rain, lining up alone in the crowd — feeling the cold pump of adrenaline on my spine and in my belly, knowing beyond doubt that I'd lay out whatever I had in me, without panic — at the back of the pack, foot clipped into my right pedal, itching to race, to find out — I felt like I'd already won a big trophy. I could keep it where my fear used to be. Ha!

The horn sounded! The race started! I accidentally unclipped, couldn't clip back in, and the field rode away. "Glorious start!" I yelled to the race officials, and they laughed, and I caught up with the field at the slippery climb, where the other Cat 3/beginner racers were hiking their bikes up.

A big guy and I played tag most of the way around the first 5-mile loop, vying for last place. We were walking over the same slick rocks. I'd catch him when he'd stop; he'd ride away while I was off the bike. Most of the course was flat, fast, and flowing, with early visibility of rocky bits: wheeeeeeee! I rode happy and in harder gears. I passed the big guy in the long grassy uphill; he caught me and was on my wheel soon after we re-entered the singletrack.

Turns out, having someone on my wheel pushes me to go harder and take more chances than trying to catch someone does. I cut a slick corner with a late apex, hit a root, and flipped my bike, falling over the bars. My first endo! Excellent; so that's what that feels like when you don't break a collarbone! OK then. Back up and on the bike, no chance to catch the big guy this time. See ya, big guy.

Finished the first loop in 32 minutes, not great compared to the field but thrilling given my experience. Had a blast riding down the gravelly, grassy, uneven hill with a couple of ledges that the course marshals warned was dangerous. DFL didn't bother me; I was so happy to see myself doing way better than simply surviving, and I was looking forward to lap 2, where I could let go on the fast sections.

I had just passed the last bit of rock and climb at the beginning and I heard another first: BLLLLLLPffffffffffff. Great. My first MTB flat. Rear wheel, too, so this was going to take me for freaking ever. Bike flipped. Wheel off. Tire off. Tube out. New tube in. Fumbling with new frame pump. Pumping, pumping, pumping for ever and ever. Wheel back on and locked in. Bike flipped. Crap! Crap! The chain is twisted, what the hell did I do? Bike flipped. Wheel off. Wheel on. More air. Pump. Pump. All the while, marathon racers and cat 1/2s who are warming up call out, "You OK, hon? You got everything you need? You got a tube? You got air?" And cheering me on as they race their races. That is what happens in a mountain bike race. You are standing in tick-infested poison plants, you are smeared with dirt from collar to ankle from your endo, you are fixing your bike, and your fellow racers let you know: you may be alone, but you are not friendless.

Back on the bike! Awesome! Let's see what kind of time I can make! BLLLLLLLLPfffffff. That's what kind. I hadn't put enough air in that tube. Pinch flat. I didn't have a second tube. My tribe now said helpful things like, "You should go tubeless!" as they raced by. Sigh. OK. I will trudge out, my shoes turning to muddy sleds. My race is over. Or is it?

I remembered Draper, and how defeated I felt at my DNF. I had vowed it would take a whole lot more for me to give up, ever again. I had spent some time thinking ways I could have got myself to the finish. There was a way to do this with glory, even if it wasn't pretty.

I stripped my shoes and velcroed them to the bike. I took off my socks. And started to run. I pushed the Dragonfly, loving how light it was; I used it to lean aggressively and speed myself up. I ran for all I was worth. I ran three and a half miles. I ran barefoot up the grassy hill, over the rocks, through the gravel, down the dangerous slope, put a splinter in my foot I wouldn't feel for hours, and threw myself madly at the finishing sprint. My time: 1:59. Sub two! Sub two! I win! I win! I was more than an hour behind the woman who came in first.

But there were only two of us in the class. So I came in second, stood on the podium, and though I lost my socks (the marathoners and cat 1s later told me I'd lost them on the trail, where they were a visible race feature), I got a really cool pint glass to take home.

Today's tune:
Post race endorphin mellowed awesomeness.