My first thoughts when I crossed the finish line on some gigantic, hardly can reach the flat pedals bike, that wasn't mine, was I can't believe I failed myself. I wanted to curl up into a ball and burst into tears, out of shame, embaressment, hard work gone to sh*t, and a lot of pain. My fitness, climbing skills, and uphill techinal riding skills absoutely do not match my decending skills. When I decend, fear and paranoia takes over, I visual myself crashing, flying over my handlebars, braking bones, being in a lot of pain. This really isn't the visualization you want while mountain biking. When I look at something that I don't have the confidence to go down, I freak out and unclip instead of trying to ride it. I hate it, I absolutely hate it. I want to have the confidence to ride everything, and ride it smoothly, but I am so scared sometimes!!
This last Saturday I took a day trip to Squamish, BC to race the Test of Metal, a 42 mile mountain bike 800 + person , mass start race. My Friend Logan W. was able to get me an entry to the race a few weeks ago, so I was really lucky to be able to race this event since it sold out in a record breaking 23 minutes in January. I have heard great things about the trails in Squamish so I was really looking forward to racing there. Since Squamish is so close to Whistler I figured some of the trails had to be pretty technical (technical is an understatement for one trail in particular).
My goal: 3 hours and 30 minutes
So I lined myself up at the back of the estimated finish time of 3.25 hours to 3.5 hours. The start of the race was a couple miles up hill on pavement through neighborhoods. The spectators were phenominal, the energy and cheering coming from the crowd was so incredible I couldn't help but smile. I knew that I wanted to get past as many people as I could on this section before the start of the single track, but also didn't want to go all out at the start of the race. Now imagine 800 mountain bikers riding through your neighborhood, the swarm of people and bobbing heads seemed unreal. My favorite part about this section of the race was how these people do not know how to rider next to others, I had people riding in to me, cutting me off, turning into me around corners, it was some what funny. Once in the single track it was a congo line (for a lack of a better term) of bikers, wheel to wheel riding through these trails, I saw a lot of people off to the side with flat tires (it was only the beginning), the trail at this section was very rocky.
I knew that I couldn't push myself to the limit or I was going to burn out, so I had to hold a steady pace where my legs and lungs where not burning. I kept telling myself this is not a cyclo-cross race, this is not a short mountain bike race, ride smooth and remain calm. Push yourself, but do not over do it. This tactic was working great for me, I was having an awesome race, my legs felt great, I was passing people on the flats and the climbs, I was having a blast! At one point there was a downhil section that was really swoopy, switch back, somewhat technical downhill with multiple people cheering and ringing cowbells. When I say multiple, imagine you're favorite walking, jogging, biking trail and the outside of it lined with people the whole way cheering for you. This race wasn't just a race, it was an experience of a lifetime. Around mile 20 there is this hill called "Bonk Hill" its approx. 9 miles long. I love hills and I knew what I needed to do. In my head I kept telling myself "slow and steady wins the race, hold a pace you know you can hold and stay at that pace, stay at that cadence, do not worry about the people around you because this is your race". Along the climb I passed some guy who said "wow you are doing awesome, keep it up" so I turned to him and I replied "this is so much fun!!" he looked at me with a serious face and asked "are you retarded?" As I pedaled by him I replied with a "if this wasn't fun you would not be here" his response "I am starting to question why I am here" that was the last of our conversation.
Once at the top someone informed me I was the 9th female, not too shabby, I was stoked. The women who I was riding with on the last uphill section informed me that coming up was a 30 minute downhill section and then about 30 more minutes to the finish. I looked at my watch and the elapsed time of the race was 2 hours and 25 minutes. In my head I thought "hell ya!!! Under 3.5 hours!" I was having an awesome race, really the race of a lifetime for me. I began to decend down this long straight really really really loose rocky section. Did I mention it was rocky? I passed quite a few people with flat tires, then my fate hit me, my rear tire was flat. I pulled over and calmed myself down "flats happen" fix it as fast of you can. I pulled my tube off the back of my bike and pulled out my CO2, fixed the flat, and looked down at my watch. It took me about 7 minutes to fix. I got back on my bike and wanted to make up some lost time, so I pushed it hard. A little too hard and crash #1 happened. I was okay.
The following single track downhill was epically hard for me. I kept hearing about "The Plunge" and how it was a technical downhill decent, with tight switchbacks and rocky drops. Now wait..combine the two, a tight switchback with a rocky drop in the middle of it, and ta-dah you have "The Plunge". Apparently to the locals this trail isn't technical...to me..it was. Did I forget to mention it poured all night and into the morning until about 10am so the trails were freshly groomed with a layer of slime? This made "The Plunge" even more scary and technical. Some sections I walked, some sections I rode. I was riding a lot of scary stuff thinking in my head "holy crap, oh f***, s***, I can't believe I am riding this". When I didn't feel comfortable, I walked it. One section I decided to try, this particular switchback had a photographer AND spectators cheering, probably about 10. The spectators cheered "yaaa you got it girl" and it was almost instantaneous that I flipped head over my handlebars, landed with my feet up in the air and caught my bike with one hand above my head. The guy behind me proceeded to ride the drop/steep rocky decent thingy into the switchback and rode his rear wheel right into my head. Thank goodness for helmets. It actually didn't hurt at all, so I asked the spectators if it looked good at least, and the photographer said he took lots of pictures. I love crash photos.
Courtenay's Crash Series
I am about 20 photos in...watch me crash, and no it didn't hurt.
After that section I was pretty mentally wiped, the ground was really slick, and I lost focus. Crash #3, this one probably hurt the most, and it caused my inner thigh to cramp, like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. It was so strange, when I went through the first feed zone again for the last bit of single track my inner thigh was popping out of my leg, it looked as if it curled up into a small ball and was trying to jump out of my shorts...it was weird. I drank some of my nuun, and it was within 10 seconds of one sip that the cramping stopped and it didn't bother me again. So I pedaled my way through the last bit of single track, still hoping to make it to the finish in 3.5 hours.
I make it to the pavement, down some gravel paths, over a large rock structure, and then I feel it, and I hear it, and I have no air in my back tire. My first thoughts "YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!!" It was true, 2nd flat of day. At the start of a race I never hope to flat, but I bring 1 tube with me just in case a flat happens. The chance of flatting a 2nd time, I hope it doesn't happen. Why would that happen? Just bad luck I suppose, I was about 1.5 miles from the finish line, and gosh darn it I was going to finish the race. So, I held onto the stem of my bike with my right hand and started running and watched as many many many riders passed me. This was the most devastating part of the race, I had to tell myself it was going to be okay, and stop myself from going into a complete panic attack. When I played soccer in High School and anything bad happened I would have a panic attack, and wouldn't be able to breathe. I was seconds away from that happening to me as I was running down the path. The comments and positive reinforcement coming from the racers was unlike anything I would experience at any other race. I ran for about 10-15ish minutes and was 200m to the finish when I hear a guy say "Hey you want my bike?" so this young guy gives me his HUGE bike, lowers the seat, and says "I will meet you at the finish line". I hop on, can hardly reach the pedals, I certainly can't reach the brake levers, and stroll on thru to the finish line, before I burst into tears from frustration.
I have never flatted in a race before, so I suppose it was my time, and hey why not flat twice? I was recommended to go Tubeless, so I think this week I am going to head to a bike shop and pick up some Stans NoTubes, and forgo the tubes.
I ended up finishing the race in 3 hours and 41 minutes, which was first in my age group and 242 overall. I know everyone says "wow first place that's great", but I don't care about my placement, I don't care if I was last or middle of the group. I care about how the race went for me, how did I do, how did I feel, what went right, what went wrong. What did I hit incorrectly that caused me to flat twice? Why can't I decend? I was planning on racing the Gearjammer in July before Chris and I head to my beach house, but I think I want to pass on that race and work on my decending skills before I race in BC again.
For first place I won a free entry for next year and a couple of other things. I will be back next year to the race, hoping to conquer my time, fears, and frustration.
Here are a couple of links to some pictures, unfortunatly they are copywrighted (and I can't spell) so I cannot get them. :-)
http://www.double-shutter.com/tom2011-race.htm (I'm on page 8)
http://www.double-shutter.com/tom2011-finish.htm (page 29, me on my new bike)
http://www.double-shutter.com/tom2011-faces.htm (Whitney and I page 7)