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My Seasonal Epitaph

I have seen a great many things this year.  Brand new race venues, results of going gluten free...
Goodbye hip chub!

...and the predictable results of going not-so-gluten free.  
Hello hip chub...

It’s been an extraordinary summer to say the least, chockablock full of sensational highs and sometimes disappointing lows.  However, I am incredibly grateful to my 2014 Sponsors for their support, and am anxiously looking forward to the 2015 season!

I made a pact with myself that I would try new things this year.  I would stop shying away from races that I felt “were kinda far away”.  I would accept invitations to ride with more people and break outside my comfortable and established ride posse.  I would continue to work on my technical ability and truly hone it in.  You see, it’s all part of my grand scheme to get back to expert women level within the next couple years.  I know it is possible, it’s just a matter of training and getting my lungs and hill-climbing legs back.  Oh and that post-baby hip chub.  That needs to go as well.  Granted, that’s easier said than done when you work full-time, have a toddler, and have a husband who is equally addicted to riding and competing.    Time management is huge – and frankly, I suck at it. 

This weekend was St. Cloud.  Typically the finale of the Minnesota series, “The Cloud”, as I call it, is my perfect course.  As an aside, Red Wing was rescheduled to October 19th, but I have a prior commitment and cannot attend.   So this was my series farewell.  The Jail Trail is tight, twisty, and requires some negotiating skill.  I've got skill all day long in that department.  Plus, it’s relatively flat, so it’s quite possibly my dream course come true. 

After the long haul there, I managed to get a pristine parking spot.  As I was getting settled, this super friendly-yet-quiet mountain bike man got out of his truck and greeted me with aplomb.  He had the quietest, most peaceful voice I've ever heard.  I wondered if he might start whispering to his bike.  Then he shook my hand and nearly crushed it.  I decided this man was incredibly confusing to my radar, and slowly started backing away.  In his faint, melodic voice, he told me how his rear tire was losing pressure.  I did the proper racer move of offering a tube and after his gracious denial, we parted ways.  Yeah, that guy ended up doing incredibly well.  Maybe he truly was a bike whisperer? 

Before heading to the line, I pre-rode the course with some of the fiercest Sport ladies Lori Belz and Tina Olson.  Gary Simon, a strong rider in his own right, also came along for the ride.  Along the way, we also gained some random Sport rider who grabbed the back of the line and just seemed happy flying through the trees with us.  I am fairly confident that little pre-ride loosened up my legs and kept me focused.  It also didn't hurt that I finally, FOR ONCE, was able to keep up with the Belz/Olson train.  My confidence was flicked into high gear just in time for the start.

After the short prologue, the lap dove right into pristine singletrack.  I had some serious time on my two direct competitors in my age after the first lap, and started to feel like this was my day.  This was the day I was going to get 1st in my age with a full podium.  This was the day that all those tough girls I race with every weekend finally saw me as real competition.  This was the day I showed them who I used to be and give them a glimpse into who I will become! 

Then I heard something.  I thought I hit something.  Or I thought I something got caught in my wheel.  It’s funny how in that moment, once you hear something grind – you immediately hop off and think of the dollar signs.  “How much are XO derailleurs?  Nah, you’d get XTR because they’re just as good and more affordable.  Man, I just got this chain!  Oh no, Chad’s going to be pissed.  He got me this chain as a romantic present because it was diamond-like coated from KMC. Aww, remember that?  That was such a sweet gesture.  He really loves me.  WAIT! Focus!  Get your chain unjammed.” 

So I futzed with it, realizing that the more I tried to work it, the more it seemed to jam.  

Midway through my epic swear-session, elite racer Ryan Fitzgerald and Comp racer Rob Belz mozied by on their warm-up.  Like true gentlemen, they offered to do what they could to get me back in the race.  Right then, one of the girls I was competing against rode by me.  Of course, she was an absolute sweetheart and asked if I was alright.  Right away in my head, I thought – DANGIT!  It’s going to take some work to catch her.  About a minute later, along came Kelci, my direct competition in the points race for the series.  Without thinking, I shook my fist in the air and shouted “KELCI NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”.  
Kirk felt my pain.

She sort of giggled (she's probably one the cutest racers in the world) and sped on by.  That’s when I knew I was screwed.  Goodbye points race.  Goodbye showing all the ladies I’m fierce.  Goodbye top of the podium.  It was a heartbreaking realization knowing that they’d all finish and I wouldn't.  It was like being invited to the cool kid’s sleepover party, peeing your pants and having to have your parents come pick you up in the middle of the night because you just couldn't handle it.  I was absolutely gutted.

After that moment, I was pretty sure my race day was done.  However, I have a no DNF rule with very minimal exceptions. I've only DNF’d four races in the 5 years I've been racing.  In my opinion, that’s four too many.  I was told after my concussion at Red Wing in 2011 that I demanded to finish the race as long as Chad promised to clear up the velociraptors I saw in the field section.  Needless to say, I do not like to quit. 

Ryan, in his attempt to get going again on his pre-ride, patted my shoulder sympathetically and left me with these immortal words:  “I once ran 5 miles to finish the Ore to Shore ya know”.  Well, crap.  What am I supposed to do with that information?  If I start walking out of the course to the finish (which was 500 ft. away) – people would understand of course, but there would be this giant failure over my head for my last race of the season.  I’d have to drive home all teary-eyed and explain how I just didn't finish.  I’d be forever haunted by “Ryan ran 5 miles to finish!” 

So, Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Belz pedaled on, and I kicked a rock pretty dang hard…just so the world knew I was mad.  Then, I loosened up my middle Velcro on my shoes, and started running. 

I was about six miles from the finish, give or take a few hundred yards.  Granted, there was a fair amount of walking; as my inner depression would run rampant and I would just sort of push my bike in protest and disgust.  Every time a marathon racer would pass me, they’d ask if I was okay and I’d mumble “it’s just the bike”.  Tear.  Sniffle.  Anger. 

My favorite comp racer, (I call him Lifetime Guy, because I know he wears a Lifetime jersey but I can never remember his name), asked what I was doing as he passed me on his warm-up.  “I’m finishing!” I said, like a snotty eleven year-old.  “You've got a long ways to go, kiddo!” he shouted back. 

All in all, I approached the finish line just as they were announcing elite call-ups.  My feet were in so much pain that I could barely hobble.  The blisters on my ankles from my stiff shoes had ripped open and were bleeding.  (Next year, I won’t be getting white shoes).  I had also stumbled into some sort of sticker bush when I hopped out of the way for a passing racer.  Those stickers had dug themselves into my shorts and created friction blisters on the tops of my quads on both legs.  My no-DNF mantra was upheld for one more day, but at what cost?  I was all bloody like a True Blood extra.

But at the end of the day, it was a race story worth telling.  That’s why we all do this crazy silent sport business, isn't it?   Of course, there’s the fitness and the nature and all that jazz.  But really, we all love telling our adventure stories.  We love captivating someone momentarily with our brevity, our determination, and our passion.  We ride to feel alive. 

There are still plenty of fun races ahead for the fall, but St. Cloud marks the completion of my required competition for my sponsorships, so I tend to see it as the completion of the season.  2nd in my age for the entire season isn't a terrible way to end the year, so I feel pretty content.  How is your XC season winding up? Or are you one of those hybrid hummingbirds with the 180 bpm heart rate out there ripping it up as a CX racer all autumn long?  Or are you begging for snow?  Regardless, keep calm and pedal on.

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