But then it starts. I can’t even take off fast enough to stay with these girls. The instant speed is unbelievable. It’s almost immediate I find myself at the back of the pack. O my god, what?!
Nothing like a DNF and a DNS all in the same day…
I hate that I’m about to tell another sad story here. I need some background music..Where’s my violin, please? 🙂
I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. Am I over-trained? Am I tired? Has my head been hovering in the clouds for so long that now I’m buried so far below the sand I can’t breathe? Maybe. I need to re-find my focus…and fast. Or maybe that’s the problem and I need to slow down and smell the poppies for a few minutes. Tomorrow might be a good day for that in the spring blossoms and rebirth of the McDowell mountains.
But this is today’s story and tomorrow’s is for another day.
Bonelli Park. Pro XCT. My very first experience here. This is a big show. This is the day I get to line up at the start with an Olympian (Olympian!) and many other worthy mentionables from the US and beyond. Its a bigger production of a race as I’ve ever been in. I get a call up to the line, making my Oro Valley proud. In the 3rd row, I stand over my bike with nerves made of toilet paper about to be soaked with sweat and fall apart and a resting heart rate of 130! I shouldn’t be so nervous, this is what I do, I’ve trained for this; but I don’t feel good about my riding lately. I’m as equally excited! To be where I am at this exact moment. Regardless of the end results, I am standing amongst some of the fastest women mountain bikers in the world and I am about to race with them. Most will never even have that chance.
(Now, let me back track just a little). Kevin, Kata Skaggs and I have made the road trip to San Dimas Friday to race Bonelli and than book it back to make the Fat Tire 40 marathon race in Fountain Hills on Sunday. In over my head? Yes; but not because I’m racing 2 days in a row, over 400 miles apart. Or because I’m missing the TT for start times the next day. So here I am, in this very spot the day before my first Pro XCT race, to pre-ride the course. It didn’t go exactly as I would have liked, this may be forecasting what is to come. And little did I know, I was probably already mentally dictating how I would race the next day. I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d heard tales and tips from others, but does any of that really exist without the actual experience of it? Hmm..there’s something to ponder. What I find is steep short sprint hills with steep loose sandy descents…lots of them, albeit with beautiful views that I’m happy to get a look at today. The entire course is off-camber and filled with thick silty sand. There is no flat, purely straight up or straight down. I can’t fathom how I will ever get 5 laps done on this. Oh yea, 5 plus a start lap. The first time round I can’t even ride everything. My head is still stuck in the dirt at Estrella. My usual ease in climbing is missing and I’m little-ringing every hill. This is not good. We take a break before making a second shot at it. This time I ride everything and feel a bit better about things, but still somewhat edgy and I’m having a difficult time staying positive. I’m hoping the adrenaline of race day will power me thru it all as in the past.
(Back in the start lap). I can’t believe how I feel. I can’t get my legs to turn over any faster and I’m already a fair amount behind before the first climb on lap 1 and by the top of that first hill, I feel I’m finding myself DFL. I play cat and mouse for a short while with 2 girls, but then on the last drop down onto a double track, I skid out and slide off the bike, now having to run to the top of the hill. This sucks. I try to pick up some speed thru the grass and the lap-thru and start it all over again. Hitting the first mother-bitch climb again, I can’t even breathe by the top. Why can I not climb today? I can’t even talk my legs into doing anything more. And that’s when I quit talking. Mentally I check out, secretly hoping I get lapped. I ride into the lap-thru a 2nd time as if I’m on a Sunday ride, deep down inside I’m crying. How have I let this get the best of me? How have I let one bad race take away from something I love so much? Because it’s not one bad race, it’s now 2 and some poor training in between. Doesn’t matter. I hear a fellow racer yell out “You’re faster than this, Beth, I know you are! Come on!” That’s right. I am going to finish this and I don’t want to be lapped or pulled from the course. (‘If you’re miserable, remember you chose to do this race and you can push yourself thru it, reap the rewards, feel the satisfaction and then want to do it again.’) I keep going, gaining some mental strength; but I still can’t get my legs to cooperate and the caution I take on the descents is childish. There are so many spectators here. Really its pretty awesome to see so many on the course cheering and ringing their cow bells. They all continue to shout out encouragement as I ride past and I’m grateful for it..I just wish it would help. I’m already embarrassed to be where I am in the scheme of things and the more people that call out to me are the more people seeing me fail. Kevin is at the top of every lap. I’m so happy to see him each time as I continue to fall further behind. I come thru my 3rd lap finally feeling like I can actually finish this race, even if it is dead fucking last. I can still do this. I want to do this. Then I hear her. The race marshal calls out that I need to leave the course here. I say to her, I didn’t get lapped. It’s the 80% rule. There are real rules here. Things that make or break you and I’m not the known name to ask for any leeway. I say I don’t know what that means. I’ve never done a race with such rules and I’ve certainly never been far enough to the back for them to matter. I am heart-broken. I ask if I can finish my lap, she says yes and I roll thru it and keep going directly to the car with tears in my eyes. I sit by myself, head in hands in despair, afraid I have embarressed myself, my shop and my sponsors. Did I set myself up to fail before I ever set foot at the starting line? Something I have given much thought to…Stop feeling sorry for yourself, girl. Go out there and cheer on the women who can finish this. Your friend is still out there and needs your support. So I get back on my bike and try to be invisible as I ride down to the course to cheer Kata and the others on thru the final lap.
It’s over. There’s cheers & happiness amongst the winners & finishers. Sadly, I just want to get in the car and leave it all behind; move on. I am happy for Kata, she did really great and she had the mental and physical ability today to finish what I couldn’t. She’s a strong rider and I’m really proud of her. I think it’s awesome that Chloe Woodruff got on the podium (and later won the Super D and Short Track). And in the end, I didn’t finish last, I wasn’t the first to be pulled off the course and I see that this is a whole new world of racing and will be the wiser for it.
We drive back to Phoenix, not to relax and rest; but get ready to race again tomorrow. We chat and sleep in the car, I teach Kata the usefulness of the 7-11 microwave and it’s all good. I still feel sad and hide away my face a few times, but no longer. I was there and I tried and I will go back to do it again. I’m not a quitter, it’s not my style (quitting feels like shit, and yes, I have been there, too); so I will go to Fontana and I will pull up in line at the next Pro XCT with the Olympians and I will handle it better..regardless if I’m DF, but I won’t be. I will keep positive and calm my fears before I pull up to the start line.