I may have knocked out more “firsts” on this day than any day of my life prior. So, as you read on, keep in mind while I may be describing an experience that is common place for bike racers, I am likely engulfing you in details because it was a magnificently (or repulsively) fresh sensation to this Cat 4 everything.
The first notable feeling was the incredible wave of nerves that washed over me moments before the race, compounding the anxieties I’d been working to brush off in the weeks leading up. I get a taste of it now: uncontrollable shakes and jitters, irresistible urge to stack myself up next to the women (all pros) lined up next to (in front of) me, and billions of thoughts racing across my brain: I should have done the 100K instead, how will I keep up with the pack during the 4 mile gravel grind warm up? Gawd I hope those front tire seals up, why did it have to down pour last night?! do I suddenly need to poop? I recall some wise words from my team mate Elisabeth about turning this “Pre Race Arousal” into something powerful. I try my worst, but still feel like a wacky inflatable tube man on a caffeine overdose.
By some magic, as soon as the siren sounds ery’ single doubt turns to a surge of power and delight. I quickly realized I had a couple of incredibly friendly women in my race, which gave me a boost and left me feeling at home. I got a confidence buzz as I managed to hang on to the lead crew for the entire gravel warm up without feeling exhausted, and then we hit the single track. Pheeew buddy, as a new mountain biker I generally think I’ve got some pretty shnazzy tricks (Thanks to Belmont and Wiss!), but gee there was some tough stuff, and it was all super slick from the aforementioned downpour! Needless to say, I wasn’t the only one to pull some less than graceful stunts leaving me under my bike despite giving conservative risk assessment the ol’ college try.
At around mile 18, one of these lapses in judgment cost me a sprained ankle/twisted knee combo. I was able to breath past the initial shooting pain, but was certain that this would cost me the race. I was livid! This much anticipation, preparation, and excitement and I was going to have to pull out before the end of the 1st lap?! Hell no. I choked back some tears (that would later flow freely) and made myself remount le steed. After a handful more miles of jolting rooty fresh cut single track, my spirits lifted at the sight of a few appropriately placed tacky lawn ornaments leading up to the 2nd aid station. The volunteers (fully decked out in Hawaiian floral button ups and flower garlands) lunged at me with cheers and offers of “WATER? FOOD? HEED?” They made quick work of my request for Ibuprofen and I got back on the trail before I had too much time to think about how stupid and stubborn I was being to push on with an injury with 82 miles to go.
By the end of the 1st (of 3) laps, I had recovered my race face and pushed on starting the second lap feeling strong. The conditions of the trails had improved drastically as the earth and mossy rocks began to dry up, and the terrain began to feel familiar. I made up some time and soon found myself riding alongside a delightful competitor named Jill. We pushed and pulled each other forward for about 12 miles as I learned all about her adventures in endurance racing, organizing all women’s mountain bike races, and her whole family who made the journey with her to New Hampshire to cheer her on.
As I started on my 3rd and final lap, the extent of my mental and emotional depletion revealed itself. I was soaking every ounce of rest and bliss from a long road descent when I noticed an older gentleman out by his mailbox watching the course. As I whizzed by him with a smile, he struck a fully theatrical winding up the clock motion and cheered “GO GET EM”. This encouragement from a complete stranger was enough to bring me to a full on weep that swept a feeling of joy, relief, and determination across my body. As I hopped back in the woods and began picking through the miles of singletrack ahead, I thought, man I’m really losing it!
Soon enough, though, this delirium high turned to a flat low. Now familiar miles seemed to stretch on and on and on, and I could feel myself just crawling along. Physically I just really hit a wall. I was able to keep my focus firmly on the finish line, but with my pace I just wasn’t sure I would make it before the cut off, or before dark! I started to anticipate all the grueling climbs and technical sections I still had to weather in the next 25 miles, and to top it off all the sugary synthetic food I had been ingesting with a devotional persistence came back to me with a nauseous wrath that hung on for days. I told myself I would keep pedaling as long as they would let me.
At my 80 mile aid station I had two heart lifting surprises. First, I dug through my drop bag to find the treasure that was a note of encouragement from a fellow Laser Cat. I still had the words from my last drop bag love note whispering in my ear “Keep casting your spells on these trails,” and the message I found buried under mounts of expunged goo and fortunately extraneous tubes at mile 80 struck a deep chord and had me throwing myself back over the saddle ready to BRING THE PAIN for the final stretch. Second, just as I was remounting and gearing down for the rocky pipeline climb ahead BLAKE RUBIN (whom I was certain had his race stolen from him by a mechanical) rolls up! The remorse I felt for his DNF was swiftly replaced with the joy of NOW I HAVE A RIDING BUDDY! Cue irrational happy weep round 2.
And what a riding buddy Blake was. Having someone else to ride with helped me keep a consistent pace, and our conversation pulled my mind back from the doubt of making the cutoff. When that wasn’t enough to take the edge off my nausea and inflamed ankle, Blake begin to sing songs about Team Laser Cats Feline Allstars, though he may deny/fail to remember this on account of he was also quite delirious.
Though I was welling with pride and relief, rolling up to the finish line at the peak of dusk was honestly anything but climactic. As the leaders had finished at least an hour and half before, the podium and post race meal had already set off, and nearly everyone had packed up and gone home. As I didn’t have the energy for many pleasantries, this suited me just fine. The event director, a warm woman named Randi, gave me her congratulations and informed me that I took 4th place in the women’s open, as apparently only 39/82 100 milers were able to complete the course. So I placed 4/10 womens open race starters, but 4/4 race finishers. I don’t really know what this means except that it was a tough course for everyone, and that this naive kitten is proud to have finished a mountain lion’s race.