You can call it "Hell on Earth" with all the heat and monster loose climbs we all encountered on this tough course. But somehow the pain was tolerable, distance manageable, and I was in agreement with my 4th place finish among exceptionally fast Pro/Expert Ladies.
On Saturday my husband and I arrived at the Hardrock Cycle Park in Ocala. It will be first race for me this FSC season and also fist time for me and most of the riders on this unknown terrain; except maybe a few seasoned bikers who raced here before over a decade ago.
Just to make things clear, it is no longer a mountain biking park but a motorcycle and jeep paradise. The moment we pulled to the overcrowded, dusty and hot parking lot it was obvious things were going to be tough out there.
In an instant the monster dirt bike hills stood up in front of us like some type of fata morgana.
The place was packed, busy, noisy, dry dust and fumes of motorcycles gas filled the air. Mountain bikers in line like a marching ant colony kept going up and down on the exposed dirt track with monster jumps in it. What we saw there however was just scraping the surface.
I become amazed of how many people showed up to the race, they were present in hundreds. I guess I didn’t race with a Florida crowd for a while now. Crazy how many people here love, live and race bikes. All different levels and ages, focused and ready with only one goal in mind, to put themselves to the challenge and have an awesome race… Seeing lots of people that I didn’t see for a while was nice and refreshing. Very different of an environment from my triathlon race scene, I would say little more serious and intense. But I liked it.
Here is the cute hotel we stayed at.
From the start line you have only thirty meters of sandy and grassy terrain before you hit the first climb. From there on you are rolling up and down, loose and gravely quarry mountains until you get to what seems like freshly cut or trimmed single track. It was soft and mushy feeling; therefore it was not fast, consisted of small obstacles in forms of roots and rots and a few rocks here and there. Nothing major however and mostly flat. It started to get more technical with passing miles until we started to reach bigger and steeper hills and downs along the way. Some of them required great finesse and a strong mind, where often you have to stay committed in order to make it through. There were a few tough, very tough climbs which most of the racers would not be able to bike up or at least not at all times. They were steep, tall and loose at the same time. When your front wheel starts coming up it’s not the best feeling out there one could have. And then there was a drop, first one steep and narrow, pretty well padded and had a sudden ninety degree right turn on the bottom. Second one which was toward the end of the little under five mile loop had three arrows pointing down a sign that read; “Stop. Decide. Ride or Walk”.
The hill was looooong, with only a narrow path that was smooth enough for biking it safely down, rest consisted of deep clumps of rocks and dry clay. I saw riders’ bikes sliding left and right underneath them from both of the brakes being almost locked up. When you let go however you start accelerating with small chances of being able to slow down again. The catch on the bottom was another ninety degree turn to the left this time and we saw a guy going straight through to the trees instead, since he could not control his speed. After little more of single track, the race course takes out on the big jump area where we are biking exposed to the sun and dirt on the monster hill area. I think it is here where a number of racers, including myself reached speeds of 30 mph and above which was quite cool.
But to be honest I didn’t like the course after I rode it. I found it to be difficult in the energy management aspect and not really flowy. It required a lot of strength and force that I would not say that I am overflowing with in my little body.
On the race morning I was nervous, but only before the race begun. The anticipation of the surly upcoming and long lasting pain is not something that our body takes easily. It knows and it is not happy about it. But we are so stubborn that we override often our own needs in order to accomplish something that we see importance in. Standing on the start line with ladies that I could easily call mountain biking legends was awesome, but at that time I was too stressed to really fully absorb it. It did hit me during the race however when one of them Shelly gave me a complement on my riding and also after wards when I exchanged a few kind words with Carolyn.
I still so clearly remember the moment I saw them both for the first time. It was right after my first bike race ever in Oleta Park in Miami in 2008. I watched the Expert girls flying down the famous Area 51 jump section while looking superhuman to me. I loved what I saw and I could not even entertain the thought that one day I could actually stay on the same line among them and race together… I have a great respect for them for loving the sport so much and to be such great ambassadors of it to the new female riders for such a long time...
And the whistle sounded, and we all jetted to the first climb. I stayed with the lead group as long as I could until I couldn’t see them anymore. They were fast. When I reached the soft flat part of the course something that seemed like 40 male riders wanted to pass at the same time. I got annoyed and was forced to pull to the side while groups of a few dozen riders were zooming by. I was frazzled; I couldn’t ride my own race. But I kept going. I got defeated by only the steepest climbs and only by one lengthy decent. The biggest and longest descend today happened to be slimy wet, it must have drizzled overnight and the soft sand turned to a few top inches of slippery slime. Two guys in front of me started hitting their brakes so hard that I was forced to do same with mine, which caused my wheel to wash out and made me fall in place where no one really would like to fall at all.
During the first lap one of the riders from my class decided to quit the race. On the second lap the well-respected pro girl also quit. Another girl didn’t even start. I must admit that I become more in peace and confident with each passing lap. I think I enjoyed the most the second and third laps. Since however most of the classes were ending their race on lap three only experts were left on the course and they were all men besides some of us girls. This made the fourth lap quite abandoned in feeling, therefore little difficult to ride motivation wise. I was quite amazed and happy with my very consistent lap times, which were 29, 29, 28, 29 but really all were within seconds apart. I think it is a good sign.
My husband, who was all set and ready to take some new awesome pictures of my torture mecca, totally busted his tire after getting big air on one of the super jumps. Therefore he spent my first two laps working on his bike and never got it fixed. I really wanted him to get some of this action on the camera, but it was not the day for it. So the pictures we have are those from the top of the mountain of the front of the exposed track.
In essence, in between all this pain, heat, dust, wind in the hair and misery I tried to have a good time also and enjoy the moment. I cracked a few jokes here and there for spectators waiting around for riders to go by. It’s what it is all about, having a great time, celebrating life and pushing the envelope at the same time.
Numerous riders stated that it was the toughest or one of the toughest races in their entire life. And I do agree that it was very difficult; but at the same time between my triathlon racing, mountain bike endurance races and shorter XC races as the one today it’s difficult to say and pick the real winner.
I pretty much know that it is this type of suffering that always is there but somehow so very different each time it happens…