Sunday, March 18, 2012

US Cup East SERC at Haile's Trail

First race as a Sport contender and I placed 3rd. Not bad at all...

Those trails were on my mind for the longest time. I dreamed for more than a year to get there and bike. This park is little special, since it is on the private land and opens only for two events per year. Last time one of the FSC series took place there and I wanted to go there so badly but my super-fast race bike was not ready yet. So I had to wait. I watched some videos and knew that the trails are located on the old rock quarry site and there are a lot of huge hills and elevation changes, something we are not used to in South Florida. I remember watching people pushing their bikes up the hill and thought to myself, it is probably not that bad; I will be able to do it. Well we got there; finally, after months of waiting, the dream destination with the unknown was waiting to be discovered.

Park is located slightly away from civilization but the moment we arrived there, the grassy parking lot was full of buzz and high energy. Tons of people were pre-riding the course already and ocean of tents set up by different teams and vendors were filling the space. There was a specialized demo day and a bounce house for the kiddos.We changed to our biking clothes, grabbed the bikes and headed off to the trails. My team mate Jen told me that looks like the course is set up the opposite way to what it was last time. Meaning that the toughest section that was left for last was first now. So the moment we started biking and made the first right turn still on the grass the path took us to the first climb. Climb changed to sudden technical downhill section than to the next climb which leads us to the next mountain with even more demanding terrain. We climbed to the top and started heading down when I stopped and just said “Is it a joke?”, “Are we really going to ride it in the race?” This section was not only challenging with very long and steep ascends but also with very technical with fast descents. After that we headed to the third hill with even more advanced climbs and descents. Everyone was huffing and puffing and this was only the start and just a pre-ride! Finally the trail opened up and we hit the brakes hard to take a look at the scenery.

Whooo, look at that! There was a huge giant hole in the ground with the most beautiful lake far far down and a cliff just feet away from us. This was the next section that we had to bike on the rugged ridge of the quarry. Sweet. The ride was good that day and very exhausting. Things got little better there on the trails later on but was still full of surprises. This course was very taxing and my knee that was still not completely recovered from last week’s triathlon told me about it very quickly. I was all in pain, it was sharp and very intense, and at some point I could not put any pressure on my foot at all.

I wondered now how I was going to handle the race. My knee was shot. But I rode because I knew I had to. I didn’t come here so far to just give up. I even did a second lap and while trying to clear one rocky section I jammed the hurting knee straight in the face of a rock! It didn’t make it any better as you can imagine. But the second lap for some reason was easier, when my mind and body were equally warmed up. All I needed to be done now is to wait for tomorrow, wait for the race. Conditions were little sandy on the course and it made it little sketchy on the tough parts. But in the evening we had nice little rain and this helped with firming up the trails.

 So far I was calm and had no worries besides the condition of my knee and the first section of the course. We arrived early, very early on the Race day and everything was covered in dew. I headed up quickly on the course to warm up and started with the rocky section first and then aimed for the climbs. It was not that bad today, trails were now hard pack but still slightly wet and mud was building up on the tires. We waited for the start. My knee was not great today and it was my biggest concern for the day. My husband told me that if I need to stop because of it, it is OK, as long as I do my best. Last second before rushing to the start line I decided to tape up my knee with huge ugly band aid. Who cares how it looks like as long as it is going to help me keep my knee together.

I stood there with the rest of the girls when I spotted Duffy on the other site of the start line. I went to her and we both admitted how stupid it was for us to feel so terribly nervous at this moment while we really should not have much expectations from this race, since it was first time when we were riding with the big boys and big girls in the Sport Class. We didn’t know how we would handle the distance and how good the competition was. I didn’t know if the girls will fly by on the big climbs or they will struggle on them. All of it was one big question mark, but still the butterflies in the stomach were flying around full speed. “10 second left”, the race director announced. Oh the pain and the pressure. Few more seconds and the gun goes off and we go!

I stood up and cranked the pedals, settled little later to a nice fast pace and could hear only one girl on the left of me. Oh, I was in the lead from the start, but the girl passed me and then two more when I noticed the big hills coming up and decided to buck off a little to make sure I have energy for all the climbs. I cleared the first climb section and headed to the next one, here Duffy showed up on my left and just went by, I said “Go Duffy” since she is such a strong rider. I didn’t want to interfere that day with anybody’s ride and just see what I can do for myself. Everything was brutal and I noticed that some girls didn’t handle the terrain any better than I did, but one of them decided to pass me quick and the moment it happened I was stuck behind her wheel on the edge of the cliff. This was the section that I know I can clear nicely but the girl in front was taking her time. I wanted to pass her back but there was no space to do so.

While riding behind her wheel in between sharp rocks there was a very small alternative line to take. I decided to take it and was about to pop my wheel up and climb the rock when the girl arrived there exactly at the same time that I did. I hit my brakes and let her go. Now I was regretting that I gave all of those girls so much credit and decided to go for it. Finally I passed her in the forest and was keeping a pretty good pace. There were some other monster hills coming up in the middle section of the course and I was about to reach one. I made it almost to the top and there was another girl right there in front of me. I made a quick pass and zoomed down the trail. Some flat tiring section took us to the top of another quarry, this time we had to ride all the way down the rocky path and tape in the middle was dividing me from people climbing back up. I could see there who was ahead and how far. The climb was grueling and seemed never ending and it took us to the forest again where more hills were waiting for us.

 I cleared most of them but the further you got and with each passing lap they were getting more and more difficult. When coming out from the second lap I had girl in front of me in the feeding zone, she was taking her time and it was a good opportunity to make a pass. With Clif gel hanging out of my mouth I crossed the finish of the second lap and headed off for the final lap. In the first climb section it is also where I was able to catch up with another girl on the second lap and pass her on the top of the hill. When making one of the steepest climbs there I had to scream and give all energy I had to make it to the top. And I did and there was a group of people standing there and cheering you on during your struggle. Third lap felt pretty grueling especially in the hills and the quarries. The second quarry decent that was ending with a big gulp sandy drop on the bottom was just a misery when you got to climb it back. I could not think to myself any longer how much more there is ahead that will require high effort, it was to painful to even think about it. So I just took one section at the time and focuses on each and single task at hand. It was right here and right now that mattered and nothing else. I made the climb and got back to the forest to get to more climbs. I made them, but there is one, some three stories high assent covered in sand and tree roots. I got off my bike and walked, I walked the most painful walk of my life. All I could see in my head was the world champion Conrad Stoltz and him walking the bike during the world championships in Hawaii. If he can do it and go through the pain and fatigue like that than I can to. My legs were burning and felt like noodles and my heart was pounding like crazy. The sun was already high up and was just burning my exhausted body. I was almost at the top. I told myself than a lot of people would love to just collapse here and rest, but I knew that no matter how bad it feels right now I will be able to recover when I reach the downhill section. So with a shivering body from the exhaustion I mounted the bike and headed down. It took some time but it felt better eventually. I started cranking up and going harder since I knew it was the last lap. It was not easy and the moment I could see and hear sounds of the finish line through the trees I was in a happy place. I jetted to the finished with my hand high up when race director announced my name and that I was finishing my first race in the sport class.

I got third today and Duffy second who was already there waiting on the finish line to congratulate me. She was 4 minutes faster than me, she did awesome, and we both did. There was only one more girl in the second spot that was really faster than us, because the first place girl was a competitor from the higher Expert class that dropped down to our category. If not for her I would have a spot on this beautiful podium that day. And it was a very beautiful one in a great forest setting. Would love to be there and I was so close. I think we did both better than we expected and will know for the next time to fight even harder and don’t give too much credit to our competition. There is a lot of hard work involved in mountain bike racing and a lot of it will have to be put on once more to get to the level when no matter who shows up on the starting like you can feel good that you can ride faster than them. And I need to thank my swollen tortured knee for making it happen for me today and allowing me to finish the race. Thank my husband for being there for me no matter what is being thrown at as. And for those awesome friends and teammates that make this whole experience so much more enjoyable and worthwhile. This is a dream come true to be a part of such an experience.

And of course it was all about the socks! They make us cool and they make us FAST!

No comments:

Post a Comment