Monday, May 4, 2015

USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships - Columbia County, GA

USA Cycling Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships

2nd Place AG, Top 5 Overall

Beata Wronska - 05:47:57.021   
This is official time with the extra miles included, in reality it should be around 05:26 or better.

After a long battle and having the lead for almost a full 46 miles, getting lost, riding an extra 8 miles and adding to my time over 20 minutes and a bunch of exhaustion I ended up placing 2nd.

2nd Place in Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals

Mountain Bike Marathon Nationals

This will be my first time competing in the Marathon Nationals. I was expecting it to be interesting, challenging and a little surprising but oh boy it was that and so much more.

I believe most of the riders were in the same situation as myself and really didn’t see any of 60 mile race course that pretty much spread across the whole county.

I knew we were set for an adventure race of sorts because of that. The day before the race when we attempted to preview some sections there were no markings whatsoever anywhere, but by the time we were done and just scouted around the start/finish area the tapes and cones started emerging. We checked out the most technical and interesting parts with some serious water crossings and we had actually a good time doing so but could only have wished we brought the camera since those parts really needed to be documented that way, because words cannot describe it.

Jeramiah Bishop and his teammates didn’t miss the opportunity and snapped some pics while standing in the tight deep water with bikes across their shoulders.

One of many creek crossings in the second half of the race course...
Photo curiosity of  Pro rider Jeremiah Bishop and his crew that we were glad to stumble upon... Thank you!

So we ended the day with some basic understanding how the race was supposed to go about tomorrow and the major ins and outs at least as far as the start/finish and half way point goes.

Relaxing after pre-ride.
Great to see old friends

The course was split in half, with the first 30 miles of nice and pretty smooth single track which I started calling a joy ride with a roller coaster or mini pump track feeling to it. It was pleasant, fast, flowy and actually not seeing it before was not a big deal. Than we descended down to the start area for the loop there which also doubled as feed zone 2 and then we were off to the second half, this time riding to the right. This part was total opposite and a completely different race, terrain was more rugged here, confusing, mix of gravel, road, grass, the mostly technical single track in the whole race and sadly the most annoying trail in the whole 60 miles that was slow, with no flow and huge logs were laying across the trail sometimes every 30 meters. It was a cyclocross part rather than a mountain bike and I will explain soon why it was just the most memorable and most despised by me section.

My polish flowers Chabry (Centaurea cyanus) or simply Cornflower

Race day morning was cool, probably in the low 50s, the fog and vapors were lifting from the small ponds and lakes, the flowers and grasses were still covered with dew and the sun was just coming up. It was beautiful but we were heading to the race site and there was no time to document it unfortunately. But I loved seeing on the side of the roads my favorite purple flowers I used to chase around back in Poland when I was a little girl…
The calm before the storm

Just before turning to the park I saw something slowly lifting up from the grasses and slowly stepping onto the road and in the matter of split seconds we had a small beautiful deer right in front of the car while we were still going full speed. Luckily I yelled and we were able to slow the car just enough for the deer miraculously to get away, it was such a close call. I’m glad everyone was fine, deer, us and the bikes behind on our trusted Kuat Racks NV.

The race site now was buzzing, lots of cars and riders layering up, tuning bikes, riding around for a warm up. The park itself is very pretty and sits on a huge lake in the middle of the forest. Very nice scenery to have as a base.

Full teardown before the race
All back together and clean Thanks to ProGold
The team of my Pax (Best crew on the planet earth) and myself got all the gear ready, all sorted out and bike was more than flawlessly perfect, so I did a mini warm up. Pretty soon it was time to go to staging and classes were going off one after the other. Racing age group was a little tough since pretty much all 200 plus racers were starting in front of me and I was almost one of the last to go. I think we were sent off every 3 minutes. It was nice my name was called first and we all rolled to the start line. Girls were friendly and optimistic and ready for the adventure.

Theme of the race and game plan...
Start of the race
“One minute to go” we all heard, the GPS went on and we waited for the signal. We were off and I have to admit that finally I had got a good start, I hit the holeshot and was heading into the first gravely climb in the lead.

  Me on the far end :)

Holeshot! This sweet picture thx to 
Shelly and Belinda!

I was in front the whole way up and still on the double track that lead to the left and into the first single track. I knew there was a risk of going first into the trail I never saw or ridden before but I felt good so there was no reasons to let go of the gas. Just a few minutes in I had a basic understanding of what we will be dealing with and found the ride very enjoyable. We had a good pace and it was not long when I started hearing less and less bike noises behind me. I was rolling those smooth trails and really thinking how much my husband would enjoy riding them. It was exactly as some riders explained, almost a mini pump track stuck in the forest. I did not mind anymore being in front and enjoyed it. Soon after I had one girl catching up with me, she was great, good sport and good spirit. We rode together for the longest time. When the trail finally ended and we spilled to the grassy forest roads where things started to change and the 3rd girl caught up with us. Now we were all together but still I didn’t know anything about my competition since I had been leading for a long while.

But things started to change and we were beginning to go back and forth challenging and testing each other. The 3rd girl who looked to me the most serious on the start line and was to my right was a cyclocross warrior and she looked all business with her areo helmet on and when everyone chatted and wished each other luck on the start line she was the only one serious and ready for the game. From there on I knew this will be the person that will be my challenge for the day. And she was. I noticed how her cyclocross skills started to unfold when see took off on the grassy downs and just plowed through the deepest mud like it was her mama’s pudding. I would lose some time in sections like that and then catch up again most of the time on the single track. But also our 2nd girl which with time become a 3rd girl was going with us back and forth and at some point that thankfully didn’t last longer than a few minutes I was in 3rd. It was a nice tough battle as it should be and I could just hear the hard breathing of the 3rd girl down my neck after I passed her again. The cyclocross Paula managed to get away from me once again when we dropped down to a steep gulley filled with water and some slimy black mud. It was a steep hike to get out of there with feet all covered with mud, sliding backwards with bike on the shoulder. I looked up and CX girl hoped on her bike flawlessly and biked away. It took some time, road crossing and back to the single track to finally see her far in front. Now I was behind many riders and each pass I made she made a pass too so for the longest time we had at least one rider between us. I was happy finally to get back and sit on her wheel. This is the second time I remember telling myself that I know I can ride this track faster, therefore the first chance I had I went wide on the turn and made my pass.
Who is nervous???

Not Me :)

I think we just went by the feed zone 1 and were around mile 13. There was still a long way to finish the first half and we were rolling pretty fast through a not very difficult and quite scenic lake loop with the water to our right. We rode this way tire to tire together, I noticed now that no matter how fast I went and what was thrown at us I was not dropping my tail anytime soon. I felt because of this we were forced to bike faster than we otherwise would, I wanted to get away and she would do everything she could no to let me. I was just glad that our ducking out actually served us well since everyone else in our class was way way behind and were pulling a really great time that way. There was now more and more riders from different classes ahead, mostly men and it was a constant from now on to just keep going around next and next person in front. Until we got to the 28 mile mark and we got caught behind a whole group of guys riding one after the other. Course now got a little more challenging with steeper, muddier rolling sections. We were ready to pass but it took a while, finally they started letting us go one by one. The moment we were free we got spilled on a wide double track that lead us to the first lap return and down to the start/finish line.

By now because of riding mostly single track with a rider on my wheel for 30 miles I barley drank one water bottle. That was not good and since the cx girl was still right behind me I know I was not going to be making the planned  stop that I had with my husband. The moment I pulled to the side to just grab a new Clif gel and drop my bottle the girl went by, I told my husband I got to go, than she pulled to the side and while still biking she had her crew just loading her shirt with nutrition. This is when I went by her and charged uphill. I heard momentarily her friend shouting “she is getting away, go get her!”. I was feeling for a while that I will finally get my break, I reached the grassing track and then a very fast gravely up and down long section of the jeep road. I felt like I was flying, I felt that I had a chance and finally be on my own. I didn’t hear anything and see anything and I remember just tilting my head to my left on one of the uphill when I was almost all the way up and there she was, my cx girl back by my side. I knew we will be stuck together for a while. We reached some single track and the infamous monster log that race organizers said in order to clear you would have to get some 20 feet of air otherwise you will end up in the hole right below it. We cyclocrossed that one. Soon we were back on the gravel again, I am assuming maybe 35-36 miles in. I was still leading and we were still flying, there was no one by our side and maybe it was a bad thing. What was good however that at least we had each other here, I charged uphill on the gravel just too look ahead and see coming down opposite direction a pretty distressed Florida female rider from two classes ahead saying something “we going the wrong way”. We stopped quick and looked back and there was one and only one tape right behind us on the right hand side, but when we got closer to it there was no arrow and there was no other markings anywhere near. Everything happened so quickly and those were just a split second decisions what to do next.

The Florida rider turned first to the trail on the right and we followed. What I remember from the map of the race course that each time there is some kind of divider we always will be turning right. But the gravel ahead and tape to the right we had what seemed a 50/50 shot, but actually the gravel road ahead would be a total U Turn and dead end point so we did as best as we could with what was there.

Little did we know just some 20-30 meters before the taped off trail we went to was an actual path to the right that we were supposed to take. But how the heck we supposed to know that if there was no marking there whatsoever, no tape, no arrow no cone! After the race some people said that someone rode into the tape and therefore that was their reasons nothing was there. It was not only us but some other male riders were ahead too on the wrong track and many others too that we learned of after the race. Only lucky ones that we spoke too often had someone behind who was local or knew where the actual markings should be and called people back who passed the trail saving their race. Well we had no one near us and it was just three of us at this time going into what turned to be the worst 8 miles of the entire race course. It was a single track, but filled with a few inches of pine needles, therefore it was soft and slow, very narrow and twisty and rooty. This bumpy trail kept going and going and the moment we starting approaching one after the other massive logs and trees just laying across the path things started going down. We kept pushing but with time it just felt that everyone’s energy and spirit was starting to crumble. We felt something was off but there was nothing we could have done about it. We were battling turn after turn and log after log at one point having three of us in line hopping the same log at the same time. It was not mountain biking any longer, it was misery, slow annoying, painful misery and more of reminding of a cyclocross challenge than anything else. Each time I saw another and even bigger log I was getting just more and more disgusted.

20 miles in and still going strong

Sadly very sadly everything we all worked for, everything great that I did so far in this race and the most awesome feeling that I had with so far with my performance just vanished. I knew the race was slipping now through the fingers and we were in a downward spiral with a slight promise of getting out of there still on top. I was still leading and toward the end of this what almost lasted for 45 minutes or more of misery we started getting on the wider path filled with giant ruts and having the men leaders jetting through on the same track downhill toward us. It was awkward, dangerous and didn’t feel right. Eventually we saw a dividing tape and went to the right and all of the sudden we were spilled on the grassy field. Now we could clearly see that we connected with all the riders still heading toward the Mistletoe trails and also on the left of the tape we had male leaders returning from the second part of the 30 mile course. What we didn’t know is that all the people we caught up to now with went around this nasty track we were stuck on for an hour and followed the correct path and therefore saved all this time. And if you think it could not get worst it just got when I noticed a guy I passed on 28 mile mark right in front of me, shoot I was now on 46 miles on my gps and seriously every single person that I passed 20 miles back was in front of me! I asked one rider what mile he was on and he said 38. This was ridiculous, it was nonsense, it was a bad joke and complete nightmare. I biked now for over 4 hours and I was nowhere near the finish and completely fed up and exhausted. And there is another guy asking me “how did you end up again behind me?”, “good question” I answered. I was still together with Paula from my class and the Florida rider stayed back. Now we looked at each other and wondered if we were race leaders for the whole 36 miles of the race where does this extra slow mileage of riding on exhausting and slow cyclocross crappy shoot puts us. Are we still in the lead? Or now all the girls already went by and we won’t even get on the podium. We were so disgusted that everything kind stopped to matter. Now I just want to survive and be out of here.

We went on for miles on roads through some small tucked away green community. When I studied the maps I imagined myself having lots of energy here and just hammering through it, now we just rode, sad, depressed with our heads down. On our mile 46 we got to the feed zone 3 which by design should be exactly that mile but on the way back, we were off, totally off and the dirt road led us to the most technical sections of the entire course with numerous slick rocks, logs, mud and water crossings. This is where all of the sudden my 46 mile companion cx girl went around me and took off. She waited for this moment for a very long time now, I didn’t respond to it the way I would loved to or should. I watched her getting away and by the time we got to the single track in a completely different order than we rode it the day before and we dipped to the first river crossing I could not see her anymore. The sections I biked full of energy yesterday were close to impossible today. I biked some of the rivers, walked some, it was draining my already tired body. Then we got to a deep and narrow ravine where there is hardly enough space for a bike and to my already not kind to me luck I had an older rider just standing in the middle of it. I told him to move but he just kept his bike all twisted up, start falling, than try to ride for 3 feet, than stop and stand there again and again. I told him do something, anything, walk, ride, ride with one leg just “move”. There was no way to pass here since we were surrounded by some 10 feet tall wall of dirt, we were so down low in a one foot wide deep nasty space. There were photographers on the slick rock river crossings and when I asked them how many more miles they think they would say oh another 17 miles or so. I was sick to my stomach hearing it and just suffered though this single track. My spirit was definitely low, I looked ahead now and spotted right in front of me once again my friend Duffy from a class before me who I passed in the half way point at mile 30 now I was somewhere around 56 miles in. It sucked, it really really sucked. I seriously was passing the same people a second time around, all of them, two times. I could be better off just taking a nap somewhere under the tree instead of riding those miserable extra miles.

Almost 6 Hours Later - Finished

I was glad to get out of there into the orange dirt double track where the 3rd feed zone was and were I got dropped by Paula. My husband was here with another gel and fresh clif drink which was much unexpected since we didn’t plan for this to happen. He was so disturbed and overexcited at the same time since he knew that I went the wrong way since he was tracking me on pocketfinder and could see all my competition going by but not me. So when he finally saw me he rushed and jumped in front of me and ran around my bike and from the excitement clipped my bar when I was still riding, I went to the ground hard, really hard, my grips got torn, my knees got scratched and I was just furious. It was my only crash in the whole race and it was caused by my own husband. He shoveled a new bottle on my bike and led me away, yelling that I am 3 minutes back to Paula. Little did I know that she had her little drama going for herself at the same exact spot and when she stopped to refuel she was saying to her friend that she is fed up, tired, hungry and she wants to quit. If not for her friend knocking out of the head this idea and motivating her and yelling at her to keep on going and telling her she is still in 1st place who knows what would happened.
And here we are dirty warriors!

I went back in the opposite direction on the same little community roads, the nice single standing homes had the whole families in front sitting on the chairs and even a man on a wheelchair and cheering and clapping for us. That was so very nice to see and even motivating. I saw the most adorable old lady riding a golf cart, with her hair spun in the rollers and two little leashed doggies running by her side. She had a slight smile on her face and it made me smile besides my miserable now state. I kept on pushing I didn’t give up. My husband kept a close eye on me all the time and really wanted me to keep fighting. I had this feeling that soon very soon the race will be over, but I was still so very far away. The road lead now back to the trails, this is the last time I saw my Pax before the finish. I was back on the same wide path with all the ruts. Than I was back on the worst trail in the whole race. Yes the same log filled, nasty, slow, bumpy and miserable trail. I caught up now with a rider Susan which was the best spirited rider I have met here the whole day. She had this bright, open and so optimistic attitude. She was so happy and excited to be in my company when I was in a very dark place and didn’t even want to look ahead. She told me “yes it should be some 7-8 miles more on this trail, isn’t it awesome?”, “I don’t have nice trails like this where I am from” and she just kept going in the most cheery and happy voice.
After the race celebrating
It was really a nice change and break from the pretty driven and focused race. But at the same time I knew the racing spirit was pretty gone. So I looked around and there was no hope to get out of here anytime soon, I was feeling hungry now, wanted to drink cold fresh water and the moment I saw the lake to my left I just wanted to go there and submerge myself and cool off. Those were for sure not the right thoughts to continue to push for 1st place. This is the only thing looking back at my performance that I will always regret, this only moment when I didn’t stay focused and didn’t fight hard enough to the last second. Otherwise I really had almost a stellar race, I felt good most of the time, strong, and handled terrain and all circumstances well, I should be very proud of myself. And I was also doing what I love to do the most, explore, race, adventure in the middle of the woods on my bike. I did my most favorite thing in the world but for some reasons I was just not as happy and driven as I was some hours back. When we got spilled after the longest and most testing time on the gravel path, Susan went by me on the first climb. I looked up and hardly cared.

2 True Warriors of the day !!!

It was not me however since I always care, I never give up even when it doesn’t matter anymore since all cards had been played. I stayed there for a while and cranked the ups and jetted the downs. But on those downhill’s which I rode so fast are the ones that made me feel better again, the feeling of speed, control and some power still in my legs. I started speeding up more and more and miles where disappearing, very soon I went around this amazing woman and flew to the final left turn and headed downward in direction. I crossed the finish line at full speed, proud but also quite disappointed. I have to say however that I lost to an incredible well rounded and strong rider and should not let it bother me, but part of me still feels that I should have tried and pushed even more…

Just another lesson to learn for me. Bike racing is quite complicated and this day showed us how colorful or not the day can be. You can go from the highest high to the lowest low in no time and probably the most important lesson for me here is that no matter what the circumstances the mind that is in check and can’t be ruffled by anything prevail.

Enjoying dinner at Mellow Mushroom

I’m ecstatic that I had such a good start, such a strong and wonderful lead and race mostly throughout and know now for the future that I can handle ever changing and unknown terrain and very long distance racing very well. I will be prepared even more for next time…

Thank you goes to:

Syntace, Magura, Stan’s Notubes, Schwalbe, ESI Grips, Clif, Xpedo, Trainer Road, Garden of Life, Kuat Racks, Light & Motion, KT Tape, Cycleops and for 2014 - Mack Cycles, Oakley, Pocketfinder, Specialized, Louis Garneau, KMC Chains and Rotor Bike Components and New for 2015 - Health Fit Chiropractic, Enduro Bearings, K-Edge and SelleSMP

Until Next Time !!!

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