Although I have not been racing lately, I have been doing plenty of riding and having a blast exploring all the sweet trails in my small part of the world. I start thinking about racing, and of all the excitement, nervousness, and unplanned chaos that comes hand-in-hand with weekend racing and I remember why I began racing in the first place: I love chaos; I love the feeling of butterflies in my stomach as I stand at the start line, waiting for the race director to yell “GO”; I love getting beat up on a technically and strenuously demanding racecourse; and crawling across the finish line, half dead.
We arrive at the race site and I have two hours until the start so we head to registration to pick up our race numbers and return to the car to change into our bike kits. I start my warm up and after a half hour of trying to shake off the early morning sleepiness, they finally start calling everyone to the starting area. I line up with the women in my category and wait nervously for us to be called to the start line. When we’re finally called forward, I line up in the front row on the right side and start sizing up the other girls and notice there are about eight women in my group, some that look really fast.
With a bang the whole group takes off like a rocket into outer space; the hustling and bustling starts right away. There is a half mile climb at the beginning to help thin out the group in time for the singletrack and the entire course is a 5-mile loop with a nice mix of fire roads and choice singletrack. Two of the women in my category — both in yellow and black outfits — immediately go for holeshot at the top of the climb so I grab the wheel of the rider in front of me, and we take off down the first twisty singletrack. It’s not very steep, just buffed and banked singletrack with sandy corners. The yellow-clad racers are still in the front of the group as we get dumped onto a fire road that leads us to the furthest point on the course, so I settle into a steady pace and make my way up the 2-mile fire road. My plan is to stay back until we get to the end of the fire road, so I stay behind three other racers in order to conserve my energy.
There is approximately a half-mile left till the singletrack cut-off so I glance back to see if anyone is gaining on us and sure enough there is another girl cranking her way up the fire road. I move to left side of the trail and try to pick up my pace as much as my tired legs will let me. I’m hoping our group will speed up so the girl barrelling up behind us doesn’t bridge the gap. Fortunately, I manage to beat everyone in my group to the singletrack and take the first sharp turn which leads down a narrow trail full of switchbacks.
I swoop down the singletrack like a hawk looking for a snake. Down around the turns, I think to myself, “man, I’m nailing these switchbacks”, however coming through the second to last turn I approach it too rapidly and my back end proceeds to slide out in a sandpit. This causes me to pop my left cleat out of my pedal and catch myself in a weird flailing kind of way to keep from completely bailing off my bike. I made a big mistake navigating those corners so fast and this mistake allowed the three racers to catch back up and pass me along with the girl who was trying to bridge the gap to our group.
We all descend down the fire road back to the start/finish area and the next two laps are a matter of me trying to stay within sight of the leaders, and not lose any more places. No matter how hard I push myself I cannot make any gains and I am starting to tire, so I back off to keep from blowing up. Toward the middle of the last lap, I start to catch up to the fire road girl but never quite make the connection so I stay at my pace for the rest of the race and ended up finishing fifth. After the race, my husband Rick and I drink a few beers and chill out in the late spring sun. Not a bad way to spend the day!
It has been over a year since I did my last amateur cross-country race between moving, family/work responsibilities, and a self-admitted laziness in actually getting my ass to a race early Sunday morning. It’s been a while, but I do miss this part of my cycling experience.
Then I start reminiscing about past races and the adventures I’ve had while competing or travelling to an event — some awesome and some I would like to forget — but one thing I can tell you, being an amateur racer is never dull!
Like the time a group of us ended up getting lost while on the course at Sea Otter because the course volunteer left his post at a two-way intersection, so we took a right turn instead of a left. Needless to say, we lost a lot of time!
Or the time a local radio station put on one particular race that we planned to do. We packed everything in the car and headed to the race site. Upon our arrival we pulled the bikes off the car, changed into our kits, and I then realized I had left my bike shoes at home. Crap! We were too far away to retrieve them and no one had an extra pair of shoes I could borrow so I was forced to watch from the sidelines.
Then there was the race we did was in a town called Briones, in Northern California, which was a few hours from our home. We arrived at the venue site with no complications and had just finished setting up our campsite when suddenly a police car drove in rapidly and over loudspeakers announced that everyone needed to evacuate the campsite due to a grass fire headed in our direction. We looked to the south to see a large column of smoke billowing into the warm summer early evening sky. We had literally just arrived after driving three hours and were forced to pack everything up and vacate! Later on, we were allowed back in and we were able to do the race the next morning.
I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences that I have had while traversing up and down and all over California and Arizona in the quest to be an amateur racer. I don’t earn living at racing; the racing is just for little plastic trophies and medals but they are solid gold to me. Instead, I race because it is challenging, scary, physically demanding, and fun all at the same time. It’s awesome and I can’t wait to do it again.