I'm exhausted, sunburned and totally stoked. Today was my first time racing Downhill and I'll always remember it.
Yesterday, as I mentioned, I was a little bit unsure of myself. I hiked the hill once to take a look at the course, sessioned some sections I had trouble with (read: every one of them) and then drove home thinking I was in way over my head. I even had a little heart-to-heart with my boyfriend about it in which we decided that maybe if things didn't look better in the morning, I would skip the race and thereby eliminate the risk to my XC season. It seemed clear to me that the potential for serious injury was high.
I woke up early so I could get there with plenty of time to run the course. Things didn't feel better. In fact, I'd had nightmares about the damn thing. But the sun was shining and I had some friends to collect on the way so off I went.
Sean, Jeff and I made the trip in the minivan. I came to race, they came to work on their picture-taking skills. Once I had the loaner bike and all the armour paraphanalia sorted out, we went our seperate ways. I was on a mission to figure out downhill. And I only had two hours to do it.
Photo cred: Jeff Monk. This is me during the race run, trying not to run over Jeff.
I hiked up the ski hill about six times. The lift was taking way too long and I was wasting valuable practice time just standing around. Each run I'd figure out another little thing. But still, before the race I hadn't yet been able to string a clean lap together. My riding was full of dabs [putting a foot down], erroneous braking and expletives. The course looked something like this:
1. Start gate then a straight with lots of room for pedalling, but with a jump (I'm an XC rider and even the smallest possibility of my tires leaving the ground makes me squeamish)
2. Gnarly rock garden starting with a pump section (three undulating bumps that you have to use your whole body to work the bike through or else lose all your momentum)
3. Six foot drop ... which I went around via the "chicken line", which was still steep and covered in rocks and roots, with an off-camber out
4. Flatter pedalling section (yesssss!)
5. Two sets of jumps
6. Log drop to off-camber berms and more rhythm sections
7. Gnarly rock garden
8. Wide open track to the finish ("pedal, pedal, pedal," roar the crowds).
By the time the race rolled around I was exhausted from walking up the hill all those times with a 30 pound bike, fullface helmet and armour (and nowhere to put a water bottle). I did a couple warm up sprints while doing my best not to watch as the other racers took off in 30 second intervals. It would mess with my brain way too much if I saw someone eat it on those rocks. So I just sat in the sun and prayed to Jesus to keep me safe.
Then a miracle!
After spending the whole morning talking about how scared I was, how over-my-head I felt and resigning myself to last place (if I finished at all) I took my spot in the start gate. The numbers beeped down, and I swear, I literally felt a "click" up in my brain and the competitor in me took the wheel. I was focused, calm, relaxed and at last! That smooth run I'd been trying for all morning just happened. I finished happy, and all in one piece so I'd already accomplished all my goals for the day. But to my surprise, my smooth-at-last race run was the fastest of the day for the women's field. I'd won a gold medal! And not like yesterday's ... today there were three other very fast, experienced and respected ladies to compete with.
Downhill was a great adventure, and an exercise in the power of positive thinking. I had such a fun weekend, and only wish I could be in two (or three!) places at once so I could come out to some more, but for now, I think it's back to XC.
After the race, the boys took me to Swiss Chalet, where I was given a yellow balloon and yellow pie in honour of my yellow medal.
Check out the shop's coverage of the event -- a great weekend for Sweet Pete's!