After a bit of a lack-lustre Ocup season, I've decided to regroup and throw my hat in for a few fall races. So far, I'm liking the results!!
Yesterday was the first of three races on my Renaissance tour. Substance Projects hosted the Ontario Marathon Mountain Bike Championships at Mansfield. The weather forecast was calling for rain, and I didn't even care. If it rained, it would just be more epic. But -- it only rained enough overnight to make the dirt absolutely perfect. PERFECT!! Perfect, I tell you.
At 74km, the race would officially be the longest of my career. I wasn't sure how I'd feel but I couldn't help thinking back to last year's Winter Wow in which I bonked like I've never bonked, and that was only 40km. Could I do another 34 after that? Time would tell!
Jerome and I carpooled up and in the car I was not exactly energetic. Thank goodness he was driving, because I could barely keep my eyes open. Warm-up wasn't much more inspiring. So, not surprisingly, I didn't have the greatest start. Off the line, I settled in and tried to stay with Celine, who'd pulled ahead. I was doing okay at it too, but then I made my first mistake -- mis-steering on a descent, causing me to hit a tree, stop and consequently lose all my momentum for a long straight away. I waved so-long to Celine, and then two more ladies.
This scenario replayed about 10 times I think: catch up with the girls, make a silly error, fall behind again. Handling wasn't there, and fitness was taking its time to show up! I rode with Tanya (the Vegan Vagabonde) for a little while, and she actually helped me to cheer up. I got my head back into it, gapped her, and then found myself very much alone in the woods. Without being able to see the girls ahead or behind (or any riders for that matter ... hmmm) I found some focus and finally started to ride the way I wanted to. My legs decided to join the party and I settled into a great rhythm. And then, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Dan on the moto, and about 5 riders near. They were stopped by the way. Never a good sign.
Turns out, somehow seven of us managed to independently make the same wrong turn. None of us was the wiser, as there were arrows the entire time. Dan, the race organizer suspects someone in the woods moved them. So, while we thought we'd passed the "first" check point, in fact, it was the last. Dan was kind enough to put us back in at the 20km mark, since that seemed to be what the consensus of the bike computers indicated. Unfortunately, there was no way to know if the rest of the women's field were now ahead or behind us. Frustrated, I found all NEW focus.
The first bit of fun after we were dropped back on course was a gnarly rutted descent made of wet sand. Riders could disappear into the rut it was so big. So it was crucial to stay on the off-camber banks. Somehow, I bumped and jumped my way down ahead of everyone else. Only to have to stop for a giant stick stuck in my derailleur at the bottom, and once again, I was waving so-long to the women. Something snapped in my head. There was no way I was wasting my entry fee and all that work now. With lots of race left, I put my head down and thought of only one thing: catch those girls.
After the descent, there was the famous Simcoe County Forest rutted out sandy CLIMB, a regular feature on Winter WOW race courses. (What goes down, must go up? Is that how it goes?) Riders were getting de-biked all around me but I wasn't having it. That climb would pay. I beat on it like a crazed chimp (how's that for imagery?) and managed to expell all my frustration by the top. Then it was go time.
The rest of the race was a completely different story from the bumbling, clutzy first 20km. I was feeling Racy. At one point, I noticed a climb, which caused me to notice that I hadn't been noticing the [plentiful] climbs -- always a good sign. I had the legs I wanted, the headspace I wanted, and sometimes it felt like an hour would go by before I had to touch the brakes -- just totally perfect, tacky Mansfield flowy singletrack. I rode with some dudes and then left them behind. Found some new riders up the course, then motored on by them. I felt powerful for once! Unstoppable!!
And then I felt really really bad. Just like that. It was after the final checkpoint, so I knew the end was near but my garmin is in the shop, so I had no tools for timing or distance. There were also no reference points marked on the course -- I hadn't even seen a course map. I suspected at one point that we'd made it back to Mansfield Outdoors Centre Property because I spotted a "Happy Trail" trail sign. I took it as a sign of hope. After the first cracks in the veneer, the crumbling started in earnest. Trees and shrubs looked like animals, or shady characters. You know it's getting into rough territory when you start talking yourself through stuff. And really rough when you start talking to god. Like, "God? Can you hear me? Please let this be the last section of single track?"
At one point, I saw a logging road I thought I recognized (I don't know HOW, beacuse I had no idea where I was and they were all starting to look the same at this point) and I thought I would just take it to the end and call it quits. Crazy talk of an exhausted madwoman.
Anyway, things were rough, but I was still moving, still coaxing race gel and fluids into my upset tummy, still racing, but still not sure what my position was. Was I ahead? Was Celine right behind me about to take a pass? It was enough to keep the fires burning. I conquered a silly little descent that hasn't been on a race course for me in a few years which I could never ride before, got stoked and then found myself passing the main Chalet! I was shredding the final straight away!! Surely within a couple pedal strokes, the finish would be visible! I would be done!! I would be victorious!! but mostly, I would be DONE!! And then ... the arrows seemed to be pointing right. Not straight. Right. Back into the woods. Back into more singletrack. Nooooooo!!! I didn't want to believe it, but my bike was making the turn and I had no choice but to follow along (although I did spare some headspace to contemplate a DNF a few hundred metres from the end).
You thought that was bad? It gets worse. What was waiting for us around that right turn? Only the biggest, steepest climb of the day. What. The. Fudge. Heartbroken, I dropped my gearing into the granny and started my grind. I could see more of what lay ahead by now, and saw that the top wasn't actually the top -- it now appeared there was a second part to this monster. I couldn't take it. I walked. Eventually, I made it to the top, and as my heart pounded in my ears, my arms, neck, legs, back and hands ached like they've never ached, I rode the final descent and grassy straight away to the line.
I even remembered to put my hand up (just in case I'd won, which I still wasn't sure of).
Turns out, I was number one. Congrats to all who finished the race!! It was a tough, tough day. But in just a few hours, I found my happy, racy place again. A great way to go into winter training.
Next up? Paul's Dirty Enduro. And to cap off the season, I joined a team for the Fall 8 up at Hardwood. A visit to Mansfield, Ganaraska and Hardwood before packing up mountain bikes for the winter is an awesome way to spend the fall. Can't wait.