Like I mentioned before, I was highly undecided as to whether I’d race this weekend. Coach had said something along the lines of, “racing this weekend will either put your fitness over the top or into a hole for Whiskey next weekend.”
Friday morning, I felt pretty good… still undecided, though. I had a bunch of errands to run, yoga, a PT appointment, and a ride to see how I was feeling. Somewhere in the middle of it all, I was thinking about bike racing and heard this song:
I can’t explain why, but while I was listening to it, I decided to take my chances and race. After the errands were done, I went home and pulled my Cannondale SuperX off of the wall, put some fresh sealant in the tires (running my favorite wheel/tire setup for this sort of race- Industry 9 i25TL road wheels and some tubeless CX tires), and installed a 34t small ring in place of the 36t that was on my CX crank at the time. There was an 11-26 cassette on the wheels already, and I didn’t feel like hunting down the 11-28, so I decided I’d just go for it on the gearing. By 5:00, I was packed and ready to roll to Perryville, AR.
Fast forward a little, and I’m in a quaint motel on Harris Brake Lake just south of Perryville. One thing I’ve learned through half a year of gluten-free eating is how to make a pretty good chicken/veggie/rice bowl prior to going out of town. It takes a little extra work on the front end, but having a healthy meal waiting for you when you arrive into the middle of nowhere at 9:00pm is totally worth it…
I battled through a night of fitful sleep (the little Harris Brake motel is nice, but the walls are paper-thin, and apparently the guys next door were in & out all night fishing or something). Saturday morning, it was 37deg cold, and the sunrise was beautiful…
I had some breakfast and packed everything into the car to go to registration. I paid, briefly discussed my views on pros who feel “entitled” to race any race they want, went to the start, and rode around a little trying to warm up. Luckily, the start of the race is a neutral rollout past the Perryville city limits. It has potential to be somewhat of a clusterufck (like any mass-start-for-all MTB race), so I lined up in the front and, when the signal was given to go, jumped into the slipstream of the lead vehicle… safety and a nice motorpace warmup, all in one!
Once the lead vehicle pulled off, a group of hammery guys formed. They took off hard up the first road climb, and I decided to slide back into the next group, which included another woman (Priscilla Cazer, who had finished 15 minutes after me at Ouachita). I hung with them as they chased after the lead group, and felt like I was going a little harder than I really wanted to given the 70 miles and lots of climbing we had ahead of us. I stuck with it, though, and, as we crested the top of the hill, Priscilla informed me that she was only racing the 45 mile “tour” version of the Slobberknocker.
We turned off of the main road onto the gravel, and I backed off a little bit and had some gel to prep for the first of the bigger climbs. It was a good idea, because my legs really started to come back around just as I came to the initial pitches of the longest one of the day. I paced myself into a mix of “singlespeed” and seated-type climbing (not my favorite, but gearing and traction don’t always allow for standing on the steeper stuff), and felt good all the way up. I remembered on the way down that I was on a CX bike, and that I’d need to dial the descending down a notch or two in order to avoid killing a tire or something on one of the rowdy sections of forest road.
For a while, I basically rode in the same rhythm. Just like last year, I had a few guys on MTBs that I’d pass going uphill, then they’d pass me back going downhill. It continued that way until just after the “rowdiest” section of “road” on the course (a sharp, washed out jeep road made mostly of exposed rock beds), when, on a seemingly normal gravel section, I cut my rear tire on a rock. Sealant went everywhere. Without panic, I pulled off and installed a tube as quickly as possible…
4 minutes and 8 seconds, to be exact.
Between the previous section of tricky road descending, the flat, and the long descent into the next aid station (an out & back section of the course), Laureen Coffelt (riding a full suspension MTB and able to go waaaay faster than me downhill) put a serious dent into my lead. As I was about 100 feet out of the aid station, she was on her way in- maybe a minute back at the most. Knowing that she was a) wearing a camelback and not likely to stop and b) going to come out of it with extra motivation that I was so close, I stepped my climbing game up a notch or two.
At that point in the race, on a cyclocross bike, nothing doesn’t hurt. I’ve always said that, compared to racing on a mountain bike, the places where the CX bike is faster will outweigh the places where it’s slower. However, that comes with the caveat of “if you can deal with the fact that the roughness of the roads is going to make you hurt all over.” The forest roads around that area are pretty rocky, and have the ability to remove small cars from service, as I learned the hard way several years ago. At 3 hours in, not only do you have a healthy dose of climbing in your legs, but everything from your butt up to your neck/shoulders, arms, and hands is aching from the constant forest road beating.
It was at that point that I channeled something I’d learned about in Yoga… the idea of Santosha, or contentment. It’s something that I’d heard from several yoga instructors, but that Kirsti talked about at length during a challenging class the previous Thursday. As we were holding a particular pose for an extended period of time, she asked us to focus on the sensations that we were feeling right then rather than avoiding them. The idea was, rather than trying to tune out feelings of discomfort, to explore them and accept them as a means of finding Santosha. I found myself doing the same thing as I was hammering through the final two hours of racing. Rather than attaching negative emotions to the pain and trying to distract my mind into thinking about something else, I went back to the idea of accepting the discomfort and being content despite all of it.
During that time, I built my lead back up to nearly 20 minutes.
So, I won in a time of 4 hours, 53 minutes- about a minute faster than last year (though, last year, I hadn’t flatted). The Slobberknocker not only offers a nice cash prize, but the trophies are some of the best out there… handmade by a local firefighter:
Now, it’s a race to see how well I can recover before Friday evening’s Whiskey Fat-tire criterium and the 50-mile race on Sunday.