As I mentioned earlier in the week, the weather forecast for Hot Springs had looked dismal. First, rain in the forecast, then torrential rain ahead of the race and a 50% chance of rain during. It eventually evolved into a perfect, sunny day with temperatures in the low 60s. Nonetheless, I’d readied the singlespeed by tearing apart my fancy new Air9 RDO in order to race a suspension fork (still waiting on one for the singlespeed, so it was set up rigid) and my new set of ENVE carbon wheels.
Unlike previous years (where the women’s roster was smaller), the growing popularity of the USA Cycling Pro UET series had drawn several out-of state hitters, including the likes of Pua Mata (not to disrespect the other women by not naming them, but, since… spoiler alert… Pua won, I’ll leave the additional e-stalking of the entry list up to you).
The change for the better in the weather forecast didn’t “necessitate” the reliability of the singlespeed. However, from my past season of NUE racing, I’ve found an unexpected comfort zone in taking on Pro class women without the use of extra gears.
So, Saturday morning, I placed my bike in the rack and lined up for the most ridiculous LeMans start in modern endurance racing- ~300 yards of running on gravel and asphalt. At the least, it’s incredibly inconvenient. At the worst, the length of the run invites injuries such as sprained ankles and “tripping & falling on your face on the asphalt,” which is exactly what happened to a racer immediately to my left as the pack veered towards the bike racks. Luckily, I made it to my bike unscathed.
Also lucky for me, I made it onto the wheel of local endurance matriarch Laureen Coffelt at the start of the first lap. I followed her until nearly halfway through when she slid out on a root and I was able to sneak around. She’d been tough competition in the past, so I knew I’d have to keep kicking ass to stay ahead. In the 2nd and 3rd laps, I’d find myself battling back & forth with Jessica Cerra. I passed her partway through the 3rd lap and kept the pedal to the floor.
I had an epiphany somewhere around lap 4 or 5. I’d been riding at a breakneck pace for far upwards of 4 hours when the famous Greg Lemond quote “It never gets easier, you just go faster,” entered into my head. All I could think about was how much that quote was cheating aspiring beginners into a false sense that they would never experience greater pain, just greater speed. Greg was right- it doesn’t get easier. To the contrary, it gets harder. You go faster for longer periods of time. It hurts like hell in a perfect sort of way.
I thought of that for what seemed like a long time. The previous two years, I’d had bad days at that race. I’d exhausted myself and death-marched around the course in my granny gear. I’d felt tired and sore after it was over. Now was different. I was in my 5th lap and hammering up hills past people like I was still on lap 2. My brain was constantly overriding the burn in my legs that was telling me to take it easy. I started my 6th lap, and my body felt like it was ready to fall apart. As I rounded the pits, Todd “Antique Gun Show” Henne yelled that there was another woman just around the corner.
I put my head down and caught her on a muddy hill just before the trail dove into the woods. My legs threatened to cramp, and I thought of a much better quote, courtesy of Kevin, one of my favorite yoga instructors…
“One more time, for enlightenment!”
I managed to stay ahead for the entire lap, finishing my 6 in 6hrs, 10 minutes- 3rd place behind Pua Mata and Sara Gibeau (a rider from Colorado). The other two women who had been so competitive during the race were not far behind. I laid on the ground in the pit area for the next 30 minutes… exhausted and enlightened.
It’s nice to break a streak of bad luck at a particular race (though, honestly, the only other race where I’ve had much bad luck is ORAMM. I’ll get that one eventually). It’s also nice to break that streak with a performance that surprises myself. I’m left wondering where the combination of leftover cyclocross fitness and increasing endurance will land me this year.