It’s not very often that I’ve looked at the start list for a race and thought, “I could race a perfect race, and still finish DFL.”
The start list for the Syllamo NUE Series race was short and stacked with seasoned women who had all (for the most part) kicked my butt at one time or another. Even though the race didn’t offer a singlespeed category for women, the Syllamo terrain lends itself well to singlespeed riding. Also, I’m still on my singlespeed rampage, so I lined up against the heavy hitters on geared bikes in the women’s open category.
The race start is challenging in terms of pacing. The 3/4 mile mad dash up Blanchard Springs forest service road dumps you into the trail system close to one of the most technical, rocky sections. The crowd of racers heading up the hill was thick enough that I didn’t really know how I was placed going on to the trail, but I assumed it was good since I was feeling awesome.
My assumption was correct. As I tried to calm down and hit my rhythm, I realized I was swapping places with Brenda Simril, Namrita O’Dea, and Sonya Looney. In the past, I’ve watched their results from a distance while riding my own pace in the back. Now, I was on home turf and throwin’ bows.
The first 15 miles of trail has some tough technical spots, which were made worse (slippery and more treacherous) with the mud and moisture spread around by large amount of race traffic. I passed Namrita and Sonya on the yellow trail then swapped back and fourth with Brenda (and her husband Lee) for the 3rd place spot behind Amanda Carey and Cheryl Sorenson. At the first aid station, they passed me while I was swapping out bottles and airing up my front tire, which had punctured then sealed itself when I gave it a shot of CO2 from the Big Air I was carrying.
The green trail flew by, as did the first part of the orange. On the second orange trail climb, I caught back up to Brenda & Lee, who were working on Brenda’s bike, which was suffering from massive chainsuck. I have to learn how to keep from getting too excited, because every time I’d pass her (or any one of the other women), I’d bobble a section of trail that I could normally ride with my eyes shut. I passed her and kept up the pace, hoping that her mechanicals would keep her from chasing me. Unfortunately, she caught back up to me on the descent to the first Highway 5 crossing to the 2nd aid station. It was at that point that I realized I should have picked the suspension fork.
At the 2nd aid, I swapped bottles and a gel flask. Brenda and Lee took off up the trail. I felt like I needed to back off a click so that I wouldn’t kill myself on the next couple of climbs. So, I settled in and hoped that they’d come back at some point.
Fast forward a bit, and I’m up the blue trail climb and up to the 4th aid station. I never saw Brenda and Lee, but I kept to the same tempo pace for the red trail. Somewhere along the way, Sonya Looney flew past me like I was sitting still. I knew I wasn’t going to chase her down on her big ring, so I kept trucking in hopes that when she caught Brenda that they’d hammer at each other enough that one of them would pop and I could make a catch on the second time around the yellow trail.
Unfortunately, other than passing a few end-of-the-pack 50-milers, I was alone on the yellow trail. I managed to cut a sidewall about a mile out from the final aid station stop before the final red loop. I was low on CO2 from my first flat, so I knew it’d be better to try to refill it at much as possible and get to the aid station. At one point, a guy I passed informed me that my tire was flat. I told him that I’d brought that wheel into the world, and I’d take it out even faster.
At the aid station, Nate Carey graciously helped me get a tube into my tire (Amanda was already well into her final lap of the red trail). I crammed a powerbar, took on a fresh bottle, and was off on my final 12 miles of trail. I was absolutely drained at that point, so I was trying my best to flow the downhills with no brakes. The thing about the red trail is that it’s fast, non-technical, and slippery in some spots because of loose rock over hardpack. It’s very easy to have a high-speed wreck by way of losing a front tire off the edge of the bench of the trail.
With about 7 miles to go in the race, I did just that. I was headed down a slightly fast hill when I wrecked and tumbled face first into the bushes and a deadfall tree. After laying on the ground for a minute to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed, I got up and assessed my bike, which was a good five feet away from where I come to rest. I had to dig my multitool out to straighten my handlebars, and I felt like my face was bleeding and my helmet felt tighter than before (it ended up being scratched on the right side and pretty dented in the middle/front, so I retired it to the trophy wall at the cabin).
Thank you, Rudy Project, for once again saving me from the life of a vegetable.
I continued on, albeit slightly more cautiously than before. I did my best to zone out and forget how much everything was hurting at that point. Eventually, I was making the turn back on to Blanchard Road and was hauling ass down to the finish line. Luckily, no one passed me while I was having my tire/wreck difficulties, and I ended up 5th…
45 minutes behind the winner, Amanda Carey.
Sure, 45 minutes is a long time. At last year’s races, it was two or more hours. It’ll be a long journey of small steps, though I’ll be the first to admit to my constant impatience. Hopefully, Saturday was a sign of good things to come in upcoming races. I think I might have arrived on at least one or more radars in the past couple of weeks.
I’ve expressed my impatience to my coach, and this was the text message reply that I received back:
“Two bulls are standing on a hill overlooking a group of cows. The young bull says, ‘let’s run down and get ourselves a cow.’ The older bull says ‘no, I have a better idea. Let’s walk down and get them all!”
So, I guess if I’m patient enough, all the cows will be mine? I’m not totally sure, but it made me laugh, and seemed like promising advice on the virtue of patience…