|Um, ew? I'm not sure how to take that.|
Uh huh. You're welcome.
Last Friday I gave myself a little mini vacation by jumping in the Subaru, going to work for half a day, going to Les Schwab for an hour to get a flat tire fixed, going to OVS for an oil filter for the tractor, driving through rush hour traffic in Portland behind a truck with the worst mission statement ever, getting re-routed because of an accident for miles through suburban Olympia before arriving, at about 7:30 p.m. at the starting line for the Capital Forest 50/100.
Vacation, as a concept, seems to still be eluding me.
I did this race a couple of years ago and I remembered it as being challenging but manageable, very well supported, and filled with friendly racers and volunteers. I'm happy to report my memory wasn't playing tricks on me. Fat 55 is still a bit nearer and dearer to my heart but this one has quite a few things going for it.
- It has 42 miles of trails for starters. That's more trail riding than I've done all year.
- It has 4 aid stations spaced pretty evenly across the course with medical and mechanical support.
- It has beer at the finish.
- You get a pint glass to go with said beer.
- You got awesome socks for showing up.
- It has a tequila bar at the last aid station. More on that in a sec.
|Could you even have a bad day wearing these?|
It rained a bit during the night. Saturday morning it was a bit cloudy and cool. Perfect racing weather. I wandered by the registration tent in the morning and they gave me back all the crap that fell out of my wallet the night before.
A few hundred of us took off at 8:30 and almost immediately my race went bad. A couple miles in we hit a steep hill that climbed for about half a mile. My heart rate shot up to 172 and I had to get off and walk. A week of being desk bound and the crazy drive up had taken a toll. My body just wasn't ready to do this. I was way off the back but I pulled myself together, stuck to my diet and hydration schedule and kept going.
I got faster. And I kept getting faster. I've heard of the term "racing into form" but I've never experienced it quite like this. I was getting out of the aid stations faster than people who came in ahead of me. I'd let people by on the trail only to have them pull over at a road crossing to give me the lead back. I'd look behind me and they were gone. I was descending faster too. I was tracking better - looking down the trail instead of at my front wheel. I kept slowly gaining back the time I lost in the first 10 miles until we broke out on to a fire road at mile 27. I had been chasing a rider since the 12 mile aid station and we got out on the road together.
I'd like to pause for a moment and say that I really like fire roads. It's where I spend most of my training hours. After 27 miles of sweet flowing single track, I was quite happy to be back on a surface that asked very little of me except to put my head down and pedal.
And that's what we did. We just destroyed people. I lost count of the number of riders we dropped. We left the 30 mile aid station and climbed for five miles or so before we dropped onto the Greenline trail. The rider I had been following - being a member of the club of "amazingly fast women on technical single track" - disappeared. I struggled on the first few decomposed switchbacks but gradually got to feeling better. A couple of riders doing the hundred mile race went by me but otherwise, I was holding my own. As the trail smoothed out and I rolled into the last aid station, I was absolutely baffled by the fact that I felt better at mile 40 than I did at mile 20.
I loaded up my child's hydration pack one last time (I really need to get one that isn't safety red), stuffed a Honey Stinger waffle in my mouth and was struggling to swallow it when I noticed a coconut decorated like a human head.
It was the tequila bar.
This kind of foolishness is usually found in the realm of cyclocross or Single Speed World Championships. You have a drink, you get to take a shortcut. But there was no shortcut here. I knew what the last 10 miles were. You left the aid station and immediately climbed 800 feet for a mile or so before topping out and rolling a long downhill trail to the finish. This was a trap. This was a bad idea that would appeal to novices and dumb guys with self esteem issues who think they're tough and want to show off their ability to ride and shrug off one measly shot, and it always ends with them throwing their guts up halfway up the hill. I'm smarter than that.
No I'm not.
It tasted pretty good, actually.
Well, it was really more like half a shot. My stomach was probably fermenting more alcohol than that out of the unholy sludge of Skratch mix, energy bars, gels, chews, cola, bagels, Nutella, pasta salad, and anything else I could stuff my face with during the day.
Honestly, that tequila bar was there two years ago and I didn't drink anything then and I always felt kind of bad about that. I can't really pin down why except to say that I was going to miss that bar when it was gone. Besides, I was 5:45 into the race. I had set a goal of finishing under 7 hours and with 10 miles to go and a huge hill between the aid station and the finish, I didn't think I was going to make it. Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On" started playing on the speakers at the aid station. It really did. Last time I did this race it was "Politics of Dancing" which might have saved my life. This year all I wanted to do was turn down the lights, switch on the rotating bed, and open up a bottle of cheap merlot. I could feel it slipping away from me.
But I'd had fun, so cheers to that. I knocked back my tiny shot, thanked the volunteers at the aid station and headed off to face another kind of music.
And then I went on to race the best ten miles I've ever ridden.
I leaned in to the climb. I knew I would have to get off - I walked nearly the whole thing two years ago - except I never did. One rider let me by. Another looked like they might have fallen victim to the tequila and I passed them. My pace increased. Nobody was behind me. I hit the top of the hill at 6:08, passed another rider and realized I could make my goal. I geared up and pointed the bike down the trail.
I had forgotten, to some degree, what it meant to race. I had forgotten what it felt like to be still inside while completely engaged in a complex, hard physical effort. I had forgotten the clock and the urgency and replaced it with simple gratitude for getting to the finish. At this moment, I wasn't tired. I wasn't done. I was tearing through the woods flying over roots, slamming in to corners, pedaling out of the saddle up rollers and pushing tall gears downhill all the while the chorus from an old Elvis Costello song was playing over and over in my head "Every Day, Every Day, Every Day I Write the Book..." like some scratchy song in a horror movie except it wasn't scary. It was just some odd scrap mantra that my mind plugged in to keep me from over-thinking what I was doing. Occasionally I'd try to insert some different mantra; some speed metal, techno or anything that might be more appropriate but "Every Day, Every Day..." just kept playing on and that was fine. I was riding better than I had all year, close to the pace the winning racers were carrying for all 50 miles.
I don't want to give the impression I had super powers here. Yes, I was riding better and it's rare that I find myself in this mental place. But that place didn't give me skills I never had. This section of trail was pretty well groomed so it was easier to keep speed up. It was also a great time to make epic mistakes like miss a turn or overcook a corner and wind up on the ground.
I didn't make any mistakes and I rolled across the finish at 6:41 beating my old time by 50 minutes. I was still 2 1/2 hours behind the top finishers in my age group which might seem kind of depressing except it wasn't. I'd had a 10 mile window into their world. I couldn't have been happier. Ellene and her friends yelled "Woo Hoo" when I crossed the finish. It's nice to have someone yell "Woo Hoo" when you cross the finish. I think there was some cow bell involved too.
I grabbed my finisher pint and was having a chat with a guy from Portland when I received my one injury for the race:
I got stung by a yellowjacket. It hurt.
I looked around to show someone and maybe get some sympathy but I was standing pretty close to the woman who won the series championship. Her arm was bandaged and she was scrapped up and bleeding. She looked like a super-model who had been dragged behind a car for 100 yards. She was laughing with other racers.
I decided to suck it up, go find my car, take a benadryl, and head back to Oregon.