This past weekend was the 2013 TN State XC race in Memphis. I decided a couple weeks before the race that I would go and try my hand at this event. I hadn’t raced my bike since March when I attempted the race at Booker T. Washington State Park in Chattanooga a few weeks after gallbladder removal surgery. That race did not end well for me. I bailed out after the first lap and it left me to face the fact that I had not completed a race as a Cat 2 racer. I hate to fail at anything and I think that fear is part of what has kept me out of the racing saddle a good portion of this season. Well, that and the fact that TN racing has been plagued with rain, and therefore mud. I hear of all my teammates and friends telling horror stories of how they paid $25-$50 in entry fees and $100-$600 in repair costs afterwards! This gal barely has the money for the entry fees, let alone hundreds of dollars in mud, rain, and grime induced repair costs!
I rode down to Memphis on Saturday after sitting in a half-day conference. That made for a long day of sitting! I was rewarded for that when we got to Memphis and were able to pre-register and pre-ride the race course. It was a 10.4(ish) mile loop full of twists, turns, punchy uphills, fun and technical downhills, and roots. Lots and lots of roots! Soooooo many roots! If that course had been wet, the roots would have been so slick and treacherous. Lucky for me, it was dusty and dry!
My Garmin missed about 2 miles of the trail and was only reporting a little over 8 miles at the end, but the locals assured me that if I had a wheel sensor I would have gotten around 10.4 miles on the read. With as many tight twists and turns as the trail had, I believe them. I am so glad I had the opportunity to do the pre-ride. There were a lot of places I got tripped up and after stopping, I was able to see the line I “should” have taken. I was able to gauge where good places were to grab my water bottle or grab some nutrition. And I was able to see where I could crank it a little more and where I needed to go slower and rely more on my slow skills to carry me through. I also was able to recognize the fact that I should have brought my Camelbak! I didn’t think I would need it. BIG mistake on my part!! Realizing that I had to do 2 laps which meant 2 bottles became a nightmarish logistical issue.
After the pre-ride, we checked in at the hotel, showered (I was caked in dust-and-dirt-mixed-with-sweat grossness!), and ate dinner while watching cable TV! This may not seem like a luxury to most, but neither the girl I was rooming with nor I have cable television. We were in channel surfing heaven!
The morning of the race came quickly. My roommate is a Cat 1 racer and her race started at 9am. My race was scheduled to start closer to 11:30. We got there and she got ready to race while I went and promoted the TN High School Cycling League at the registration table.
TN League promotion at the TN State XC race
The race promoters were nice enough to let me leave a bunch of promo and sponsorship materials at the registration table. Then I went and caught up with a bunch of friends and teammates I hadn’t seen in months. It felt so good to be back at the racing scene. I didn’t realize how much I missed it!
11:27 came quickly and I lined up with my teammates and the other Cat 2 women. There were 7 of us there. I was a little surprised at a couple of the women who lined up though. I thought for sure they had upgraded as they are very strong, consistently posting lap times similar to the Cat 1 women, and have won or have been on the podium at nearly every race I have seen them enter for the past several years. Nevertheless, I had 4 race goals in mind for myself:
- Finish the race – if I finished the race, it would be my first Cat 2 finish.
- Finish in under 2:30:00 – based on my pre-ride, I thought that this would be a challenging (for me), yet obtainable goal.
- Not crash – there were so many trees and narrow handlebar-width passages on this course that playing the “Tree Game” would be much easier than normal.
- Have fun!
The race started and we were off! I hung on with the other racers through the first mile, but then started to back off. I knew the first big drop was coming up quickly and I didn’t want to take the chance of being taken out early. I wanted to finish this race, and I knew I wasn’t going to be “competitive” anyway. So, I backed off a bit and just raced my own race. I could still see the others for quite some time but eventually was on my own.
I was worried the Cat 2 men and Single Speed racers would lap me on their 2nd lap, but as the race went on, I realized that unless they were posting a sub-40 minute lap, I was safe from that embarrassment!
Despite all the roots and trees, I was doing a great job of maintaining control and not crashing. I had one major close-call though. I am not sure how it happened but all of the sudden I was falling to the right. I remember thrusting my left hand in the air and my body towards the left. Somehow it worked and I regained my balance, all without falling or crashing into the tree I was on track for.
Around mile 8.5 I was startled by a man cheering in the woods. He was not by the trail, but actually IN the woods. He yelled at me, “Finish strong!” as I passed. I remember thinking, OMG! You just scared the crap out of me! I appreciate the support dude, but I still have 12 miles to go! What I actually yelled back was simply, “Thanks man!” It was a very odd, secluded place for a person to be… makes me wonder what was really going on out there!
About a mile later, I saw a long, 4-inch round, black snake across the trail. I quickly realized there was no way around him! As I rolled over his body, I shouted, “I’m so sorry snake!” I am sure he didn’t appreciate the apology. He probably thought the danger of getting squashed by a bike rider was over several minutes before he began his trek across the trail and wasn’t expecting to get two heavy wheels mashed into his back. Every stick and root from that point forward looked like a snake to me. Bleck!
I finished the first lap in 1:10. I was on track for a good 2nd lap as well… it was after I had started the 2nd lap that I realized I didn’t grab my new water bottle in the feed area. Crap! I had about an inch of water left in the bottle I had and was already thirsty. I decided to go ahead and eat some Shot Bloks and drink just a swig of water and I would save the last bit of water until mile 6 or so of the lap. I was super thirsty by the end of the race.
The rest of the 2nd lap was fortunately, and unfortunately, uneventful. Around mile 15 I could feel the fatigue set in my legs, so I was forced to back off my intensity just a bit. I am proud to say, however, than I never used the “granny” cog of the front chain ring! That’s a win for me! I just kept peddling and enjoying the ride. Soon I saw the finish and heard the beloved sound of someone yelling, “Rider Up!” I heard teammates and friends yelling for me too. Even though I didn’t podium, they still cheered as if I had won the race. It was a great feeling!
The race was a win for me on many levels:
- I accomplished EVERY goal I had set for myself for the race.
- I successfully made it down and over obstacles (repeatedly) that would have set me back or crashed me not so long ago.
- I didn’t use the “granny” cog on the front chain ring.
- I realized that I had come a long way in such a short period of time.
- I reconnected with friends from across the state that I hadn’t seen in several months.
- I made new friends and met teammates I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet yet.
While I may have been the last to finish the race, I still felt like I had won. And on some levels, I did win. I need to work on my fitness, my climbing, and on my self-confidence about my “racing” abilities. But I will, and all those things will change in time. For now, I’m enjoying the experience, learning from my mistakes and successes, and generally just having fun.