This weekend was the 2012 UFD Championship MTB Race at Rhett’s Run in Columbia, MO.
(THAT is a mouthful!)
It was by far my most important race of the year. Not by itself, but because it was part of a series in which one races and accumulates points, it was the make it or break it race for me.
This was a big year in the dirt for me.
This was the year in which I set my fears, which are aplenty, aside and entered MTB races on courses I had never ridden and made a studied effort to not research…less I freak myself right out and bail.
The race that actually kick-started this habit for me was not even part of this race series, but was in fact that adorable little XTERRA I did in Indiana back in June.
THAT course let me know that regardless of how hilly/hard/terrifying/leg-shredding a course is, I will probably not die if I just calm the fuck down and click off my childhood fears.
After that race, I decided that the worst thing that could happen to me in any given marathon MTB (assuming that I kept my head and did what I was supposed to do) was come in last. Woopty Doo!
Last place and me go way back. We get each other. And like that relationship that simply changed and you grew apart, we aren’t truly comfortable with each other anymore and it no longer has the power to make me feel bad…and is therefore less important.
I learned this year that I am however comfortable with pain and that even though it may appear crazy, I can talk that shit away for at least a little while…even when/if that means talking out loud to myself, a la Jens Voigt.
So, this season I entered as many MTB races in the UFD series that I could. It was tricky because some were on my weekends with my daughter and I had to bail on those, with the exception of Crankfest because that was her birthday gift to me.
I raced these races entering each one pretty terrified (except Crankfest and Castlewood) because I am typically a big doubter in my racing ability…especially on the MTB.
Mostly, before this year I had real concerns that I just could not make it the whole 3 hours and sometimes more that a marathon race takes.
Leading up to Rhett’s Run, I was totally in my head in a bad way.
The first and only other time I had ever been to Rhett’s Run was in 2009 when I chaperoned the kids race.
Sadly, the kid I was following wrecked and wanted to stop racing so we stopped while I got him to First Aid.
I have to admit (because the kid was fine) that I was happy as hell at the time that the kid wanted to stop riding because I was DYING! MTB is HARD!
I was barely a cx racer at the time and had only ridden MTB on a few trails in Castlewood the previous year and had had one not-so-fantastic wreck that scared me off the MTB at Lost Valley a few months before.
I could not imagine riding the whole course of Rhett’s Run when I believe the kid must have wrecked .5 miles into the race and I was put of breath keeping up with him and his little legs.
So, in knowing that my last race of the season/series was going to be on a course which mentally terrified me, allow yourself to imagine how nervous I may have been leading up to the race.
On Saturday, I went out to spin my legs on the flats on the road bike and did some openers on some of my favorite hills.
I had been feeling wonky all morning, but it didn’t hit me until I doubled over with the dry heaves on the side of the road.
My riding partner rolled back to me and I can only imagine my expression.
I was hoping it was just nerves because I for sure did not need any flu-like symptoms the next day.
I chilled out and drank lots of Pedialyte and water that night and ate a yummy, carby dinner and went to bed early.
Sunday morning is where it all fell apart.
(That assumes that no one takes issue with the fact that I didn’t really ride my bike M-F and that I didn’t even bother to make excuses for not riding it.)
Truth be said, it was a crazy busy week and frankly, I just didn’t want to.
(Later, you can play armchair psychiatrist and point out that I sometimes sabotage my own success.)
Yes. I do. I get it. I have done this since I was 5. I don’t do what I don’t want to do and sometimes ignore the big picture…which is still in my mind better than just not seeing the big picture. I get the big picture. It’s right there, for dog’s sake and I am not blind. I am just sometimes a pouty, bratty 5-year old who doesn’t want to do what she doesn’t want to do.
I don’t envision this changing much.
So, Sunday morning…RACE DAY morning…I broke my finely crafted regiment (which one should NEVER do before a race) and just had my normal non-race day breakfast as I hopped in the velowagon and drove the 2 hours to the race.
That breakfast was a protein shake.
That breakfast, as I later realized, was 85 calories.
That breakfast technically shouldn’t have afforded me the energy to even make the drive to Columbia, MO.
I mean, I packed all sorts of yummy goodness for during my race, but I think the fear that stomach issues would arise kept me from eating my normal meal and suddenly I was back to 2009 when my stomach was with the tumors and I was on liquids.
Do you recall 2009 Racer Cory?
Well, she was a hot mess.
Passing out and puking all over any race venue in any town you could take me.
It was awful.
I thought about chomping a PBJ to get calories in me, and just then my stomach turned and I shook my head to no one at all.
I squeezed down a Hammer shot (a whole whopping 80 calories) and headed to the racer meeting.
I was loaded up with treats to snack on during the race and had my tent set up exactly right for me to grab stuff quickly.
Here we go…
We lined up and I see against whom I am racing.
Laura Scherff, Mary Piper, and Cathy Riedy.
Double-shits from the Pope on a cracker.
My legs started to weep silently…and that was before the whistle blew.
(Also, there was no whistle and they just said, “Go” very calmly and without exclamation points. Very chill.)
Already having screwed up my nutrition, I battled to keep my head clear and not freak the fuck out.
Laura is made of titanium and magic, so goodbye 1st place…
Cathy claimed she had not been riding her bike, but as Mary and her discussed the Berryman Epic, I realized that Cathy’s idea of not riding her bike and my idea of not riding my bike were likely very different animals.
Like the difference between a cougar and a tabby.
Mary’s bike was having issues and due to this wonder, I hoped I could at least keep her in my sight and have her rabbit me around the course so I could at least “hold my own”.
We took off and I dropped in behind Laura, which freaked me right out.
She was going to murder me/my legs and she likely wouldn’t even break a sweat.
I was being pretty bad ass for a split second and took wicked fast lines and was very, “CHECK ME OUT!” in my own head…
…and then my head punched me in the face and said, “WHAT IN THE LOVE OF PUPPIES ARE YOU EFFING DOING RIDING LIKE A BIKE RACER?!?!“
…and I pulled aside and allowed a few people to pass, including Mary, because I didn’t want to choke and screw things up for anyone.
So there is mistake 2/3 where I have to remind myself that I am a bike racer and that I have every right to be fast too and to just ride safe and not worry about anyone but self.
I am smacking myself still…right this moment…but I got back in and followed Mary up the long climb and while I lost her for a moment on a boulder section when someone lost their shit in front of me, I was able to catch her on the next climb and stayed there for a while until the 4th climb.
First, let me say that there were at least 6 (hundred?) climbs right after each other on the first half of the course. There were likely 8 total, but as I was drooling all over myself and seeing cupcake-pooping unicorns most of the race, I can’t really be sure.
Frankly, I tried counting the climbs every lap but would always lose my count amongst the potty words I was saying in my head and just like 99-Bottles-of-Beer, I would have to start over each lap. I never made it past 8.
I was still ahead of Cathy at that point and had a fleeting moment of hope that I might actually end up on the podium.
I had told myself that I was going to ride conservatively and play it safe because I just needed to finish to get my UFD points. The bad/awesome thing about this course was that there is zero such thing as “taking it easy”.
There were zero recovery spots as all “flat” sections had narrow trees, jagged rocks, or were a foot long before the next climb.
I counted 3 descents and factored the mathematical impossibility of such a thing as this course had all sorts of ups…and none were particularly short. I mean, sure there were little kickers, but I don’t even count those.
Just as you would finish a climb, there would be a false flat and a turn into another climb.
Or sometimes the climb was long, steep, and straight just to make a turn into more climbing and then a short drop into a climbing switchback.
I felt like I was in a climbing maze.
Even the fire road went up in one spot and some SS racer crawled up to me and said, “There are a lot of climbs!“
I mean…what else could you/he say? There WERE a lot of climbs and it made me happy that other non-Corys felt that way too.
I mean, Laura Scherff and Bob Arnold surely did not realize there were any climbs, as Bob even said “Hi, Cory!” on the first climb of the last lap while I just pulled over and watched.
Mother effer was smiling. SMILING!
I wanted to push him over, but I like Bob.
Also, I did not have the energy to waste pushing over some smiling loon in a MTB race.
That climb was actually one of my faves. That one and the second one. The rest can go suck it.
The next time (IF) you ever hear me utter some shit about being a climber and I don’t have a chalk bag and a harness attached to my ass, smack the snot out of me and say, “Rhett’s Run, Bitch. Rhett’s. RUN.“
Back to the race…
I held Cathy off for 2 laps.
I have to allow this false pride right now because I am still licking my wounds from the ass-kicking I received.
As I came through after lap 2, there went Cathy and I was now in 4th place.
She passed me as I was grabbing my sandwich, but that took 5 seconds, so it would have happened anyway.
I rode behind her and called out as she took a wrong turn and sort of waited up for her after passing because I would have felt like a dick if I had not.
I started chomping that PBJ like it was crack at the base of that first climb and allowed her to pass.
I got on and we rode up, chit-chatting a little…but Cathy must have been using the first 2 laps to warm up, because after we climbed, she was gone.
I had to turn a screw to see if I was just going backwards, but no…she was gone.
This was by far my messiest lap.
I sort of fell apart with admiration for the 3 ladies ahead of me and the hope that I would/could one day do what Cathy just did.
I mean, I know it’s all cyclical and I have done it to people, but yesterday was the reminder that there is always someone faster/stronger and always someone slower/weaker. Yesterday, I was the latter…and it surprised me how much I didn’t like it.
I got out of my head and decided to just do my thing and not wig out/pout/cry/suck my thumb.
I am typically a clinically consistent marathoner. That is good and bad.
Yesterday, it may have been good…had I done it…but I didn’t.
I rode like a maniac.
I attacked where I shouldn’t have and dilly-dallied where I should have attacked.
I noticed (and pouted) over a dead baby snake.
I got screwed up on the timing clock too, so that was fun.
I completely got turned around in my head when I came through after lap 2 and saw 1:43:xx and was happy that I already had an hour and 43 minutes under my belt…when actually, it was made VERY clear that the clock would start COUNTING DOWN at 2 hours to go.
(This is what I get for forgetting my Garmin and any race data collecting devices…or you know, a watch.)
I want you to imagine what the next lap after thinking I was 1:43 into the race was like.
Toward the end of that third lap, I saw Mary and again hope was restored that I might not be as awful as I felt.
I came through after lap 3 and saw :56 on the clock.
Oh yes! I could wait this out if I feel like being a ginormous pansy…
I checked for Mary and I did not see her, which in my mind meant she had gone back out because she was under 3 hours.
I looked at the clock and it said :55…
Grab some calories, girl because you have lost your mind.
Yeah Mary is gone because you have an hour left, idiot.
I wanted to cry.
Cry for my sad idiot self who did not bring a time-keeping device and who was too nutrition deprived to recall my own name, forget trying to recall important details like how clocks work and pedaling a bike.
I smiled and rolled through for my next lap and now I am mentally toast and openly pouting.
HOW could I screw this up?
(I blame the climbs.)
I don’t know what I did, but I ended up having a pretty fast lap (for me)…even though I tried hard not to…
And when I came through again it said :12.
I hate that effing clock. I think it lies.
At that point I could feel nothing and so a 5th lap in Hell certainly was not going to hurt.
On a climb, my shoe got caught on a root and it tore my shoe straight across the top and nearly dragged me right off the bike. That was fun.
Thank dog it was my dismount leg, because I hopped off and saved the bike and my skin and looked sadly down at my favorite MTB shoes with sadness as my foot waved hello at me.
I had to laugh….and so I did.
My legs were cramping pretty bad this lap and I ran the last 5 (hundred?) climbs because why not?
I decided to do this after my front wheel kept leaving the ground and I didn’t have anything left to lean in and not fall over, so running was my thing.
As I crested the last kicker to the finishing field, I could feel a mix of happiness (that it was OVER) and sadness that I didn’t end up where I wanted, and relief that I did not DNF when I wanted to less than 2 hours into the race.
Aside from wrecking and DNF’ing, if there was anything that I could have done wrong in and before this race, I did it…so don’t do that.
4th place gave me enough points to retain my lead for the series, and I will take that.
When I look back at this season and this series, it becomes very clear that one race does not make a season nor a racer and even with a 4th place in this race, this season proved to me that I am a racer, even if one course schooled me.
I put in a lot more time than I sometimes give myself credit for, and as I hit “send” on my phone, knowing that my daughter would soon see the photo of her mom reaching her goal, I allowed myself the joy and excitement of a season well-earned.