The last 16 months have been extremely challenging period of my life. I found myself sitting on the sideline with some pretty major injuries. Between my wrist injury, soft tissue damage in my quad and chronic foot problems there really wasn't much in the way of exercise that I could do. All the medical professionals (PT's, OT's, doctors and surgeons) told me I need to rest my body and let it heal. So I did. I let myself go both physically and mentally. In addition to the cycling, many things in other areas of my life were tanking. I ate burritos, drank lots of wine, became depressed and gained 20 lbs.
I've spend the last 7 months trying to pull myself out of this black hole that I created. Its been a struggle. Work, training, doctors appointments....keep the nose to the grindstone. This summer has found me with shitty road racing results, shitty WORS results and a wrist that feels shitty all the time... a few weeks ago the surgeon tells me that the tendon in my wrist may be permanently damaged. He says finish your WORS season, rest your wrist (again) this fall and winter and we'll see where we are at in spring.
Last Friday I made the 4.5 hour trip to Cable, WI wondering why the fuck am I even bothering with racing. It's a long time to be in a car by yourself when you are in a funky emotional state....even with a fully loaded ipod. Friday night I talked to a lot of familiar faces, took care of administrative issues, rode the beginning 4 miles of the Short and Fat course and went to bed not feeling great about my position in life or cycling.
Saturday morning I couldn't seem to get my shit together. I'll blame it on Perkins in Hayward. They had one hostess and one waitress on staff; the wait for food was ridiculous. After consuming crappy eggs and salty hash browns, I headed over to Cable for the start of the race. I couldn't seem to get dressed or get my bike ready in a timely manner. Procrastination. I intended to get a 45 minute warm up in, but it somehow turned into 15 minutes. Then it was a 15 minute wait for the damn bathroom.
I stepped into the preferred start area. A little nervous banter, the playing of the national anthem, GO...and we were off. In a WORS race you know who everyone is, you know how fast they are and you know who your competition is. In a race like the Short and Fat, I really didn't recognize many people. It's hard to know which ladies to keep your eye on. Riding in the lead group was a little nerve racking. The guys at the front were pulling like mad and people swerving all over the place. I looked down at my computer and it said 31 mph. I wasn't doing that much work and I was being sucked along in the vortex. Cool.
After a while the vortex slowed down and I thought it might be a good time to do some passing. Before I even could act, a tandem hit the ground and ~20 people went down directly in front of me. My heart immediately jumped into my throat as I jammed on my brakes, skidded out, unclipped and gently hit the person laying on the ground ahead of me with my front tire. Everyone around me was on the ground; some bloody and a few screaming in pain or terror.....but I was standing upright. Thank you, thank you thank you! Then I heard 800 people behind me jam on their brakes and scream. I was pretty sure I was done. Would it be a broken collar bone, leg or arm? By some crazy act of god or nature, everyone behind me stopped in time and I remained in one piece. Crisis averted.
About that time I ran into my Chain smoker teammate Dirk. I asked him to give me a pull up to the lady in the Trek jersey and he kindly obliged. By my calculations I was the 3rd overall woman. I tried to sit on her wheel for a while, but once we entered the double track ski trail, she started to blow me up. I backed off a bit and let her get away. I rode the next few miles of the race pretty steadily. Not too much action, not too many men passing me and there were no women in sight behind me. I was sitting pretty....that is until some young girl blows past me half way through the race. WTF. Panic sets in....there goes my podium spot.
The last four miles of the race were a dog fight. I have never dug so emotionally deep into myself during a mountain bike race before. Many crazy things were running though my head. I thought about Tara Llanes and what she wouldn't give to pedal her bike again. I though about all the shitty things that have happened to me during my lifetime. I though about how hard I've worked the last few months to pull myself out of the well. I though about how much I hate being mediocre. I made myself angry. I thought I'm just not going to lay down and let this chick take my podium spot from me. While some people might consider this to be psychotic or perhaps male-like behavior, I'm an ex-competitive soccer player. This is just what you do. You never, ever let anyone take anything from you. And if they get in your way, you better show them the door. (Abby Wambach of the Women's national soccer team will stay locked in her hotel room two days leading up to a game....kind of like a caged animal...then she unleashes all her pent up frustration on the other team come game time).
So I battled with this girl. We went back and forth, back and forth. She easily dropped me on the climbs and I easily out descended her. We were pretty even on the flats. As we flew past a volunteer station, they informed us that we were the 3rd and 4th females. With just under two miles left to go in the race, I decided to try and drop her. I thought maybe it would deflate this girl as I would NOT be able to out climb her on the last climb before the finish. I dropped her for a little while but she would just not let me out of her sight. As predicted, she out climbed me on the last hill and punched it for the finish. I had no answer. My legs were quivering. My heart rate had been an average of 190 for just over an hour of racing (for a two hour WORS race it would typically be around 180). So I rolled into the finish for what I thought was 4th place.
At the finish line, the first thing I did was go shake this girl's hand and tell her how awesome I thought she was. I later found out that Zoe is from Minnesota and is only 15 years old. All I have to say is that Abby and Holly better watch out for this kid. If she sticks with mountain biking, she is going to be fantastic. My 4th place finish somehow turned into a 5th place. In the confusion of the crash on the lead out, one of the women must have slipped away unnoticed and the volunteers must have miscounted. I'm actually more ok with a 5th place finish than a 4th. To do all that work, go through all that emotional stress and be one place outside of the podium almost had me in tears. Warped logic, I know.
With a 5th overall placing and an age class win, I can finally say I had a decent race. Thanks to everyone who cheered me on. I've gotten lots of congratulations in person and though email. Thanks to Chain smoker Dirk for all the "pulls" and for reminding me to put it in the big ring and pedal faster. And thanks to Dave and Renee for picking up all my cool prizes. The best prize of all being my automatic entry into next years race.