It took me a couple of days to find the motivation to write my race report for the Ouachita Challenge. Then this morning I saw that Carey had posted hers and I was quite surprised to find a few similarities between her race and mine:
1) It was the hardest LAST PLACE finish for me ever.
2) The start was way faster than I expected.
3) The course was way harder than I expected.
4) I was in no mood to listen to the guy giving me directions at the last check point. This was not because I was worried about holding anyone off, but because I too believed that it was all down hill to the finish and I just wanted to be done.
This, however, is not the "other half" I am referring to. I am referring to the other half (okay 95%) of the United States that is not Indiana and how I had no idea what I was getting into when I rolled up to the starting line Sunday morning. I apparently picked a very bad venue to venture out of everything I had known about mountain bike racing until that point in my life.
Arkansas singletrack is hard. When I heard that there were rocks I was still imagining Indiana rocks, but just more of them. The problem is that Indiana trails only have rocks that were placed there after careful thought on the part of the trail builder, with great consideration regarding the flow and difficulty level desired. Arkansas just has rocks: big ones, little ones, loose ones, sharp ones, etc. They grew there themselves.
So now that I've set the mood for our tale, I will proceed with my version of the 2008 Ouachita Challenge.
As I mentioned before, the start was fast, but I didn't really know that at the time as I had no previous experience with that sort of thing. I just hammered away trying to stay mid-pack so I wouldn't "get stuck behind the slow people on the singletrack" as I had been warned about the day before. Hah! Basically, I spent the first half-hour with my heart rate about 15 beats above the early race limit I had set for myself and by the time I hit the singletrack I was having a terrible time bringing back down. My handling skills were also crap because I hadn't seen singletrack since Thanksgiving, my tires had too much air, and I was already tired. The Womble seemed to last forever and by the time I hit aid station one I had basically just finished my first cross country race of the season.
Too bad I still had a 40 mile death march to the finish.
I did get what seemed to be a too-short reprieve over highway and fire road where I did my best to spin my legs out, but it was to be the last time I felt good that day. After that the real rocks and climbing set in, draining my strength with each pedal stroke or step. The Blowout Mountain section was so hard that I don't think I was able to stay on my bike for 60 seconds straight the whole time, either because of the steep climbing over rocks or because the descent was so darn technical. That made for seven miles that took two hours to cover.
The thought of quitting crossed my mind many, many times during that section, but the fact that I had come halfway across the country to be there and the need to prove all the naysayers wrong forced me to get back on my bike after a short break at the last aid station. I'm not even sure if the Big Brushy section was really that hard, but I still had to walk a lot of it. That was because my quads refused to pedal over anything steeper than 4%, even in my easiest gear.
So when I reached the fire road at the end I was ready to rip it with every bit of strength I had left and call it a day. The guy tried to tell me how to get back to town while putting on my zip tie, but I think got distracted by the fact that he was putting in on in a stupid way. Those damn zip ties were about the only thing keeping me going at the time and I wanted it put on neatly so that I could keep them as a badge of honor. Anyway, all I heard was "down fire road, left at highway, less than 10 miles" and I threw it in my big ring and started flying down the fire road.
There must have been a turn that he didn't tell me about or that I didn't hear because after what seemed like way too long I still hadn't hit the highway and I realized there were no other bike tracks in the gravel. I stopped, looked around, pulled out my cellphone and found I had no service, and cried. Then I pedaled some more until I realized I was back at the aid station where I had been before we entered the last section of singletrack. Then I cried some more and turned around. Luckily, it didn't take long before I saw the bailout route signs back into town, so I was able to get back without totally retracing my steps.
As I was rolling up the hill with the finish in sight, albeit from the opposite direction from where I was supposed to be coming from, my phone started ringing and then a guy said, "Is that her?" I looked over to find a my mom, my friend Chrysa who I had driven down with, and a small group of volunteers forming a search party to find me.
So I may or may not be on the official results when they come out, but as far as I'm concerned, I made it back to the Oden School without any motorized help, so I finished. It wasn't what I would call "fun", but it was an important lesson in resilience that I sure I will benefit from in the future.
The volunteers were nice enough to leave the showers open for me and standing in the concrete walls of the high school locker room, I have to say I had the best, most luxurious shower of my life.
I also got to eat my first Sonic in five years afterward. I chose a cheeseburger, which is totally weird for me, but it was delicious. I meant to get a picture, but I stuffed in my mouth so fast that I forgot to take one.
Hopefully, I will have some race pictures to post tomorrow.