Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Steel City Enduro

She needed wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
She needs new faces
She knows the high stakes

This weekend I ventured into strange, new territory as far as this season’s enduro racing goes: my home state. While the nation’s (okay, mostly the east coast’s) eyes turn to West Virginia mountain biking this week, it will be one of the few times this season that country roads, or eroded creek beds, won’t be taking me to the place I belong. While scanning the pre-reg list for the USA Cycling National Mountain Bike Championships, I noticed that Sue Haywood is the only West Virginia Enduro Series regular who is entered on the women’s side. I had considered racing the enduro at nationals earlier in the season, but wasn’t really up for using the four vacation days that the Wednesday AND Thursday enduro schedule would require. I guess I’ll just have to wait for the real West Virginia enduro championships at Snowshoe in September.

Since nationals left a pretty big gap in the WVES schedule, I decided to wander back into MASS territory for the Steel City Enduro in Bethlehem, PA. My teammates Michaela and Sam did it last year, and described it as the hardest race they’d ever done and said that I would have loved it because it was so rocky. It also had the biggest women’s attendance of any MASS enduro race last year, so I was glad that it didn’t have a WVES conflict. I knew that the sport class competition in the Lehigh Valley would likely be tougher than it was in West Virginia, and after writing my last post, I was as emotionally prepared as I was ever going to be for a well-timed ass-kicking.

Because enduro requires such a diverse skill set, this year I have been fully embracing the philosophy of “doing things I’m bad at” and trying to expose myself to as many challenging situations as my time, energy, and budget will allow. While there many famously challenging trails within a half-hour of my house, we’re still pretty short on drops, jumps, corners, and “up and over” features, so I’ve been seeking out opportunities to travel outside of Rothrock and practice these things as much as possible. I’ve also realized that as much as one can practice skills, the only way to truly prepare for racing is actually racing.

Steel City turned out to be a combination of many “doing things I’m bad at” in one event. The stages were very pedally with lots of really tight turns, a decent amount of uphill, and not that many rocks by my standards. As far as I was concerned, the most fun part of the race was actually the transition between stages 2 and 3, which was included in last year’s race but removed this year to allow that trail to be used as a two-way transition instead of a timed stage. The Hail was probably too much bike for this race, because there were very few places that were both technical and high-speed enough to warrant it, and it was very hard to accelerate out of the many tight corners.

I went into race working to mentally balance the desire to do my best, but also not be upset if I didn’t place well, as I knew that was a distinct possibility under the circumstances. Most of the competition were XC racers on shorter-travel bikes, and for this race, that was an advantage. All I could really do was focus on being as smooth as possible and be extra careful to avoid any unnecessary brake tapping when the trails did open up for maximum speed.

Did I succeed?  Not completely. I still made a few minor boo boos here and there, but overall I felt like I’d done the best that I could. That ended up getting third out of four finishers, as nationals seemed to have dampened attendance at this year's race. I wasn’t necessarily happy with that placing, but it was worth it for the learning experience. Racing in conditions that don’t favor my stengths will help me be a better racer in the future.

The next WVES race is not until August 13, so Frank and I are using the time off to take a two-week mountain bike hiatus to reboot our strength training and allow our bodies to recover from some of the chronic abuse that they’ve been sustaining since March. I haven’t had any major crashes in few weeks, but I’m still feeling a lot deep aches and pains throughout my body.

As much as I’m fundamentally opposed to racing enduro in November, this year’s Raven Enduro is scheduled for November 5, and I still feel the need to support my local race. Between this and the fact that Blue Mountain stays open through October, I’m becoming very tempted to just enduro straight through until winter and maybe skip ‘cross except for Sly Fox. I still have so much that I want to accomplish before the weather turns too bad for mountain biking, so I figured a little break now will be worth it to make sure my body holds out that long.