Sunday, July 22, 2018

MTB Nationals: You're Gonna Make It After All

Who can turn an enduro into a time trial?
Who can take your favorite race, and suddenly make it all seem so vile?
Well it's USAC, and you should know it
With each stage and every stressful transfer you show it

Push the pedals down, no need to waste it
There’s a spot on that lift, why don't you take it?
You're gonna make it after all
You're gonna make it after all

Yeah, I did have to break out the rhyming dictionary on that one.

I don't have a single picture of myself at nationals, so here is what I look like after doing a 1.2 mile steep hike-a-bike the day after the hardest race of my life.

This week’s mountain bike nationals enduro was a rough one, thanks in no small part to the relatively small time slot into which we were expected get 150+ racers through seven stages across 27 miles and four lift rides. This is, of course, the major downside to a national championship event that must fit all of the mountain bike disciplines and their respective age groups into one venue over the course of a few days. There are also upsides to the experience of everyone gathered in one place once a year, but it can make for less-than-ideal individual races. Because enduro mixes in a little bit of all of the other disciplines and requires the largest footprint, fitting it into this format is especially tricky.

Based on our practice day, I knew that I would be pressed to make the 6:30 p.m. time cutoff from my 1:22 p.m. start time. The race was a long, stressful, and exhausting day where I would push myself on the transfers to get a little ahead on time, only to have to wait in line to begin the next stage. In the end, I made good time on the final long pedal transfer, rolled straight into Stage 6 without resting, and jumped  on the lift to get to Stage 7 around 6:15 with a group of other relieved and exhausted racers. Despite having had a rather shitty race, I was choking down happy tears on the short pedal from the top of the Ballhooter lift over to the Western territories because it was almost over, and I was going to make it on time. Of course, at the time the only part of the song I could remember was, “You’re gonna make it after all,” so I just sang it over and over in my head until I started the final stage.

Although, I was proud to have made the time cutoff, that was the only thing that I was proud of about this race. I had struggled enough throughout the day to know that I had not done well in the race, but was not prepared for what the results revealed. The total time for the majority of the female competitors was somewhere in the 40-50 minute range, with the top pros in the upper 30’s. My time: 1:03. What the hell happened?!!

Some things were obvious, like how I took a bad hop off a bridge on Stage 4 and fell head-first into a rocky creek below. I banged up my left elbow and right palm and sprained my left wrist, but luckily I wasn’t seriously hurt. I lost a decent amount of time figuring out how to get right-side up and out of the creek without making things worse. As much as I tried to keep trying after that, I was mostly riding in survival mode, where you end up making more mistakes by being hesitant that you would by riding aggressively.

I hadn’t really been riding well prior to the crash either. When I struggled in practice the day before, I tried to tell myself that having trouble with all of the wet roots, slick rocks, and mud puddles of indeterminate depth was to be expected, and that everyone else was probably having just as much or more trouble than I was. During the race, everyone around me was complaining about Stage 2 both before we started and after we were done. I had been off my bike quite a bit, so I knew I didn’t do well, but I'd hoped it wasn't that bad based on everyone else’s complaints. Apparently, it was pretty bad. I fell on Stage 3 and got my pedal stuck on a root, causing an additional time delay, and by the time the time I crashed on Stage 4, I was already to the point of getting frustrated and starting to give up on bumbling through long, slick, and pedally stage.

So basically, I dumpstered it up real good on Thursday. It sucks, but I’m finally starting to understand the futility of beating myself up after a bad day. I’ve already been up and down many time this season. Before this race I was enjoying a streak of relative success in my races and training, and was beginning to wonder why I lost my shit so bad at Timberline back at the beginning of the year. Now I remember: coz stress, coz slick, coz tired, coz scared. Then I bounced back and started improving again.

The confidence that I had a week ago was not completely unwarranted. I’m just a bit of a one-trick pony right now and this race didn’t provide much opportunity perform my one trick (fast, rocky, steep stuff), but if I can learn one trick, I can learn others. I also know that it’s about time to start caring about my fitness again after giving it a break for a couple of years, so that I get through races more quickly with less fatigue and attack the pedally stages harder, even if I never learn to love them.

Sometime I think I let my history as a stagnant XC racer influence how I feel about my enduro racing now. Like, if I wallowed in seven years of mediocrity then, why do I think I have the ability to be good now? The answer is that it’s a different sport and I’m a different person, and frankly, I enjoy enduro a whole lot more than I ever did with XC. Maybe those seven years were just a practice day to my real mountain bike career where I scoped some lines and got some mistakes out of the way. Maybe they don't count for anything beyond that. Maybe I'll surprise myself how much faster I go this time around.

So I’m not going to let a bad race make me start doubting my ability to do better in the future, and I’m going to keep working to improve the areas where I need work (fitness, berms, slick stuff). Even though journey has not been as quick or smooth as I’d hoped, after one and a half years as a full-time #femdurobro, I’m finally starting believe that I’m gonna to make it after all.