As I rode my bike over to the start line staging area, the only thing going through my mind was “What is a 50-year-old woman doing signing up for a mountain bike race?”
Out of My Comfort Zone
To say that I was out of my comfort zone was a huge understatement. I was at a completely foreign venue, I didn’t know the lingo or what I was supposed to do, and I was on a brand-new mountain bike. I felt like a fish out of water. If this was a triathlon, I wouldn’t be feeling this way. I would know what I needed to do. Chances are that I would be racing on a course that I had raced many times before and that I would know several of my competitors as well as the race directors. There would also, more than likely, be members of my triathlon club racing too. This evening, the only familiar face was that of my husband. Honestly, I wanted to call it a day and just go home. What was I trying to prove?
Prior to the race I read and re-read the instructions on the race website. I knew there was something called a speed-check that I needed to do before the race and that I had to get my age marked on my leg. Turns out, it’s not your age on your leg, it’s your starting wave or category. The website referred to it as “Calf Marking”. The triathlete in me came out after I picked up my race packet and asked where the body marking area was. Close enough. A young volunteer scribbled a 29 on the back of my calf (it’s better than the 50 I get at a tri). I’m pretty sure my category of “Beginner Women 40+” was the very last to start.
|Practice laps at Prairie City OHV|
Next on my pre-race to-do list was to ride the course. This was another suggestion on the website because the course changes every week. Riders seemed to pass me left and right as I navigated my way around the dusty, bumpy rock filled trails. When I finished my lap, I rode over to my hubby and told him that were a lot of river rocks all over the course. The description worked for me, however, I later heard another rider talking about all the “Baby Heads”. I Googled it when I got home and, as I suspected, my river rocks were what MTB riders call baby heads. I learned something new and now I can sound cool too talking about baby heads.
Back to the Start Line Staging Area
There were over 350 riders registered for the race. I made my way to the back of the pack and found some other riders with “29” on their left calves. We introduced ourselves and started chatting about the race. ‘Will people call out “On your left?” during the race?’ I asked one of the riders that had competed there before. “Some do, some don’t” was her response, “Just hold your line”. My question showed how naïve I was about MTB racing. During the race I heard “Left”, “Right”, and even “Coming up the middle”. Passing and getting passed is definitely a skill I need to master.
Our category moved closer and closer to the start. I clipped in my left foot and prepared myself for the chaos I was sure was coming. A swim start has nothing on a mass bike start! Category 29 was combined with the smaller preceding category so there was about a dozen of us starting together. The actual start was a blur. I can’t even remember if there was a countdown or if the announcer just said “Go.” All I know is I started to pedal and could not get my right foot clipped. My group appeared to ride away from me but I eventually got my foot clipped and began to catch up with my group.
|Trying to get clipped in|
I remained focused on the task at hand which basically amounted to staying upright. I gained confidence with each pedal stroke. What time I lost to being a bit timid on the descents, I made up for on the climbs. None of the climbs were too steep or too long, but on my first lap I did find myself bunched up with some bigger dudes that were struggling a bit to get up hill. One rider swerved towards me so I quickly moved left and out of his way, only to end up unclipping to avoid falling over. I hurriedly walked to a flatter area where I could clip in and start riding without interfering with other riders. No big deal.
|Start of Second Lap|
My second lap was faster and more fun than the first. Probably because the competitors were spaced out a bit more and because I am sure some of the expert riders had already finished all four of their laps. The course was more familiar but I still struggled a bit with some of the sharper turns and steeper descents. On the last half of my second and final 2.8 mile lap I noticed a familiar rider. Her yellow jersey caught my eye and I recognized her from the start line chat. I had one goal…catch up with her.
|Always smile when you see a race photographer 😊|
I started to close the gap, only to have it widen as she sped downhill away from me. I kept riding. If I could just get a little closer, I might be able to chase her down on the flat gravel section leading up to the finish. All of a sudden I hit a bump. The bike went up, I came down, and my saddle shifted. The nose of the saddle now pointed uncomfortably upward. I tried to sit on the saddle and press it back into a flatter position, but that didn’t work. In this position, I couldn’t sit down and ride like I intended.
I crossed the finish line and then tried to figure out where I needed to go. I thought I read that there was a finishers chute and that you were supposed to keep your order as they wrote your number down but I didn’t see anything of the sort. I rode through an opening in the barricades and stopped at a group of young riders. “Is this where finishers are supposed to go?” They told me that all I need to do was cross the timing mat at the finish and everything was recorded there. I thanked them and rode off to find my husband. Even if my finish didn’t get recorded, I didn’t care. I figured I was dead last in my category anyway.
|Not the most comfortable riding position 😉|
I found my husband and showed him my seat. He made a joke about me not being as light as I think. I didn’t laugh. We then found ourselves standing there trying to figure out what to do next. “There’s not an awards ceremony is there?” He asked. I knew that was code for “It’s getting late and we still have an hour drive home.” I responded that there must be because there is a podium. I had no idea if or where any results were posted and I didn’t want to ask another stupid question so I suggested we head home. Besides there was no way I was on the podium.
Since the hit and run, I have been trying to find new ways to enjoy riding on two wheels without worrying about things with four wheels. I quietly reflected about the race on the ride home. I found the race itself to be incredibly fun and the challenge of the terrain kept me mentally engaged for the duration. It was the complete opposite of the long, day dreamy rides I had on the bike leg of an IRONMAN race. However, I found myself feeling melancholy about the whole race day experience. I had strongly hoped that this new type of racing would seize my heart the way my very first triathlon did.
I think my initial post-race feelings were a culmination of a number of things…my new bike let me down, I had no idea how I did at the race, I was so very, very far out of my comfort zone, and I missed having my triathlon friends with me. When I got home, I decided to see if the results were posted on line. Kudos to the race director. The results were posted and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had placed third in my category (still getting used to not saying “age group”). On top of that, I was only :14 seconds behind the lady in yellow and even better, my second lap was faster than my first.
Suddenly, I started feeling much better about the whole experience. My saddle is a minor fix and I know that the only way I am going to get comfortable with this type of racing is to do it more than once. My biggest task is going to be convincing my triathlon buddies to dust off their mountain bikes and come join the fun! I can honestly say that it was a great experience and a fun way to challenge myself. I am looking forward to my next race.