When I arrived at Hyattesville, my first impression of the course was that it was going to be terribly boring and cater more to my weaknesses than my strengths. I could not have been more wrong. The course was awesome, mainly because of the “wooded section” a.k.a. “crazy singletrack section” which was a short dirt/gravel climb with a few small steps, a turn at the top with a log, and then a semi-steep short rooted descent with a sharp right turn. It was all completely rideable, but the descent and sharp turn were not exactly going to be easy. As I watched the first few races, racers would disappear into this section and almost always come out in a different order than they entered. For a taste of the course, check out this video from CXHairs.com:
It had been raining all morning, and it slowed to a stop right before the start of the Women’s Cat 3/4 race at noon. We were the first lucky race of the day to be spared from the rain. However, figuring that rain and mud could only give me an advantage, part of me was a little disappointed. Soon we were off, and I quickly settled in. The pack didn’t spread out as quickly as previous races, but I was still shuffled towards the back fairly quickly. I settled into a groove, and I instantly felt more comfortable in the turns than last week thanks to lots of time spent practicing on singletrack over the past several days.
Around some turns, over the barriers, and into the woods. My first time into the woods I was wondering if the women ahead of me would be running or riding. I told myself it would be ok to run, but as I approached and saw others on foot, I knew I could pass them riding. So I did. I hopped off at the top since I didn’t trust myself on the last larger step or the log at the top, and got back on to start the descent. I wasn’t sure about making it around the turn, but we would see.
I aimed down the descent in a gap in the roots where my husband pointed me towards when we were checking it out earlier. I totally would not have picked that from the vantage point on my bike, but it was perfect. People in front of me were on foot in the turn blocking all kinds of lines so I got off and followed behind them. However, they were WALKING and it was FLAT. Umm this is a RACE? So I darted around them and ran until I had a spot to get back on. My second time through was similar, ride the hill and the descent, get off in the turn and run around people.
I spent a lot of the second lap going back and forth with one of my nemeses. I passed her running in the woods, but she was better at cornering so passed me back after a bit. However, she didn’t pass me by much, and in my head I heard my high school cross country coach yelling “Pass her don’t pace her!” If she was going to pace me, I would let her. I stuck behind her and didn’t bother trying to get around. We were going hard enough, gaining on another girl up ahead, and I knew I could get her in the woods.
As I entered the woods, I saw that the ladies ahead of me were walking on the left of the climb, which is where the steps were lower and I would be forced to go right. I thought about running by them, but then saw my husband cheering and wanted to look cool, so I powered up all three steps, hopped off over the log (which I now totally realize I easily could have ridden), and headed into the descent. For the first time, it was totally clear ahead and around the turn. It’s a sketchy turn so I thought about running, but at least TWO people were taking my picture so I was determined to continue looking as hardcore as possible. I almost didn’t make it all the way around the turn without putting a foot down, but the ground was so loose and fluffy that I just kind of sunk in and stayed on the trail. I heard some people describing this section as “slippery” but they obviously do not have the extensive experience riding in mud that I have, because it wasn’t slippery at all.
I totally dropped the girls that I passed on the climb. And even better, I did it thanks to mad skills. Totally confidence building. This put me up behind the girl who crushed the Cat 4 field earlier that day. I started to realize that I did not know how many laps were left, but I was pretty sure we had at least 1 more. I passed her towards the end of the lap and stayed ahead until a shifting problem slowed me down enough for her to pass. Shoot! Rather than pass back as soon as I got my shifting straightened out, I figured I could let her pull me through the flat fast part and then I’d find a spot to pass where I could make a good gap. But then I saw the official waving us in and the lap counter showed a big fat ZERO. UGGGG! I could have passed her, but not enough time!
It turns out that we were the first people to be given the “opportunity to retire early,” which is how the race official phrased it. I guess the Cat 1/2/3 leaders were about to finish, because I was told that the leaders of my Cat 3/4 race were not far ahead. It is all very confusing when you finish but people in your race are still riding. Anyway, I was 10th, and I am pretty happy with that. Not so much on my place, 10th out of 18 isn’t terribly impressive, but just how much better I felt during the race. Like I was actually racing instead of just fumbling my way across the course and trying not to be last.