It was a beautiful spring day at Patapsco. A sunshine, dry trails, fun people, green grass, blue skies, butterflies, unicorns, big cookies, free puppies sort of day. And then, it RAINED. A LOT. It thundered. It rained some more. It rained harder. Then it rained even harder. After about 20 minutes, our start time rolled around and the rain stopped. Just like it was on cue, it stopped so we could start. I wondered how the trails held up.
Our group of about 30 riders all rolled up to a mass start for the Elite Men and Women’s fields. Part of the reason I made it out to this race was because the Elite Women’s field was one of the largest of the day. There were almost as many women as men, and that doesn’t happen often in local races. Or maybe ever. It was also one the most competitive races I have ever been a part of. We had Cheryl Sornson, two time NUE Series Champion; Marla Streb, former downhill pro, two time single speed world champion, and MTB hall of famer; Susie Snyder, former XTERRA Amateur World Champion; and plenty of other women with shorter resumes but fast enough to beat the pros. Quite a line up for a local race in its second year of existence.
I was looking forward to a 100% chance of a major butt kicking since my biggest claim to fame is topping the podium at Wednesday at Wakefield. But I just thought it was cool that I got to race with these women who are more like inspirations than competitors. It’s a little odd to be racing someone you feel like you know because you recently read their biography.
The start was fast since we were starting with the men. I sort of like when they do that because it gives us more people to race, but it also makes it harder to see who is where, and it sort of shattered the women’s field. I tried to keep an eye out for the other women during the first part of the race. Starting out, the trails were not too bad, a little slippery but ok. We headed down the first descent and I felt good, like I could go faster if there were not people in front of me. But we continued to string out and I was quickly alone.
Soon I was pedaling through giant mud bogs. Deep mud, shallow mud, thick mud, thin mud, cute splashy puddles, and ugly hub deep puddles. Another section of trail had deep mud crisscrossed with log-sized roots followed by a creek crossing with a steep slippery uphill on the next side that gave me trouble every time. Then there was the “crazy rock thing” my friend Sara had warned me about before the race. It was more like a big chasm in the trail with a few big rocks to jump across all covered in slippery slimy mud.
Riding alone gave me a lot of time to think about things like quitting, how poorly I was riding in the slick and muddy conditions, the fact that I was likely going to be last, and how absurd it was to be riding in such conditions. What was the point? Why do this to finish last? Why bother riding in circles just to confirm I am slower than everyone else? I have spent more than my fair share of time riding in wet conditions at the SM100 and Stoopid 50, but this was something different entirely. At one point I thought I might be the only person still out riding and that everyone else realized how bad of an idea this was and stopped.
Despite my determination to quit. I stuck it out for all four laps, and on lap 3 a woman popped out of the trail in front of me. It looked like maybe she went off course. The course was pretty well marked, so that would be challenging, but it was the only explanation I had of why she was entering the trail from the right when we were going left. I was tempted to pass her on the climbs, but I figured it was better to follow her for a while. She was faster through the slippery slimy sections anyway. But then I lost her on the climb after the creek because I messed up my line trying to avoid the completely rideable giant tree roots and ended up running the creek and the climb.
After I crossed the finish I basically went straight to my car, cleaned up as best as I could, wondered what percentage of the mud was actually poop, and left as fast as possible. I wanted to be OUT of there. I was upset with myself for riding so poorly. I didn’t have any expectations for this race, but I didn’t want to be so far behind the rest of the field. I wanted to at least feel like I was in the race.
I didn’t look at the results before I left, but I should have. I was 8th out of 10 finishers and I was about 90 seconds behind the next woman, and she was about a minute from the woman in front of her. Oddly, the results have the woman I was behind until the creek finishing behind me. The race had a fancy-pants chip timing system so I figure the results were right, but I don’t know how it happened. Regardless, I was still in the race for sure, but I had no idea. Had I spent less time freaking out about the mud, wallowing in self-pity, and thinking about quitting, I could have easily been 90 seconds faster, or two minutes, or even three minutes. I may not have moved up a place, but at least I would have had someone in sight.
This race was a serious mental battle, but I learned a lot. It can be hard to stay focused when you are out there alone, and it’s even harder to squash those negative voices. My skewed perception of the race really had a negative effect on my confidence and my race. I have told people that you learn more from your bad races than your good ones, and that definitely holds true for this one.