My race strategies in previous races has been to go out hard and then just keep going as hard as possible. I figured that if I did this in the Hoo-Ha, I might actually die. So I took a more reasonable approach. I would hold back for the prologue and the first lap, and then try to pick it up for the last lap.
We had 10 people at the start of the for the Women’s Pro/Expert XC race, and I pulled up in the back row. This was a good sized field, which I liked. Although at the same time, podium fantasies drained out of my mind. However, I wasn’t really in the mood to care. I was just going to race my own race for once and not get all in my head about it.
The start pace was reasonable. I decided that I would not get caught up in a fast start. But then I thought, maybe I can just get around these few women ahead of me. So I did. I jumped in behind Sue Haywood. I figured that passing her would just be silly. But then I passed her anyway because the women in front were pulling away and I thought that maybe I would just stay with them anyway…just in case maybe I could. Sue passed me just before the single track as we turned downhill, and I tried to see how long I could keep her in sight. It was about 15 seconds at most.
Through the first lap I tried to keep an easier than usual pace since my recent races have ended in devastation. I wasn’t feeling terribly aggressive anyway, so it was easy to do. A few women passed me, and we went back and forth a bit. I ended the first lap in about 7th place. Heading into the second lap, I figured it was time to stop lollygagging along and start pushing, even though I wasn’t so much in the mood for that. Riding behind my competition for much of the race gave me good insight on to who was better technically, who was a better climber, and who was a better descender. I decided that I needed to put as big of a gap as possible in to whoever I could on the main climb. I passed three women on the climb, and one passed me back a bit later on the descent. I finished in 5th place. I was less than a minute behind 4th, but mere seconds away from losing that podium spot. I haven’t had to actually race to the end in quite a while.
This was my third time racing this course, and it didn’t feel one bit easier than it has in the past. In fact, it may have seemed harder. I felt really off on my technical skills, and it made me wonder if the saying “it doesn’t get easier, you only get faster,” applies to rocks as well as fitness.
Hoo-Ha is one of my all time favorite races, so a good result here is just a bit more exciting than anywhere else for me. Three years ago I was thrilled to just be able to finish this race since it honestly terrified me. I’m pretty sure I pulled in as they were taking the finish line down, but that didn’t stop me from nearly welling up with tears of joy. If someone told me I would be on the Expert podium in three years with the other very impressive women out there on Sunday, I would have punched them in the face with disbelief.