It would have been wise perhaps, to make my first venture into the Michaux Endurance Series at the more reasonable 20 mile distance, but I didn’t. Off the start of the 40 mile race my legs felt like marshmallows filled with vomit. I hung back, and was content to follow the other women.
I was ready and confident going into the first rock garden until my feet busted out of my pedals. I had just switched to SPDs after destroying yet another set of egg beaters. It appeared that my easy ride along the W&OD bike path the day before was not an adequate test for pedal tension or cleat position. I kept attempting to ride with my feet shooting off in unexpected directions until I finally stopped to tighten my pedals, and then to tighten them again. That helped keep my feet attached but didn’t help the slightly off angle of my cleats that made clipping in a difficult task all day long.
I honestly don’t remember much about the first half of the race except for how miserable I was and how much doubt I had. I told myself I didn’t have to do the entire race. I could stop at any aid station and take the road back. My Garmin was demoralizing me and suggesting a 7 hour finish time. Inside, I know it was laughing at me.
As my Garmin crept to 17 miles, the 20 mile aid station was in sight. Ok, so my Garmin is definitely wrong, I thought. This was encouraging. A SAG vehicle was picking people up at the aid station. “Broken bikes only,” they said. I considered bashing in my rear derailleur, but since so much of my stuff has been breaking lately, I really couldn’t sacrifice it. As I refilled my water, I asked if we were really halfway and I received what was probably a completely made up answer of “yes.” I thought about my Michaux Endurance Series socks that I picked up at registration, and how I wanted to wear them with pride and not with shame. I would go on.
As I left the aid station, the race director joked that it was “all uphill from here.” Then he joked about how he was f*cking serious. This was actually good news to me and made me feel a little better because some of the descents were scary. What also made me feel a little better was passing a few guys who were doing the 20 mile race.
That feeling was short lived however, because I soon started up what might be the worst climb in the entire world. Actually, it wasn’t that bad because I walked a lot, but the top was so steep that I seriously doubted my ability to climb up it with my bike. The hill was so steep I felt like I could stick out my tongue and touch the ground. As I neared the top, I saw a white piece of paper on a tree with a smiley face drawn on it. Nothing else, just a smiley face. For a race that used the phrase “blood sport” in it’s description, this seemed out of place enough to make me giggle my way to the top.
I headed on and passed a guy with a broken bike who gave me some info on where the other women were ahead of me. The next woman was about 5 minutes up, and the next was maybe 5-10 minutes ahead of her. Maybe it was the sandwich I ate earlier, but I was renewed. I would catch them. I was suddenly riding more smoothly, having fun, and not worrying about my marshmallow legs, or the fact that I was dead last. I looked forward to the last 5 miles that Becky Frederick had told me were lovely, and I convinced myself that it was pretty hardcore of me to be doing this race at the last minute as a training ride. So what if I was last? This was just a stepping stone to the next big day. I eventually caught up to Jen and informed her that we should catch Jamie.
I was soon at the last aid station, and I confirmed that it was really only 8 miles to the end. The wonderful volunteer told me it was really more like a 38 mile race. I could have hugged her. I took off with glee down the fire road to try and catch Jamie as I heard Jen emerging from the woods just behind me.
I was soon cursing Becky’s name as her definition of lovely was obviously not the same as mine. Never trust your competitors, even when you are not actually racing them. The last 5 miles were by far the most technical of the day. I finished 4th out of 5 women. I was very close to 3rd, but they had the podium for Cheryl and Selene before the rest of us were anywhere near the finish. So I’m not too disappointed about not catching 3rd because when you can’t even get back in time for the podium, it hardly seems like you earned it. But at the same time, I knew that Jamie and Jen are solid technical riders and I was pleased just to be keeping up.
The next day, I pulled my Michaux socks on with a pride that only a person with a questionable mental state can feel.