I was constantly going or not going to Monster Cross for weeks leading up to the race. The race was postponed from its scheduled date since the race venue was under a pile of snow that then got snowed on again and also covered in ice. But that was fine with me as I bought last minute a plane ticket to Florida instead to escape the frosty misery. After I returned to the D.C. tundra and the new race date neared, I determined it was going to be the best snow-free riding in the region, and it would be silly not to head down.
I was instantly relieved when the trails were not nearly as bad as I thought they might be. After the first two sections of the course, I suspected that I was sitting pretty comfortably in 4th place. Even though our field was small due to the rescheduled date, I just as easily could have been sitting in dead-last place. I knew I just had to get through the lap without any disasters.
About 30 seconds after that thought, I went off course.
About 5 minutes after that, I realized it.
The course markings were sparse. But generally, if you didn’t see a sign you just kept going. Except for this one sort of questionable “Y” in the fireroad. Or at least it was questionable to me. The first time through I thought “how does everyone know which way to go?” but I followed them. The second time through, I saw a scuffed up arrow on the ground pointing left. I slowed down and rode by, thinking maybe it wasn’t for us as the intersection looked vaguely familiar. Some guys behind me said something and I followed them to the left. (Bad idea.) There were about a billion tire tracks accompanied by chalk arrows on the ground, so we figured it was correct. (Makes sense.) But then there was a fallen tree across the trail that I did not recognize. Upon examination of the tree, I determined that it could have possibly fallen during the race. Like someone leaned on it to pee and it fell over. (I have actually done this to a tree, but really, what are even the chances of that happening?) So I kept going. (Even worse idea.) Then we got to a road crossing that was definitely not in the first lap. Someone recognized the trail we were on as one that would take us back to the finish. (OH SHIT.) I was not happy.
In my mind I saw the questionable intersection and jumped back on my bike to take the other trail. I had no idea if this was the right move (it was) but I was obviously not on course, and I didn’t have a better idea.
I was soon back on course, but now I was sure that I lost my place. I was SO MAD. Rather than wallow along self-pity (life is so hard!), I started hammering to catch back up. Apparently, few things motivate me as well as pure anger, as proven at DCCX. I started blasting by people, which was sort of fun. I was also getting confused as to where I was in the race and a little concerned. It seemed like I had lost a lot of time, but I had no idea how much. I guessed maybe 10-15 minutes, but it felt like an hour. I passed a few women from the other classes, including one on a fat bike (a mountain bike with huge tires) and I was really confused. I didn’t understand how she was so far up in the race on a bike that would be so obviously slow on such a course. I later learned from talking to her that she is a long course triathlon professional. That would explain it. Finally, I spotted and caught one of women from my race I was chasing. I kept hammering along, in case anyone else was in front of her.
I thought I finished in 4th, but thanks to a DNF, I was 3rd. Going off course may have been kind of annoying, but I highly suspect that I would not have been motivated to ride my last lap like that if I had stayed on course. So while part of me looks at my time, subtracts about 10 minutes, and sees me a mere few minutes behind second place, the other part of me knows that probably wouldn’t have happened anyway. But then I go back and know that it could have been possible to be that close, or even closer perhaps. It never stops impressing me how important the mental aspect of racing can be.