One warm evening in 2015, Julie Lockhart made us promise that we’d all go to Nationals and race Masters when it came to Hartford in 2017. She was insistent… I promised. we were at Midnight Ride of Cyclocross, the 1st race of my 2nd CX season. I’d come a long way in the year since my ride on the wheel of Helen Wyman, but grass, sand, and gravel still gave me the jitters. But I promised; half appeasing Julie and half hoping…
As soon as Nationals opened, I registered. I didn’t think, debate the wisdom, or question my ability. I entered my credit card, hit ‘register’, and pushed it to the back of my mind as a detail to be figured out later.
The 2016 season was great. 12 races. I met my goal of finishing more races in the top 50% than I didn’t…I met awesome people…I missed my 1st single speed race goal, but all in all a good season for me.
Then the ball dropped. 2017 arrived. It was “later” and time to figure out Nationals. Denial gave way to doubt with moments of confidence and calm. I was excited and nervous. I carefully scheduled my work to accommodate the day off in the middle of the week. I watched course preview videos. I added Hartford, CT to my weather app so I could check the forecast every 8 minutes. This was getting real.
Work commitments kept me from attending Day 1 to cheer for Jason and 545 friends. Given the weather, it turned out I was lucky. The monsoon or whatever that hit Hartford made for a slippy, sloppy, slow racing. By the time the race reports and videos of the carnage were shared, the idea of racing nationals with my current (hard earned) skills started feeling mildly insane. But this is winter in New England, the weather would change.
Wednesday was a full day on a client site, so it wasn’t until the drive home that I heard that my partner in crime had succumbed to good judgement and made the call not to race while sick and miss a day of work that she really couldn’t responsibly miss. This launched a new wave of second-guessing and doubt. Breathe. I dipped into my endurance mindset and turned my brain off. Auto pilot.
Steve (the Bike Guy) stood in for Kristin on race day. He arrived in the driveway with a planned stop at Starbucks. We were wheels up at 5:30am. The temperature dropped as we drove, but the traffic was light. As we parked at the base of the levy, I informed Steve that I still leaving open the option to not race after course preview. He nodded, wisely quiet.
Pre-ride #1. The levy run up was as draining as it looked. Riding down the steepest part I realized something was wrong with my rear disc brake. It was frozen. I tromped over frozen earth to Shimano neutral support. Steve found me as he finished his 1st pre-ride lap and looked over the bike so I could pre-ride a full lap. Thankfully, because the southern part of the levy had been opened and was added back to the course.
I’d never ridden frozen mud ruts – jarring. This was a hard course. It was do-able, but hard. I was slow, but always pedaling…this was enough to head to registration and collect my numbers – yay, arm numbers.
Pre-ride #2. After the Womens 60+ race, they closed the southern part of the levy again and racers started looking a lot muddier. Although I hadn’t originally planned to, I hopped on to the course for another lap before staging. It’s amazing how the course changed. The temperature had come up a little to 30 and the sun had warmed the frozen mud in several spots. Other spots were slippery like frozen snot. Coming down the steep levy descent I nearly endo-d. I got mad at myself momentarily, but pedaled through the course and back to the car for spikes. Somewhere along the river, riding the course back to staging I realized that I had no rear brake. I found Steve, finishing up another practice lap. He confirmed my assessment and that there was no time to do anything about it. So it would be.
The race. Rolling over the start line was amazing. Almost surreal.
The first 2 crashes happened less than a minute into the race. It was slippery. As a group we raced to the levy and climbed up and formed our small procession across the ridge. I ran the whole levy, so that was pretty much the end of me being with a group. I just kept pedaling. I turned 3 laps (most of the race did 4). Each lap was a little cleaner.
A lot of thoughts went through my head as I pedaled in my distant place. Frequently, I felt ridiculous. And then I was pumped I could do as well as I was. And in the end, I was immensely happy that I had somehow learned how to do something for love or joy or the challenge – despite a very real possibility of finishing last. (This wasn’t as easy as I made it look.)
On my last lap, I saw Julie Lockhart (National Champion. again) cheering. I yelled and thanked her sarcastically for making me promise to do this crazy race. She smiled and yelled back that I should Just keep going and then “aren’t you glad you’re here?!”
I rolled under the USA Nationals Finish not quite last it turned out. It was a great day. I was tired. I needed a beer. I raced USA Cyclocross nationals, me. Hot damn! And best beer ever.