What a week. It almost felt like cyclocross season this weekend, since the Windham World Cup gave me the chance to not only race my bike, but interview some of my favorite cyclocrossers, including Georgia Gould, Geoff Kabush, Todd Wells, and Justin Lindine. Watching Georgia almost take her first World Cup win only to be thwarted by a flat tire in the last seconds of the race, and witnessing Todd Wells take fourth place on American soil … Wow! Talking to them afterwards was amazing too –joking with Georgia about stuffing our sports bras with ice for both the chilly factor and the bonus cleavage it creates, talking with Kabush about the ‘Kabush Falls’ feature on the course – this is why I love race reporting, and it was great to get back to that. My race, on the other hand, may have been the toughest race I’ve endured, both mentally and physically.
The Windham World Cup elite cross country race happened on Saturday, and I loved watching the pros agilely navigate the long, hard uphills followed by incredibly technical downhill sections, including one named after Kabush (‘Kabush Falls’ can be explained by a quick search on YouTube). However, the ease in which they flew over the course may have lulled me into a false sense of security, as I was stunned to realize just how hard the course was while pre-riding it later that night.
A few friends and I decided to do the race on the cheap and camp out: both an amazing and terrible idea. So, sweaty, tired, and overheated, we headed to set up our tents and hit the sack, since our races all started at 8 a.m. the next morning. It was also going to be my first Cat 1 MTB race, and I was feeling a little nervous.
We were up before the sun, though none of us were feeling particularly race ready. A night in a tent on hard ground isn’t conducive to race prep, as it turns out. But once we got there and started warming up, I realized that all the sleep in the world wasn’t going to make this race go well for me. I was going to try anyway, though.
The race started off all right, with the long steady uphill. Upon entering the woods, it started falling apart. I won’t do an entire race report, suffice it to say that starting pros 10 minutes ahead of the Cat 1 women essentially ensured that we would start getting passed after just one lap, and that it would be a long four laps. I wasn’t handling amazingly well but I wasn’t doing too bad either, until Kabush Falls. A giant endo over the bars and into the dusty, red dirt (and a handlebar into my leg, and a rock into my arm) was enough to scare me to death and make even pedaling on the “easy” uphill sections nearly impossible. And the race wasn’t even halfway over!
By lap three, I started praying to be pulled at the end of the lap. I started bargaining with myself, saying I could pull myself if I just got through this lap. And when a rider went to pass me in a singletrack section and was rude about it, I got mad. Seconds later, when another rider passed me and told me I was doing great and to ignore that other guy, I maybe cried a little bit. I wanted out.
I’ve written before about refusing to DNF a race unless I’m getting taken out on a stretcher. Well, there’s a first time for everything, I rationalized, as I puttered up a particularly tough climb with rising temperatures. It was then that I ran out of water. My face, arms, and legs were all coated with dirt and I couldn’t even lick my lips without swallowing what felt like a pound of dust. My lungs were full. My legs were heavy and hurting. I was ready to be done.
And then, there it was: the finish line at the end of Lap Three. This is it, I thought. I’m going to pull off to the side. I’m going to do it. I’m going to be done.
Then, it happened. I realized I had ridden past the finish, hadn’t gotten pulled, and was aiming for the feed zone. I hadn’t done it. I couldn’t do it. If I could pedal, I was going to finish the race. Good idea? I don’t know. But despite how horrific it felt, I’m glad I crossed the finish line, not even in last in my group. So I guess I get to keep the Death Before DNF bumper sticker on my truck after all.
After the race, the bruises started swelling up within minutes. Two days later, I was still discovering new ones. But that’s mountain biking, and that’s bike racing. I can safely say that I looked pretty darn bad at the finish, since I got a note from Justin Lindine the next day, who doubled up and raced the World Cup as well as the Pro race (which he won on Sunday). The note read, “Sorry we didn’t get a chance to chat afterward, but you didn’t look super stoked about the course.”
A bit of an understatement, but a polite way of saying, “You looked like death.”
Now that I’m recovering and happily on vacation with the family, I have time to get the awesome interviews I did while I was at the race uploaded and online. Check back in the next few days for the video interviews with Geoff Kabush, Georgia Gould, Justin Lindine, Todd Wells, and Mary McConnelough. In the meantime, I need to go check out another type of competition: there is a hot dog eating contest on ESPN that’s begging to be watched. Happy Fourth of July, everyone!
If you want to read more about my training, racing, and editing exploits, check out mollyhurford.com.