The day was beautiful. The smoke from wildfires that had been plaguing the front range all week had cleared up substantially. Still in my bed, I laid there feeling the butterflies churning in my stomach. It was race day.
A lovely friend of mine had asked me to participate in the race about a month prior to this day. She had assured me that it was a very relaxed atmosphere. She explained the timed sections and confidently stated it would be easy. I stared at her for a moment and replied with a “no way.” What my friend did not know was how slow I am on a bike. It almost defies physical laws that I can stay upright at the snails pace I maintain going up steep sections. It is not unusual for a walker to pass me. Obviously, a race was out of the question.
A mountain bike race, I could not get the idea out of my head. I love to mountain bike despite my lack of physical prowess at it. I have done running races before. Why not try mountain biking? Because of risk of physical harm to myself and those around me, my brain would answer. The idea would not go away though and I decided to do something that physically scared me. It is not often in my life that I have made that choice and it felt empowering.
There were only two weeks until the race when I signed up online. I joined the Middle Aged Mothers (MAM) team with my friend. There were three options for the race course and I signed up for the easiest and shortest. This did not change how nervous I was because it was still longer and steeper then I was riding on a regular basis. I only had two weeks to get some training done. The race was on North Table Mountain in Golden and only five minutes from my house so I trained on the course itself. There are sections of the course that I had never ridden even though I do ride on NTM regularly. My first training day I road with a couple of friends on a section of the race course. I was slow up the climb and unsure on the descents. I road again but only half of the distance I would need to do on race day. I knew I needed to ride the race route just to see if I could do it. It was just five days until the race when I finally rode the whole course (I thought). I even did it in a good time and was confident I could complete the race. Later, upon checking the route I discover I had missed a whole section so had not completed the route. Down went my confidence.
Then I had to leave for a travel professionals conference in North Carolina. I was able to work out only one time. The two hour time difference between Denver and Charlotte played havoc with my sleep schedule and I came home the day before the race exhausted. When I went to pick up the race packet, I was further intimidated by the crowd of uber-fit, confident, experienced racers. The guy running the racer meeting said, “I know you all know how to pass, just don’t be a dick.” Wait, what? I did not know what the race rules were for passing, or more appropriate being passed. I had to kick my ego down another notch and actually ask. I did not want to be a dick after all.
My husband has to be the best race support there is. He woke up, made breakfast, got the kids ready, loaded my bike and got us all out the door in time to drop me off at the start. He stayed with me until it was time to enter the corral for the “Over 36 Lite Women Riders.” As a bonus, we got to ride from downtown Golden up hill a couple miles to the start of the first timed section, a very steep fire road. On the way over I met a few of the other women racers. I had met one of the ladies before and got to know her better. We made it to the start of the first climb; I admitted to being nervous and got some awesome encouragement from other riders and the race official. The climb was terrible, but I road over the finish line for that section. We hit the aide station and proceeded to the next section. The descent is called the waterfall because of the seasonal actual water waterfall and because the rocks on the trail “waterfall” down the trail. I walked that part. No need to risk the money maker. I made it through the second and third timed sections and back up to the aid station where I had one of the bike mechanics look at my bike due to phantom gear changing going on in my rear derailer. Turns out I had my axle in backwards and my wheel was about to fall off. Hum, good thing I had him check. Quick tuneup later, we got back on the road and started the last down hill section.
Then the worst happened. Some people said they were looking forward to finally getting to “go all out” down our local trails. I had laughed at that and knowing there was no way I would be going any faster then normal. Well, by the last timed section I had started to feel a bit more like a racer. I was going at a speed I would not normally in the opposite direction I usually road on that trail. Turns out my bike’s suspension does have its limits if going fast enough. My front tire dropped down over a rock and got caught on the next rock. The bike stopped but I did not. I flew over the handle bars.
You have more time to think then you might realize while sailing over your bike down onto rocks and certain doom. I chastised myself for going so fast, let loose an expletive, and wondered if I would hit my face or break something important. Luckily, adrenaline is my friend and I do not remember any actual pain from the impact. My bike flipped up behind me and landed on top. Knowing that other racers where coming down the trail I got up as fast as I could, gingerly moving all my limbs to get a status check. Everything moved and there was only a little blood and dull pain. I figured I could probably ride as well as walk even if anything was more hurt then I knew. It was empowering to know what I most feared had happened and I survived. I made it to the end of the timed section and road triumphantly, if a little bloodied, back to the race end in downtown Golden. I had a finished 19 miles of a real mountain bike race.
My children and husband where at the finish. It was so awesome to see them smiling and taking pictures. I had made it and I even had blood to prove I was really pushing myself. My oldest boy asked to touch my injury. He told me I had done better then he thought I would, thanks kid.
What did I learn?
- Sign up earlier.
- Train longer.
- Riding with fun people makes it better.
- I am more physically fit then I knew.
- Falling hurts, but the bragging rights almost make it worth it.
- It is worth doing things that scare you.
It was so worth it. Now I want to do more riding and I feel very confident that I need a new, better bike.
If I had stayed in my comfort zone I would not have learned so much. I would not have grown in confidence and knowledge. So my advice is get out there and do something that challenges you, even if it is scary. You are stronger then you think you are and adventures have payout that goes on for a life time. Adventure is out there, go find yours.