Race Retrospective — Worth the Pain?

Ten minutes before the start of my first-ever mountain bike race, I was lost in the woods. I could hear the announcer lining up competitors but couldn’t get there. I’d reviewed part of the course in slow-motion  and was having major second thoughts: the roots, rocks, and mud were more pronounced and menacing than usual because I was anticipating hitting them at the fastest speed I’d be able to muster, in the midst of other riders, and while the clock was ticking. Hell, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the start on time and might have to exit the trails in humiliation. It was not looking good.

yes, the babyheads on the course were *this big*!!

And if one more person looked at my bike and muttered “old school,” I was really gonna get upset. It’s a rocketship compared to what I was riding a few months ago. The doubts mounted in my head.

It made me wonder why I chose to race at all. What is the point of racing at my age and in my condition? Certainly not for the prize money. To prove to myself that I can ride with a handful of other women my own age? Machts nichts. I’d already paid my entry fee, so I calmed the jitters and reassured myself that nobody here knew me, so it didn’t really matter if I won, lost, or quit. It only mattered to me that I try it.

So, this course is called the Glocester Grind. It’s in Glocester RI, and would really be fun to play on if there were no stakes or clock running. Here’s the race coordinator’s summary of the course: “The Grind is a muddy, rocky, muddy, rooty, muddy, wet course with very little climbing but usually muddy.” It’s just about the most technical six-mile course I’ve been on, with tons of hairpin turns, rock gardens, muddy holes and generally challenging variety of terrain.

I think I crashed three times on the first lap. We weren’t a quarter of the way in when I took a dive in a rock garden and split the palm of my hand open (thank God for my gloves!). Then I clipped a tree and went over the other way. There always seemed to be rocks handy when I was falling. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst part was thinking, “oh crap, I have to do a second lap??”

racers heading into another lap

Despite the bumps and bruises, by the time I started my second lap, all thoughts of dropping out were long gone. I wanted to do better than the first lap, and my strategy was simple: waste less time trying to ride through all of the rock gardens and mud holes. It was better to ride at my own level, and if that meant walking a bit it was fine. In fact, I think I improved my lap time considerably.

I even started to enjoy parts of it. Deep in the second lap when my legs were jello, another rider caught up with me. Once we figured out that we were in different age categories, the tension dissipated and we had a nice chat. She was 46, and her oldest had graduated from college the day before. But she was a better rider and soon left me behind.

And there was a nice family in the parking lot, mom, dad, and two kids who all rode some portion of it, yet they looked like they were out for a Sunday picnic, sitting in a circle of folding chairs behind the family pickup truck. I was wasted, bruised, looking for water and an ice pack and the little girl, maybe 12 years old, kept saying, “good job” to me. Yeah.


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One Response to “Race Retrospective — Worth the Pain?”

  1. Les Murray Says:

    The first race is always the hardest – so much to learn, so little time. Proud of you dear. I hope you found that mix of joy/frustration/disappointment that used to drive me back to want to do better the next race.

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