The bad: at the start line, I looked around for other Singlespeed women, identifiable by their 600 series number plates. I saw only two besides myself. A whopping three of us had signed up for the new category. Crap. After all the behind-the-scenes networking I'd done over the winter, I was deeply disappointed. I hoped that the race promoter wouldn't judge the outcome too harshly until the series was finished in August.
The ugly: Mens' Singlespeed and Cat II 45+'s were each given their own starts. Cat II Women 35+ and Womens' Singlespeed were lumped together for one start because, well, there were only three Womens' Singlespeed riders. I found myself near the front of the pack and when the signal was given to start, the woman immediately to my right jumped for the holeshot like a rabbit -- and our handlebars tangled up for sickening moment. We untangled quickly but I nearly fell down in the process, and it took me what seemed like a million precious, long seconds to right myself and start pedaling. (Thank goodness I wasn't clipped into clipless pedals or it would have been much worse!)
I was far behind the field until the first neutralizer, a sharp turn around and through a couple of trees where a little bottleneck had formed. I was surprised to find myself catching up to the back of the pack. It wouldn't last, and I knew it. Still, that moment of surprise was exhilarating. This must be what it feels like to be able to actually race with other people, I thought. Then, realizing that I was falling behind again, I pushed that thought away an focused on just surviving.
My lungs burned. My legs screamed. I was so out of shape it was ridiculous. I kept pedaling, through the twisty singletrack and up the off-camber transitions in the trees, finessing the sculpted dip between the two trees that I'd tried out at the course trial (and which had been made more challenging by being routed at an angle this week, but I still handled it). Then, onto the moto course. Ugh. SO hard! I dismounted and pushed my bike a few times when I lost momentum, and by the end of the first full lap I had to pull off to the side of the course and take a minute to just stand there and catch my breath so I wouldn't puke. I wound up doing this several times during the race and hoped it wouldn't disqualify me, but I was feeling simultaneously wonderful and horrible and had to listen to my body. Each time I recovered I was able to push myself a little -- up berms, over the steep BMX-style drop-downs and around the banked turn towards the end of the lap.
Half way through my second lap. I saw Sharon of Team Beer standing on the edge of the course with a thrown chain. She asked if I was carrying any tools with me. I shrugged, smiled sadly and shook my head as I crawled past. If she didn't get it fixed she was done, DNF'd on a mechanical, and that meant there were only two Singlespeed women still in the race. I hoped she'd find a way to get it fixed and get back in.
Meanwhile, I noticed that, even though I was suffering far more by racing against faster riders, I was also benefiting from the presence of so many Singlespeed riders, because we all knew how to approach uphills the same way and seemed to sense this in each other. I found that I had more time and room to get my momentum up to take more of the uphill sections without dismounting -- and that now, my gearing choice actually made sense on this course.
The last lap was the worst, and every fifty to one hundred feet I negotiated with my brain to stay in the race while all the time my body was screaming to stop. Strangers and friends shouted at me to keep going, keep going. At the top of the rhythm section, a course marshal encouraged me, "Come on! You're almost there!" And I was. I suffered through the final run around the banked turn, around the out-and-back loop and to the finish line. And suddenly, there was the race official telling me to pull off, that I was done. I was, of course, Dead Effing Last to complete the course. But I finished, and I was given credit for all three laps. So I was happy.
This morning, results were posted over at the OBRA Web site:
Obviously, Sharon didn't get back into the race, and so only two of us finished the course. I have an odd mixture of happiness and disappointment. Happiness that I hung in there and managed to ride the whole time, disappointment that more women didn't sign up for this new category. I hope there will be more of us next week.