This morning I am sore and bruised, and feeling a little down.
Last night I seemed fine. I was looking forward to another fun race. I'd done a practice lap to see how the course was laid out, and it was going to be challenging: more flat this week, with tight turns thrown in all over the place and a sharp, off-camber ascent up the tabletop that gave me pause. I determined that I would try to ride up it in the race. After my practice lap, I informed the officials that I was using a prescribed inhaler. They thanked me for informing them and said that would be sufficient. Apparently, OBRA does not use a medical exclusion form the way USA Cycling does.
The start went well, though the dust from the tires of the racers in front of me was hard on my thorat and eyes. Then we got to the tabletop. I decided to try a different strategy this week: I hung back and waited until the other women had all shouldered their bikes and clambered up the slope on foot. When the last one was clear, I poured it on and tried to pedal up it the way I'd seen the men do. I almost made it to the top, and felt that I could make it all the way next time. I stopped a couple of times on the course to use my inhaler, but otherwise I was slow and steady. Two of the tallest berms on the moto track were simply too steep for me to ride up all the way so I climbed the last third, remounted and kept pedaling. The rest of the moto track was actually pretty fun to ride, with smaller, off-camber stuff I could handle and a couple of steeper, straight-on berms that I fought my way up, leaning far forward into my bars to avoid toppling backwards.
On my second lap, and with more room to gather momentum, I really went for the tabletop -- and made it to the top. Unfortunately, so did another rider at the same time. We collided sideways at the top and I did a slow-motion endo over my bars, landing in the dirt with a hard thud. The other rider's handlebar went into my hip and my own handlebar and stem went into my abdomen, knocking the wind out of me. The other rider helped untangle our bikes, we apologized to each other and asked if the other was okay. I urged him to go on, and stood atop the tabletop to catch my breath a moment. Finally, I swung a leg over my bike and pedaled on. Out on the flat, grassy "back forty", falling farther and farther behind, I heard a male voice bellow, "Don't you dare quit, Velo Bella!" I smiled in spite of my pain, and answered back, "No sirree! Not an option!" And I meant it. No matter how ridiculously far behind I might fall I would finish.
It got harder. It took more effort to go over the berms. I stopped again to take a breath, and pushed my bike to the top of the highest berm on the moto track, and I saw Sweetie out of the corner of my eye. She walked alongside the course yelling encouragement, and I took heart and went on.
On my third lap I had to stop one more time to take a breath, and that final stop pretty much did it for me. I was so far behind that by the time I had made it out of the back forty everyone else had finished their race, and I was out on the moto track all alone. I became aware that my continued presence on th course was slowing up the evening's schedule: the Cat II under-35's were waiting to start their race and could not until I was off the course. Finally, with about half the moto track done and about 1/4 of my third lap to go, one of the OBRA officials waved for me to leave the course. I was upset. I would have finished! I wouldn't have quit for anything! Still, I didn't get to prove that to myself, and I didn't get to have that feeling that comes when you actually cross the finish line. So I was really, really sad. I nodded and left the course, and walked around to the back of the grandstands where Sweetie was waiting. "I wanted to finish my lap so badly!" I said, and then I broke down and just cried. My own slowness had robbed me of crossing the line before time was called, and I hated myself, my body, my age, and how impossibly hard it was to play against type -- which is what I do every time I race. I wondered why on earth I was doing this. It was fun to handle my bike in the dirt, but omigod it just kept being hard, and never got easier! And to be pulled, and not even allowed to finish, that was the most humiliating of all.
I sobbed on Sweetie's shoulder for a couple of minutes, and then I calmed down and felt better. Pal Edwin was there, his hand on my shoulder, telling me how happy he'd been that I was there and racing. I introduced Sweetie to Edwin, swigged from my water bottle, and told Sweetie I'd meet her on the grass after taking a short cool-down lap. My hip stung, my knee hurt in two places, and there was a small growing knot on my forearm where I'd hit the deck on the tabletop. But it felt good to take a slow circle of the parking lot and calm everything down.
Later, on the grass, Sweetie and I talked a little about my race. She admitted that she kept thinking I'd DNF, because I looked like I was really working hard. "But every time you'd stop to take a breath, you get back on your bike and keep going. And it blew me away, both how hard this is, and how determined you were." She gave me a little hug. "You're a rock star." I ate the sandwich she'd brought and we watched some of the Cat II's, marveling at their speed and skill. Then, she left to deliver a composter to someone (it was in her car or she would've given me a lift home). I said I'd leave in a little while and meet her at home.
I rolled slowly over to the registration table, just to say hi to the organizers and thank them for a good race. One of them gently took me aside and, with obvious warmth and concern in his manner, suggested that I consider racing with the Beginner Women for the rest of the series. "The whole point is for you to race with people you can actually be, you know, competitive with. You should really think about it. And, you know, it's obvious you know how to ride in the dirt, you've got bike-handling skills, you just need speed. Maybe over the winter you can get yourself a coach and learn how to train more specifically so you can get faster." I thanked him for his honesty, and proceeded to the officials' table, mostly to see if I'd been DNF'd.
I was given credit for finishing, though I didn't know how many laps. The official who'd pulled me apologized, and explained: "You know, in hindsight there was probably more than enough time for me to let you finish your lap. You were pretty close to being done anyway. But I have to err on the side of caution." I thanked him and said there were no hard feelings. 'You have a hard job," I told him, "and I aprpeciate your being here to do it." Kristin, another of the singlespeed women, said she thought she had only completed two laps. (Official results would prover her wrong, as she not only completed three but finished ahead of me.) One of the race volunteers standing nearby learned my age, and was surprised. "You're forty-seven?" He asked in disbelief. He shook his head. "Damn. Definitely hard-ass, to be racing singlespeed with all these younger women." I smiled in spite of my lingering sadness. It was sort of hard-ass, in a crazy way, even if it felt futile.
I guess that, because I feel reasonably comfortable on a mountain bike, I forget sometimes that singlespeed is really, really hard. It just doesn't occur to me while I'm doing it.
Kristin and the race officials both felt I should stay with the singlespeed women -- both to help continue to grow the category, and because there were only three races left in the series. "Stay with the Singlespeeds", the race official said. "If you had been perhaps another fourth of the way along on your second lap you would've finished the third full lap in time, anyway. It's just where you happened to be when the bell lap began." We watched the Cat II's finish up, and as I turned to go another racer saw me and said, "Way to hang in there, Beth." I thanked him.
I went home, feeling torn. I wasn't sure how well I'd do if I went back to beginners, though results this morning show I might have been somewhere other than last place. On the plus side, there were nine women racing singlespeed this week and that is growth. If we can get a dozen women racing singlespeed by the final race in the series I'll be happy.
I sort of don't want to switch categories, but I also understand why it might be a good idea. The reality is that I am pretty damned good at handling a bike, but also pretty damned slow, and it's unlikely I'll get faster in the next three weeks. I have until Friday morning to decide.
This morning, preliminary results indicate I was given credit for completing three laps on what was a very hard course. I don't know how I feel about that; it seems I should only be given credit for two, since that's what I completed in the allotted time. I don't understand how it works, I guess. I feel glad that I raced, and hung in there until they pulled me, but I am still sad that I had to be pulled from the race. I wanted to finish it for real.