My final race of short-track season turned out to be the most memorable, for a few reasons:
1. Organizers (and presumably OBRA officials) approved the inclusion of a separate category for Womens' Singlespeed at State Championships -- and for the first time all summer, we got our own start at the line.
2. The course was completely different from what I'd experienced at PIR. Whereas PIR courses were constructed around a motorcycle track with short, steep berms, rhythm sections and moguls galore, the course at Sherwood Equestrian Center was basically a rather truncated, straight-up cross-country course run through grassy, weedy pastureland with few technical features other than some rough washboard sections. It also had a bunch of narrow singletrack through the trees, and some positively gut-busting (for me, anyway) climbs -- on a day with highs in the mid 90's. I ran the first incline, cross style. The single notable barrier -- a gate composed of logs lashed together and laid on its side -- I dismounted and suitcased my bike over instead of attempting to hop up onto it and then off again. Smaller roots, and a log of about six inches diameter, I was able to ride over carefully (though my under-inflated rear tire gave me worries every time I did -- I MUST learn how to better gauge the right inflation for the terrain). On each successive incline I began at a jog and ended in a painful walk. I just didn't have the juice to climb them on the bike. (How to get the juice? Training, obviously. How to do that? No clue, but after today I know I very much want to learn.)
3. For the first time at a short-track race all summer, the Womens singlespeed category was larger than the Womens' Master 35+ category. There was ONE Master 35+ woman (bikey pal Lisa from Cyclepath, who rode wiry and strong and had just amazing presence the whole time). In my category, three of us toed the start line. I joked about how a BMX gate would be nice about now, we all chuckled, someone muttered something about a holeshot, and then the whistle blew and we were off. I pretended to go for the holeshot anyway -- and forced one of the two other women to catch up to me and pass me on the hardest, bumpiest part of the course. The effort probably killed me for the rest of the race but who cared? It was fun. With only three of us there, all I had to do was ride the whole race and finish to make the podium. And I did.
4. I had the opportunity to make a new racing friend in Mielle, who kindly offered a ride there and back with her and her husband. Mielle is a rider with previous athletic experience. This was her first year of short-track mountain biking; and she spent most of the summer making mincemeat of the Cat 3 [beginner] women's field. Today she handily won the state championship for Cat 3 women and will be required to "cat up" for next season.
We had a lovely chat there and back again, talking about everything from food to racing to training to marriage, to which cycling discipline we think is the scariest. I also told her and her husband a bit about randonneuring, a cycling sport with which many racers are unfamiliar.
5. Even more than making the podium and receiving a [bronze] medal -- though that was really nice -- I am proudest of how I finished. In spite of the heat, my unrequited desire to quickly grow a third lung [Kelly -- don't worry, I followed my plan and did not get jammed], and a burn in my legs that was unlike anything I'd ever felt to date -- I forced myself to stay on my bike for the final ascent to the finish line -- in a gearing that was too high for this course. To say that it hurt would be an understatement. I suffered, I rode through My Own Private Pain Cave for thirty minutes and in front of all those people screaming my name and yelling at me to hang in there, I was not going to get off my bike and run with it at the end, now matter how hard it was. Trust me, it was the hardest, most painful finish of any race I've done in my short seasons of short-track. I grunted and ached my way to the top of the incline as my gut screamed at me how much it hated me just then. At the top -- impossible, did I make it to the top? -- I turned a hard left and felt like I was pedaling through water as I went the last fifteen yards and crossed the finish line. And it was so hard, and so painful, and, crazily enough, so sweetly satisfying to ride my brains out like that, and survive. I am proudest of that most of all.
I want to learn how to train. I want to see if there's enough money in my health stipend from work to sign up for some classes so I can learn how to do this without imploding my insides every time. I want to get strong enough that I don't have to get off and jog -- or walk -- the inclines. I want to learn how to get stronger, at least as much as my body and age will allow. And I want to come back and do more short-track next summer -- in the womens' singlespeed category, of course -- and, in the parlance of my fellow racers, just kill it. Today I felt the most like a racer I ever have, because of how I finished. And for me that is the best "medal" of all.
So now I take a break from racing. I will start preparing for cyclocross (ugh -- those mounts and dismounts!) after I've had some downtime, and for today and tomorrow at least I'll revel in my experience.