July 3, 2006 § Leave a comment
There’s nothing quite like knowing on the start line that if you finish you’ll be in the top ten to offer motivation when you most need it (and knowing that maybe, just maybe, a few girls will drop out and I could get a shirt!). Between that and the burning desire not to let the next pack of women see me lying on the road, waiting for a vehicle, kept me going through forty-five miles of hell.
The race itself is a little over sixty miles, and I swear about fifteen of them are sand, gravel or a pothole minefield. Not so great for the traction, which made it extra-difficult for “little” me to schlep my butt over the undulations leading into the big climb at the pace the leader had chosen. So difficult, in fact, that it didn’t happen; forty minutes and fifteen miles into this race I was alone. As I watched the pack widen the gap between us, giving it all I had and trying to keep my hands on the shaking bars, two things burned: my legs (sooooooooo much) and my desire to catch someone, anyone. It was a small comfort to see another girl get popped off the group about 500 meters after me, and I tried to give it a little more than I could to catch up with her. Nada.
So my mantra became “catch someone” and “don’t let the fours catch you.” Though I really would have liked to be caught for some company, there was no way I was dropping out of this, so I had to have something to keep me going. The climb wasn’t as bad as I was expecting and I made it over pretty well, but I was definitely cooked before the top and running strictly on pigheadedness. Oink oink.
The next forty-ish miles were really lonely and hot, and they tested my limits in more ways than I expected. Dehydration set in. I didn’t realize how far in the feedzone was, and even though I brought three bottles with me I ended up rationing the final two inches of liquid in my last bottle for about twenty miles. I had the cold shivers even though it was pretty darn hot, and when the bumpy road and lack of water finally came to a head (at about thirty miles, when I realized that I definitely had thirty miles to go to get back, no matter which way I went) I had to talk myself out of actually crying because that would be precious liquid going to waste. At some point I stopped and got off my bike to pick up someone’s lost Gu — I think my meager water supply had me in a hoarding mood, and I was losing my mind — which, of course, I dropped when I tried to eat it. Saying hello to a master’s rider who passed me I realized I was more croaking than speaking. The drama…
Finally, the feed zone. I took two bottles and felt much better right away. Three would have been better, but if I’d stopped to make that exchange I probably wouldn’t have gotten on again, so two bottles it would have to be. This left somewhere between fifteen and twenty miles to go; at the speed I was going (I was still both chasing the 1/2/3 field and running from the 4s, remember, so even though I was pretty batty I kept a decent clip going) that would take about an hour and fifteen minutes. Piece of cake, right? Right!
Well, no, actually. Those last miles were the worst. Flat, windy, bumpy as hell (though technically paved) and still exposed. You could see for miles and miles but there were still miles to go with nothing to keep the mind occupied. At one point I realized that I had been repeating the same two lines of a nursery rhyme in my head for a really long time (I only knew those two lines) and I forced myself to start thinking of a song I enjoyed and knew all of, just to switch it up a bit. As soon as I had the song down I let my brain shut back down and voila: the nursery rhyme was back. Torture.
With about ten to go a group of about six master’s women who started maybe four minutes behind our group caught me. I recognized several of them as women who had done really well at Pescadero, so it didn’t surprise me that they would make up the defecit on the climb, and for a minute I was proud that I had held them off for that many miles of flat; after all, there were six of them and one of me. As they rode right past me the reality of it set in: they would continue to ride along with the six of them, with some company and moments of rest as someone else pulled, while I was stuck with just that infernal two-line rhyme to keep me company. Crap, self-pity…this last bit was going to be the hardest.
As the miles dragged on I had to continually talk myself out of dropping out. The knowledge that someone would find me this close to the finish was what my brain latched on that made it okay to consider, and it was really hard to keep the pedals moving. Any change in scenery or topography probably would have snapped me out of it, but there wasn’t any. Hell, give me that stupid climb at the beginning again, just give me SOMETHING!
And then…could that be a tent up there? And that’s definitely a cone — the one kilo cone. And all the fatigue I’d forgotten about in my legs came rushing out and the pedals became ridiculously hard to turn, just in time for the finish. I swear the 200 meter cone was actually 500 out, but that wasn’t an issue because I wasn’t sprinting. And I actually didn’t come in too far behind the six who passed me; they were just turning around after their sprint when I came through. All that chatting must have slowed them down.
All in all I completed the thing in 3:50-something (my computer sensor was knocked about by the road at some point, and I don’t know how long it took me to notice and fix it). Fifteen faster than I was expecting and forty-five by myself. Everyone else in our field finished, so I didn’t get a t-shirt, but there was a table full of watermelon and a locker room with showers right there. My foot cramps are still with me today, but I’m not hobbling any more so that’s something. And I did finish in the top ten…