Monday, October 8, 2012

Heartbreaking Crash at Alafia MTB Race


You can plan for most anything except bad luck. One moment I was ripping through Shelly's Loop trail trying desperately to stay with the race pack, the next I was laying at the bottom of a ridge pinned between my twisted bike and a tree. It took a few seconds to figure out exactly what happened but one thing was immediately evident, my race had not gone the way I planned.


Let's start from the beginning. After spending an entire summer training for the Florida State Championships Series Race at Alafia River State Park the day had finally arrived. The morning started with a few mistakes. I woke up early, too early, a full hour before I was supposed to. While setting the alarm I had accidentally reset the time but early is better than late. My morning meal had been pre-planned to ensure enough energy for the race but the smoothie I chilled overnight had gone bad. In addition I had forgotten to pack ice in the cooler. That was strike three but still I had hope.

Unlike many of my races in new England, I was able to visit Alafia State Park a couple times to practice the trails and get some initial loop times. An unforeseen dent in my income meant that I only made two trips but the slight bump in confidence was worth it.

There was some great racing in the kids classes
Alafia is an amazing place to hold a race. The variety of trails can be linked in such ways that no amount of rain can force a race to be called off, the organizer would simply re-route. That is exactly what they did. Cat 2 racers would do one 6 mile lap and two 8 mile laps (Adding North Creek) for a total of 22 miles. It sounded like a tough route except all of the trails are familiar to me except two - Bridges and Shelly's Loop.

GoneRiding.com did a fantastic job coordinating this race. Parking, registration, number plates and even calf markings were organized with ease and professionalism. These guys put on a great event. Despite their efforts I have to admit that when I stood in staging with sixty other riders, I felt oddly intimidated. Worse yet, my head just wasn't focused. I can't explain why. We stood at the starting line, waited for the whistle and took off.

The battle for the holeshot was always elbow to elbow
Hats off to the Cat 2 30-39 crew, these guys were fast! I can usually keep up with riders in a sprint but I immediately dangled off the back and pushed hard to stay attached. By the time we reached Shelly's Loop I was falling further behind and breathing very heavy. This was the first day I had ever tried this particular trail. It has solid climbs, quick downhills and a wicked wall berm. I was going a tad faster than I could handle and my lungs couldn't keep up. Reaching the top of a cemented climb I leaned too close to the far edge of the trail and lost my balance. Suddenly everything was moving in slow motion but there was nothing I could do about it.

The next few seconds was a blur of dirt and handlebars as I tumbled sideways down a ledge towards the water until the bike hit a tree and my body came to a sudden stop. The wind was knocked out of me. I lay gasping for breath as I tried to move my limbs. My left leg was not responding the way I wanted and the right side of my ribs had frozen in pain. Every small movement was labored. Eventually I was able to stand and it took a good five minutes to push the bike back up the sharp incline and onto the trail.

If not for a friendly tree, I would have landed in the swamp
The bike was in working order but I was not. I rode very slowly from that point on, mostly hoping my strength would return. Each shallow breath constricted my stomach muscles which had cramped on both sides. Knowing that I was an obstruction to other racers I pulled to the side for anyone who came up behind me and then took the first exit off the race course.

An hour later Terri would find me laying on a picnic table under the pavilion. I was wheezing, overheated and it would take another hour before I could talk in anything more than a whisper. So there you have it, another disappointing attempt at racing Cat 2. Maybe I'm still not ready yet? Even if I had not crashed my legs and lungs fell far short of the other riders in my class. I don't want to jump to conclusions but returning to Cat 3 seems like a possibility. In the meantime, any decisions about mountain bike racing will have to wait for I have stranger worlds to conquer.

You can see my distracted expression in the background

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