June 10th, 2015 (Ocala, FL) - Ever since I moved to Florida I've done very little cross country racing because, well, I've been cursed. I'm fine when it comes to endurance or gravel grinders, BMX or CX racing. For some unknown reason I can't get through an XC race without something going horribly wrong. At my first race: I crashed out. At my second: I had a mechanical on the start line. At my third: I had an asthma attack during the first lap. The Finals of the Hump Day Hustle was to be my fourth race and I was fed up!
This time I was taking precautions and altering expectations. I was studying sports psychology to change my focus. I was training with weekend rides that exceeded 50 miles. Learning from the past I would not sprint off the line blowing out my lungs. I would not exceed my red line. I would not attack until it favored my strengths. This time I was determined to change my fate.
The race started at the Santos Bicycle Shop and kicked off at 6:30pm with a large Open Sport class heading out only 5 seconds after the Experts. It began with a grass grinder that followed the road for about a mile. I kept a moderate pace, passing only one person and grabbing the tire of a speedy junior. Then the trail broke left into the woods, past fences and through the Santos campground. We entered at the main trailhead turning right then swaying back and forth through the endless narrows of singletrack.
I stayed on the wheel of this junior rider who had one guy directly in front of him and then another twenty feet ahead. I followed them on the skinny bridge, over the rollers and up to some thrilling speeds. My breathing was heavy for a few miles but when it settled into a comfortable rhythm I started to look for opportunities. Little did I know that I was already jumping the gun. I was about to go off my plan.
Our little group passed a guy on the side of the path who had some kind of mechanical. That was one less rider to deal with. I knew my moment was coming. When we reached a wider part of the trail I broke into a sprint. In one fell swoop I passed both the junior rider and the guy in front of him. Then just around the corner a once distant rider had crashed. I swiftly dodged him while quickly asking if he was okay. He jumped right back up. Now I was in the lead of that pack. With more miles of singletrack in front of me it was unlikely they would find a place to pass. I was feeling pretty good about myself but that was soon to change. The curse was about to kick in.
From past experience and earlier riding that day, I knew about 75% of the race course. We were about to hit the part that I didn't know. Suddenly it got hilly and rocky. I was so caught off guard that I didn't drop gears fast enough and got stuck stone cold atop the second rise. While I was trying to adjust my pedal to kick off again, five riders passed me. That was everyone I had passed plus another to boot. I rolled down the hill and pedaled up the next trying to keep up but this time I was caught off guard by the sharpness of the descent. My front tire wedged between two rocks and I went over the handlebars. I landed on my back, on a rock in a trail valley.
I pulled myself up and continued on, pushing the bike up the hills of that gnarly section. I had cuts and scrapes on my legs, knee and elbow. I was covered in mud, dripping with blood and feeling pain in my back. It took about ten minutes to return to something resembling a cadence. I smiled for the camera as I passed Terri. I was faking determination, hoping it would blossom into real ambition. That was when I remembered my original focus. All I wanted to at this race was finish the full distance and beat at least one other person. I was still in a position to accomplish both goals.
I rode the second lap solo. Keeping as fast a pace as I could handle, I never saw another rider until I crossed the line. Overcoming the pain and injuries was well worth the effort. I was proud of my grit. Placing 24th of 26 meant I also managed to beat a couple people. I learned some lessons while also experiencing the validation of my training. Despite the crash, this was the strongest I have felt in an XC race this year. I might not have broken the curse but at least this time I didn't let it break me.
The Hump Day Hustle was a blast. It was my kind of race course, fast running and sprinkled with a refreshing light rain. The awards ceremony at the shop and at Mojo Grill were both fun. The bar was especially supportive of the races. They hung up posters and used the overall awards as decoration until the big day. I look forward to racing at Santos in the future.
I want to thank my sponsors