So Nats is the big show, right? I hadn't raced in 17 days. I had taken quite a few days off the bike. I was ready to fly off the start line, crush some fools, and be Expert 25-29 national champion. They had tamed the downhill only slightly, all I needed was my legs to show up climbing and I'd be right up there.
Yeah man, all I gotta do is fly off that start line. It's Nats so there's lots of traffic ahead and behind, don't want to get caught up in that.
Definitely gonna start hard. I've been getting good results with the DFL start this year, but I should definitely change things up here. Mm-hmm. It's Nats.
See where I'm going with this?
I abandoned the usual "you guys have fun racing to the top of that first climb, I'll be pacing myself back here" strategy and tried to go with them. I'm not gonna say this was my only mistake, but it sure didn't help in the long run.
It definitely helped in the short run, though, I might have even been as high up as the middle of the field after 3 minutes at the top of the super-steep start climb. I had that sick, burning feeling in my throat that I get from nordic sprinting when it's cold -- probably not the best omen on a humid, 75-degree day.
Down the opening descent I picked up a place or two by being the sketchy-line-guy while everyone else backed up on the normal line, but as soon as we headed out and up on the main loop I was traveling backwards.
Not eight minutes in the true flying-backwards feeling got started as the lead 30-34 guys started passing through, soon joined by the 35-39 and 40-44 guys behind them. With only a minute separating categories it was busy out there, and starting early meant most people around me had caught me.
I got some places back on the singletrack climb because no one from out west knows what to do about wet, uphill roots. Unfortunately, they do know what to do about SFU work road climbs so I immediately gave all my places back, and then some.
Eventually we topped out and it was time to rip it up for ten minutes of fun, the only fun ten minutes on the whole damn course, and even that gets interrupted by the "eff you traverse." But I'm getting ahead of myself. The only good thing about getting passed by a ton of masters dudes on the climb is that you have a lot of guys who are worried about earning a paycheck come Monday ahead of you on the downhill. They're both tentative and obliging, so the passing opportunities are plentiful and rarely contested.
The sketchy secondary line was working great and I was starting to think that I was going to be actually competitive in this race. I saw Cary up ahead on the traverse section, which only heightened this notion, so I stomped through the tall grass to make some more passes and got within striking distance for the last part of the descent.
According to various, embellished reports (most of them mine), I "passed him in the air" near the bottom on yet another semi-sketchy alternate line. I was not actually in the air, but I was definitely thinking to myself "man you are definitely going to remind Cary about this later." And now I have.
Of course when the adrenaline wore off at the bottom I found myself feeling utterly spent after working far too hard on the descent. Cary came back past, the trail tilted uphill, and the bottom fell out of my race.
By the middle of lap two I was just riding to survive on the climbs, turning the granny ring as slow as I could without falling over. I was cooked, as much mentally as physically. At the top I told myself I'd drop out at the bottom.
Of course, ten minutes of descending, and actually passing a few people back, changed my mind, and I rode past the officials and headed out on the third lap. But the second the trail turned back up, I gave up. I got off my bike, sat on my top tube, and watched people ride by while I felt bad about myself.
I rode a bit longer and got off again, walking slowly, like a completely defeated lamer, while some guy ran past me, cheering on his friend, who was not a defeated lamer.
Eventually a dude from my category passed me, and I'd hate to think what sort of calamity had befallen him, that he had actually managed to have a worse race than me after two laps. This coincided with my HR dropping below 150, and the prospect of not being last at Nationals was enticing. I got going again.
The ubiquitous drums on the climb got me back in the hurting mood, so I decided to thank them. I was thinking it would be cool if they had a tip jar, because anyone who plays drums for 3 days straight for XC racers can have my money. They didn't have a tip jar, and my wallet was in the car, so I did the next best thing -- I handed one of them my last gel and said "here's a tip!"
I've never seen someone so confused in my life.
Despite my good-karma tipping and earlier rest stops, I still couldn't hang onto the dude from my category. He opened up ten or fifteen seconds but I kept watching him, it's so much easier to hurt when you can look at why you're doing it. We were racing for almost last place, but it was still racing, so it was a vast improvement.
Across the rocky, baby-head strewn climb at the top he bobbled, and made all the staring and suffering worth it. I closed the gap up and sprinted by to lead on the downhill.
This was my sixth time down in three days so I was getting pretty good at knowing where to go fast, but then again I was also getting pretty tired after all that brake-clutching. My need for speed and tiring forearms combined to send me straight into a tree near the bottom, but the comedy of a spectator diving for cover as I crashed into what he'd been leaning on made it awesome, instead of stupid. A few more minutes of fighting off leg cramps and I was done.
Not exactly a result to be proud of, but it's better than a DNF.
The cure for what ails me is somewhat elusive -- I was thinking "train more," but after seeing Matt O'Keefe's reaction to "yeah, I probably do 50 races a year," he was able to convince me to try "train less" for a week or two.
I feel fat already.
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