“Sometimes great pressure pushes one to great things”.
I came to consciousness in the ambulance, the paramedic asked me some questions and I knew the answers, at least I thought I did. It was my first XC ride in Oklahoma and boy did it leave a mark.
I had been off kilter all week my heart knew why but my brain did not have the answers. The week would end with a race in Ardmore Oklahoma and ready or not I was committed to racing on the course that had crushed me last year. In racing off road you grow to fool your own tendencies of fear. What would never be considered in training becomes a chance for the racer to make his destiny on the course. In every great race chances must be taken and risks are had. If you are not challenged in battle or embracing your fears and pushing the boundaries of what you believe is possible, you are not racing.
The race was on Sunday and on the Friday before the race my nerves were getting to me. By Saturday I was slowly becoming a train wreck. I had contacted the race director to check on the trail conditions, rains had inindated Oklahoma all week and that meant the course would be a slick muddy mess. The conditions only heightened my paranoia and anxiety about the race.
I had planned to drive to Oklahoma after work on Saturday and pre ride the course. I decided not to make the drive and stay home. I did not want to be alone on the course riding and I did not want to spend the night alone without Christina.
Sunday morning found my nerves at an all time high. After I packed the car I wanted to get some coffee and was surprised that the McDonalds by our home was not open. The normal music was not being played in my car, today it was a calming mix of some CD’s I had made back in 2006. My adrenaline had been pumping since 5:30 in the morning and the last thing I needed was hard rock music to further my anxiety.
I was near the border of Oklahoma and pulled into a McDonalds and finally had my moment of Zen. I walked in and ordered a black coffee with three sugars. As I walked outside I looked at the rising sun across the highway, took a sip of coffee that was perfect in temperature, taste and euphoria. I uttered the words “all is well now” and like that I was no longer nervous.
The great tracks kept playing through the speakers and I was thirty minutes away from the race site, things were finally at peace now with my mind. I was ready now.
Arriving to the site I had forty five minutes to check the bike in get my packet and prepare everything. I called Michael and told him I was now ready for the race, he sounded relieved and wished me luck.
After checking all my gear I headed over to the race meeting and ran into my homeboy Chuck Olinger, he looked ready as he always does.
I had ten minutes to make my way down to the swim and get suited up. I ran into Adam Reardon and Adrian Barron of Team Red Licorice they both had arrived on Saturday and were able to get in a pre ride. I asked Adam how the conditions were on the trail and he stated “it’s like riding on peanut butter out there”.
The swim distance was 1600 meters, a typical double loop Xterra course. I was surprised at the water temperature as it was colder than I expected. The race was now off. I am glad to report my sighting in the water has been very good this season. Poor sighting will have you swimming further than you need to.
The field was spreading out by the second loop I would guess I was two minutes back from the leaders at this point. I felt great all the way through and exited the water quickly. We were now faced with a run to transition that was approximately 300 meters away. I was thrilled that the course had such a long run to transition; this would allow me to gap some time before riding on the bike course. I stripped my wetsuit off right out of the water and began running. A lot of the athletes had brought their running shoes with them as the distance was so far to transition. I opted to go barefooted as the ground was so soft from all the rain.
My swim was definitely on for this race. I was seeing the faces of stronger swimmers that I never see on the run to transition. After grabbing the bike I was ready to get a taste of how bad the trail would be. Adam had nailed it with the peanut butter reference, it was super slick out there. I had been passed already by a few riders.
When you ride a muddy trail the amount of wattage to turn the cranks increases. The same distance is much harder then when dry. This was a 14 mile course that had two loops. For the first time in my racing career I had planned to play it smart not hard. I let the riders pass me and I found my rhythym on the course. I was reminded of some great advice Mike Carter gave me about Xterra Austin, “just make it to the run, that is all you need to do”.
My weekend of racing in Ruston taught me to take it easy when conditions were at their worst. I needed to pace the first lap and then make any adjustments in pace and strategy for the second loop. The first loop came and went with minimal slip ups. Upon lap two the heat started to rise and now what was once a slippery course was a thick muddy mess that could break derailers and add ten to fifteen pounds of weight to your bike.
The same racers who had passed me before were now being trickled in one by one. I found myself dismounting and running the bike a bit on the second loop, I was conserving as much power in my legs as I could for the run.
At the end of lap two on a long jeep road I had to dismount my bike as my rear tire had clogged up so much that I could no longer spin the rear wheel. I was 100 meters away from transition and having to stop to pull mud out of my rear stays on the frame. I lost a small amount of time and made my way to transition. It was now time for the rodeo.
When I left transition there were six bikes mine included. It was now time to run and make up some positions. I had one goal at this point and that was the fastest run split of the day. I had conserved as much as I could on the bike for the run portion of the race.
I pushed the pace at full throttle right out of the gate. This course is a fast run course with a few short climbs. Halfway into the run course I found myself passing the third overall racer and overtaking that position. I was looking for the next runner but that never happened. I could not help but look back a few times looking for one last final attack from another racer.
I had climbed a very rocky ascend and made a sharp turn onto a rocky section of trail. I never did find out where my accident was from last year until now. Flashbacks shot through me and I knew it was here where it had all happened. A chill went through me and I felt a sense of closure, I would have thought the moment would have been more dramatic, but it was not.
I was now running on the same jeep road that clogged up my rear tire, each step was made harder by the thick mud that collected on the souls of my shoes. The finish line was dead ahead and I kicked in what was left.
I was the third racer to cross the finish line, it was an honor to make it the top three overall, a distinction I have only experienced once before in Xterra Racing.
Certain races carry more value than others to defeat a course that took so much out of me last year was needed for my own closure. This season has been great so far and I am looking forward to what is next. In life there will always be challenges and sometimes you get hurt, it is important to be honest with yourself and your passions.
I never feared jumping back on the bike, I feared never being able to again.
Leave a comment
No comments yet.