Blood and gore and second place: Race Recap from USAC Marathon Mtb Nationals 2014

At last year’s USAC Marathon Mountain Bike Nationals, I was a scant 2 minutes behind second place. This year, with a sweet new race bike (Marin’s Team CXR), a practiced nutrition regiment with Hammer Nutrition, and coaching from Julie Young (o2fitness.net), I thought a Championship jersey was very very attainable.

But life is full of surprises.

Just less than a month before the race, I got a job promotion which will take me and Jared back to Seattle. I couldn’t be more thrilled about going back to Seattle, to the beautiful Flagship REI, to delicious seafood, green trees, tacky trails, another season of muddy CX, and day-tripping distance from the Whistler Bike Park. This is now my fourth relocation with the company, and by now, I thought it’d be a piece of cake. But packing and moving and house hunting and saying goodbye still takes a surprising toll.

For this race, I was leaning on my last 7+ months of preparation, which is ultimately for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race in August. But why not pick up a Championship Jersey along the way!?!?!

On our pre-ride of the race course on Thursday, I took it easy, but I was surprised at how much lower angle the hill climbs seemed to be compared to last year. I was running a 1X system with a 30T chainring up front, and I couldn’t help but wonder if a 32T would be better. It just didn’t feel that hard, nor did the climbs seem too sustained. But since I don’t like changing things right before a race, I left the set up as it was.

Race morning: I was ready! There were 6 women in the 35-39 category, and as we impatiently waited for our call ups to the line, we were all sussing each other out. One woman from New York received all the announcer’s heckling, because it was only her 4th time out on a mountain bike….ever! I think she was media coverage for Rebecca Rusch’s Women’s Ride Camp. Kudos to her, but I dismissed her as competition. As for the rest, I didn’t want to make any hasty judgements.

timing chips

The gun went off! We started down a bike path that descended at a gentle grade. Everyone glommed on to my wheel, but it wasn’t that windy and I was moving hardly more than a “warm up” pace, so I didn’t care. This wasn’t the time for me to push a pace. I was just getting my legs primed for the upcoming climbs. Once we veered off onto the dirt fire road, the grade picked up, and occasionally kicked up steep where I’d drop into my lowest gear. I was in the lead and feeling comfortable, but this was still only the first 30 minutes of a 4+ hour race. Then we hit some shaded single track that continued to rise, but it’s a pleasant respite to get out of the early morning hot sun. I pushed the pace a little, curious how others behind me would respond. Without much effort, I opened up a gap between me and the girl on my tail, Kristin.

We’re only in the shade for about 6-7 minutes, then popped back into the sun for the “long” climb, maybe about 40-50 minutes of continuous climbing. I kept my own pace, never forcing it, and it was just near the top of the climb that the same girl, Kristin, was on my tail again. Based on the single track section earlier, I had a hunch that I was a better descender. I pushed the pace just a little to the top, and as I started the initial descent, I took a quick look over my shoulder and saw she stopped for a water bottle change. YES! Maybe my strategy of carrying nearly 100oz of water in a Camelback was working! I agonized the night before over how to carry enough water and liquid nutrition, and in the end I went whole hog.

I felt good on the descent. I tried to use it as recovery, but at the same time, maintained mental focus, stayed fluid, made no mistakes. By the time I popped back onto the fire road, I felt I had opened a 2 minute gap or so. I was devising a strategy to win. My goal for the second lap = Get to the single track descent first!!! I was determined to make it.

But race days are full of surprises.

When I got back to the first fire road climb, something had changed. My legs had abandoned me. I tried to refocus and regroup in the shaded single track. I kept telling myself it’s less than a 1 hour climb to the top…easy! But it felt anything but. What felt like a low angle climb on the pre-ride just two days ago, couldn’t have felt any more grueling now. I was in my lowest gear and still struggling. Was it the heat? I dribbled water from my Camelbak onto my legs and doused myself with water at the feed zone. But still, no answer.

Kristin had caught up to me, well before the top of the climb. I denied her request for a pass, multiple times. This is a race! I worked hard to get here first in order to ensure I got to the top of the climb first! I know I was pissing her off, but knowing her strength was climbing and mine was descending, this was the strategy I needed to employ to win. We race to win, right!?!? Oh, I’m sure she has words for me in her blog. 🙂

But I was suffering too much. My inner, upper hamstrings started to cramp, and I just couldn’t hang. Regretfully, I turned aside to give her a pass. We weren’t far from the top at this point, and I still had the downhill to make up a couple of minutes.

I turned the corner to descend. When I stood up on the pedals, I was wobbly and my arms were tired and shaky. C’mon damn it!! I had trouble holding my line, clumsily veering off course and losing critical momentum. I was breathing purposefully, steadily, trying to regain any mojo. But even the smallest climb required me to go into my lowest gear. So painful! But if only she makes a mistake, or has a mechanical, and I close the gap on the downhill, just maybe…. ???

There’s a rippin’ fast downhill fire road before you hit the final single track descent. I made sure to set up before the corners, putting my bike and body in the best position for maximum traction. It was exhilarating, I was relaxed, the wind felt wonderful. But then, my bike started to slide away from me. I still remember it in slow motion. The ground just got closer and closer to the side of my body. There was nothing I could do, except yell expletives once the bike stopped and I stared at dismay at my bloodied and gouged out elbow.

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But there was still nothing I could do. I don’t carry first aid stuff on a race. All my appendages were moving fine, and the bike seemed relatively unscathed. So I got back on. There was a reasonable short single track left. I rode on more timidly now, but you can’t deny the speed of a downhill. I was at the top of a switchback when, “what the F%*k!” I somehow somersaulted over my left side and my bike went crashing down the slope. There was a rider just behind me, and I shouted out, “I don’t even know what the hell just happened, do you?!?!” It was rhetorical; I didn’t expect an answer. Was this negative Karma for refusing my competitor a pass?!?! This time my brake lever was askew, but the bike was still rideable. In all the crashing catastrophes, it wasn’t surprising that another woman caught me. We sprinted together to the line and she edged me out. Luckily, I learned after that she was in a different age group. Somehow, despite all the disaster, I held on to second.

I promptly went to the Paramedic’s ambulance, and they made a futile effort to clean out my wound with a few bottles of water. It was clear a hospital visit was unavoidable.

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Jared’s race was nearly about to start. I had just enough time to let him know where I was headed, and then I drove off. Several stabs of novocaine later, a nurse was using a high pressure irrigation/suction device thingy on my arm. Two liters of fluid later, there was still dirt she couldn’t reach. The on-call orthopedic surgeon even came to take a look, and after close examination, recommended that I go to the OR since the dirt was still so deeply embedded in my arm and close to the bone, increasing risk of infection.

What I thought would be a quick wound cleansing became a 5 hour hospital stay. When I woke up, I was groggy and hungry as hell. I slammed two large cups of cranberry juice and devoured a toasted english muffin drenched in butter. “Is this a $100 english muffin?” I asked the nurse. “No,” she said. “It’s ‘free’,” Huh. Can’t wait to see how much this all goes down for.

Just moments later, Jared showed up post-race. When we drove away, he mentioned that maybe I hadn’t yet missed podiums. At the very least, I figured it would be sweet to get my hard earned medal.

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One thought on “Blood and gore and second place: Race Recap from USAC Marathon Mtb Nationals 2014

  1. Hi Naomi,
    You are one tough cookie. Sounds like the injury was pretty serious. Hope you are healing ok. Hope you get a chance for some rest and recuperation before you start work.
    With love, Dad

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