Assaulted by Mt Currahee

I think that was the most brutal race ever. But you know, I bet I’ve said that before. I’ve never birthed a child, but I’ve certainly heard of post-birth amnesia and I can’t help but think it’s the same way with racing. I haven’t even showered yet, and I feel this compulsion to just sit down and vent about what a terrible experience today’s race was. And yet I’m pretty sure that exactly two weeks from today, I’ll be lining up for another bike race. Though I often think of riding my bike as therapy, maybe it’s time for a therapist…. :/

I did this race last year, actually named the Assault on Mt Currahee. I also prerode the course last week, so I felt ready and dialed in for today. As I began to see the line up of competitors (including a pro racer and also speedy demon Jen Nielsen), I wasn’t as sure of my chances to podium. But as is often the case with smaller women’s fields, I just focused on just giving it my all and having my own best race regardless of my final place.

After my last gravel race, I had to put about $150 into my bike, the pouring rain and course grit sand annihilated my brake pads and rotors and was the final death of my bottom bracket. Everyday this week, I was checking the weather, and as we approached race day, the chance of precipitation was 70%. Ugh. Another wet race. Upon pulling into the parking lot, I was hopeful that it would be just a gentle Seattle-type mist, but instead the weather gods unleashed intermittent rain storms.

The start was dubbed a “slow rolling start” behind a pick up, but as soon as the race started, the truck accelerated and riders immediately started jockeying for positions. I was just a little bit behind the lead group down the initial highway, but as soon as we turned down Lake Russell Road, I eased off. It’s a super fast, curvy, steep descent. And it was wet. I didn’t want to end my race in the first 10 minutes in a careless crash. It’s no more than a 4 minute descent, so I wasn’t worried if I lost a half of a minute here to my competitors. But as soon as we turned onto the uphill gravel, my drivetrain immediately got cranky and seemed to fight against my every pedal stroke. I tried to ignore it, but my mind wandered to thinking about each pedal stroke and each turn of the rotor between sandpaper brake pads costing $5 a turn… $5+5+5+5+5 etc ….all culminating in a repair bill that I didn’t want to face again.

I just kept trying to ride steady, doing my own thing, and reached the renowned Mt Currahee climb in just under an hour. I felt good, and just tried to keep a focused steady pace up the steep, unrelenting hill. The rest is a bit of a blur, but I do remember constantly feeling like I was always fighting against myself and my bike. I couldn’t get into “the zone” – that place of hyper, singular focus. My legs felt pretty good, but my mind seemed distracted. To gain focus, I was really trying to enjoy the downhills, which in general were not too steep or technical. I sped into a wide sweeping right turn and there was a long branch ahead of me. I was in that line, so I didn’t try to suddenly swerve to avoid it, thinking I might lose traction if I made a quick adjustment. Certainly at this speed, I’d just fly over it and carry on, I thought. My front wheel cleared it, and then BAM. Thigh, elbow, then head crash to the ground. My right leg was under the bike and my calf immediately cramped up. I think I stood up pretty quickly, trying to relieve the cramp and also not wanting to create another crash from another incoming rider, but I wasn’t really keeping track of the time. But it all seemed to happen so fast.

At first glance, I thought my bike was toast and my race over. My saddle was crooked by 90 degrees, my right hood was tightly jammed against the tops of my handlebar, and I was certain there’d be other problems. F%$&! I was PISSED! I didn’t think the race could get any worse, and then this?!?!! I tried to collect myself and I pulled out my multi tool and was able to fix the saddle and brake hood fairly quickly, but then I thought, gosh I should check my helmet. I had hit my head pretty hard, but I felt ok. I inspected my helmet it and it didn’t have any cracks in it. So I do what you do in a race after a crash. I got up, and kept going.

I fought back tears for a little while, frustrated at myself for making a stupid decision to ride over a wet branch, and frankly, a little scared, thinking that the crash could have resulted in a worse injury. I let out some guttural screams that I hope no one else heard, but I was just so overwhelmed with a weird mix of emotions ranging from rage, fear, frustration, disappointment….. Had there been an easy out, I was ready to throw in the towel and DNF. But I just had to keep riding. Luckily, the rhythm of pedaling steadied my nerves, and when I saw a few riders come back into view ahead of me (and a fellow female competitor), I harnessed a bit of hope and positivity. I wasn’t going to snatch any victories from the jaws of defeat, but at least I rediscovered some motivation. I passed 3 or 4 riders up the last, relentless hill before the finish, but more gratifying than that, was to just cross the finish line, finally.

I often enjoy the effort of bike racing. Even when it feels difficult or painful, there’s usually an accompanying sense of determination, which in turn leads to a feeling of accomplishment. It’s “type 2 fun,” or fun when you’re done. But this is the first time in a long time when the whole experience was pretty miserable from beginning to end. I question why I pay money to spend a day off suffering and putting myself at risk of injury. I question if it’s worth it.

That was a lot of venting. So now, I’ll take a shower, take a nap, eat a good dinner. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll have bacon and eggs for breakfast. Or waffles. Or all of that. Then, I’ll go on a recovery ride. I’ll go to work. I’ll keep following my training plan, and then you know what? Then two weeks from now, I’ll be at the start line for the Southern Cross Gravel Race….. I didn’t think this race could be any worse than the last one, but it was. I’d like to call today’s race rock bottom and hope it’s all uphill from here!

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