After various mishaps, illness and injury, I finally managed to put together 2 consecutive weeks on the bike and, against my better judgement, lined up in experts in Djouce on June 15th. Really the only reason I raced was because I knew the course would be a cracker and I was itching to feel a part of a race again (my last real XC race was the nationals last year...)
After a slow practice lap, trying to get my head around the course (have not ridden in Djouce in 6 months...major disadvantage) and get my legs into gear, I somehow got myself onto the front row of the grid and waited anxiously.
Actually, thats not true, I wasn't as nervous as usual, as I had no expectations for this race and the only goal was to get around in one piece, so I was pretty relaxed.
The start-line sprint didn't seem as hard as I remembered and I was in about 6th place entering the first bit of singletrack, a steep rooty climb. I had to let a few of the guys go from the front once the track opened out on the next climb, but I had no hope of keeping up with them anyway, so wasn't too bothered. Riding XTC wheel to wheel in a pack of 15 or so was a riot, and was exactly why I wanted to race. After the next climb, I had a decision to make, as I knew I was pushing far harder than I could sustain (and was much further into my anaerobic zone than I'd been in about 8 months!) and had to sit up to save something for the next laps. It really was a course that there was no recovery on, the climbs were steep, the descents technical and the fireroads fast.
Focusing really hard
I was still really enjoying it towards the end of my second lap, but by that stage I was shivering (despite the fact that is was pretty warm) and couldn't speak properly. I tried to thank Shane for handing up my bottle, but nothing but unintelligble grunts came out. Don't remember feeling much pain, but I think that was more numbness than anything. Caught Cait at this stage too, I think she told me to ride through, but I couldn't get the words out to respond and didn't have the power in the legs to ride past, so sat up a little bit, took on some extra fluids and gels before moving on. Later that lap, I suffered the indignity of being caught by masters riders Morgan and Paddy Daly. Luckily, they caught me just before the last climb of the race, which is where I was strongest and made time back up on them.
Gritting out the last climb
After 3 hard hard laps (one climb was so steep, I accidentally turned off my Garmin with my chin!) I crossed the line in 13th place in 1:40 and was delighted to have done so. The main thing I learned in the race was that the mind is far stronger than the body and I rediscovered my ability to suffer on the bike, the ability to push so hard that nothing else outside of the few meters of trail ahead becomes an obscure blur, the thought that you know you should ease up, but you go harder instead. The part of the sport I enjoy so much.