Nationals- a bittersweet ending

It has taken me awhile to write this post because I needed to get over my "pity party".  I wont deny the fact that for a while when I was trying to get to sleep I thought about that day and what I could have changed so it would have gone differently.  Let me take you back to the beginning: I arrive in Madison, WI on the evening of January 10th.  It's about 38 degrees and raining with snow piles everywhere.  I had been following the races that started on Wednesday and wondering what the heck those snowy conditions where going to do come Sunday (with a predicted high of 20 degrees).  Wednesday I guess it was snowy, with only 1 line through the course.  Thursday it seemed to be a combo of snow, water, mud, ice.  As the day wore on and the sun went down the course was terribly icy.  Sneaky icy, you couldn't see it.  Thursday night I just tried to rest my head and put myself together for Friday.

Come Friday there had been so much rain and little snow melt that there where puddles of water all over the course (on and off course).  The ground was still frozen so the water had no where to go.  The course was a soupy muddy icy mess.  Think sheets of ice with mud on top.  The course also had a bit of elevation, so there where some pretty good descents you had to navigate through in those tricky conditions.  I knew that come Sunday with the way the course was plus freezing temps, it was going to be treacherous (honestly I was scared for my life).  If my race could have been on Friday, I would have been happy.  I pre-rode the course 2x to get a feel for the course (not the conditions) and it was pretty fun, a "longer" climb, some rail road tie stairs, a steep punchy climb, lots of descending, and some up hill barriers.  I went back to the hotel and tried not to think about the safety of my life and waited for Chris to arrive (his trip out to the midwest deserves its own blog post...poor guy).

Saturday Chris and I went back to the course, I was trying to decide if I wanted to ride the course again, but once I got there, my mind was made up.  I was NOT going to get on that course.  As it turns out on Friday night, the temps rose, they rose, and they rose, until they couldn't rise anymore, then they started dropping (come Saturday am).  How high did they rise?  I would say upper 40's because the course on Saturday showed no signs of ice and no signs of soupy mud.  The ground thawed, soaked up the water, and left what we like to call "peanut buttery mud".  I wasn't going to get my bike or myself dirty in those conditions because I KNEW that tomorrow all that mud would freeze and turn into frozen ruts.       So instead we packed up my bike to bring it back to the hotel so I could do some openers on the trainer in the hotel.  Of course that was after we made a stop at Home Depot for some screws to put in the bottom of my shoes.  Everyone was preparing for the worst (ice and frozen ruts).  Truthfully, I was preparing myself for a running race with my bike.

Back at the hotel I pinned my skinsuit (#17 - 16th loser!  Just kidding, 1st person on the 3rd row, but I figured some wouldn't show up and I would end up on the 2nd row).  As it turns out someone gained some weight in December during their honeymoon in Hawaii (too much Malibu and POG, going out to eat, and lying on the beach) so my thermal skinsuit felt quite tight compared to when I put it on last in Bend.  Chris had to re-pin me and then continued to tell me how tight the skinsuit was (thank you for rubbing it in).  After the number pinning adventure, it was time to get those screws into my shoes.  Thank goodness for extra help, they went in without a hitch.

Sunday morning I woke up to sunny skies and cold temps!  I think it was about 15 degrees when we left the hotel.  We grabbed some breakfast and headed to the course.  I wanted to get there early to watch the collegiate men race and see how they handled the course, mentally prepare for a pre-ride, and of course get dressed for said pre-ride (if you know takes me a good 45 minutes to get dressed to ride in cold weather).  The course appeared to be...hard.  Literally, frozen hard ground, the collegiate boys where handling that course like champs.  But I did notice there were very obvious lines on the course, stray from those lines and things got a little trickier!  Once the college-aged-boys finished their racing I hoped on the course and did a couple of laps.  The courses actually ended up being SO MUCH FUN!  The ruts where totally awesome to ride in, kind of like riding a "skinny" on Galbraith, and the ground was hard as a rock (kind of).  Running up the railroad tie stairs the mud was de-thawing and I realized at the top I was having issues clipping in...the mud/ice froze instantly to the bottom of my shoes and in my pedals.  After stopping back at base camp and having Chris chisel out the mud and ice we sprayed the shoes with Pam (hoping it would work).  Then I proceeded to realize it was 12:30 and I needed to finish getting dressed.  Then my zipper on my skin suit broke.  After having Chris fiddle with it for far too long the time was now 12:47pm (race start at 1pm) and I had to go to staging.  On the way I realized I had to go to the bathroom and my brakes where rubbing.  In the port-a-potty my zipper got stuck again, so  couldn't go to the bathroom!  I ran and grabbed my bike from Chris and bolted to the start line.  To make a dramatic appearance short...I missed my call up.  I would have been 2nd row and I ended up 4th row.  I was too frazzled to be nervous for the start, that all of a sudden we where starting.

I had a fantastic start and was somewhere in the top 15 and moving up and feeling good, taking good lines, handling my bike well.  Then it all went down hill REAL fast.  All it took was one fumble to ruin the day!  A girl 2 people in front of me fumbled, causing the girl in front of me to fumble, causing me to fumble then I tried to pedal and I was in WAY too big of a gear and then my chain dropped.  After that about 8 people passed me by the time I had got my chain back on.  I stayed relaxed but still had feet filled with mud and I could hardly clip into my pedals!  Then I went to descend and I wiped out, got up and then wiped out again!  The 2nd wipe out had me laughing, that's when I realized this was going to become funny.  I knew I couldn't get upset because it was just going to be funny, a laughing matter really.  Once back on my bike (finally) I realized not only where my shoes caked with mud, but my rear deraliuer wasn't really shifting well, so I chose to pit, and immediately regretted it.  What it all came down to not feeling comfortable at race pace on my "b" bike.  That's all it is, the fit was different, the bars where bigger, the hoods and brakes felt different.  It was just...not the same and I didn't feel comfortable on it.  So after half a lap on my "b" bike I wanted to get back on my "a" bike.  Turns out I couldn't get on my "a" bike because it wasn't ready yet, so I had to finish out the rest of the lap on my "b" bike.  I wasn't looking forward to the ruts and downhills on a bike I didn't feel comfortable on, but I guess you gotta do what you gotta do!  So I went after it, ended up getting stuck in a rut I knew I didn't want to be in, but didn't feel comfortable turning the bike at the radius I needed to so I ended up endowing on a slight downhill (landed on my head and took some of the course around with me all race long).  Awesome.  I'm pretty sure I hit my pubic bone on my stem as I flipped over my bars.  It was hilarious and I laughed at myself as I got back up and kept racing.


I finally got my "a" bike and decided life would be best on this bike and I would finish the race on my "a" bike (in hind site...not the best decision).      If the other racers could pull it off, they where pitting every half lap.  I chose to ride the same bike after that first lap.  After some more funny instances of taking bad lines, not being able to get clipped into my pedals because of them filling with mud and ice and then crashing on the downhills, I finally found myself heading out for my last lap.  At this point I was laughing because of the hilarity of this race.  Places 11th and 12th where seconds in front of me.  I knew I could get them and pass them, but then...the mud and bike gods where not on my side.  Some of those steep climbs where starting to wear on me (so it felt).   I didn't understand why I felt so sluggish when I actually didn't feel all that bad!  I was working SO hard to not go anywhere, so I decided I must have been getting tired.  It wasn't until I hit the stairs on the last lap that I realized it wasn't me, it was the bike.  I dismounted, tried to hoist the bike up and over my shoulder, and could hardly lift it.  Actually, I could hardly get my hand through the top tube and down tube because they was  SO much caked in frozen mud.  I just decided to press on, at the top of the stairs my bike thudded to the ground and I hopped on, unable to get clipped in.  Then I had no control on the downhill, slid out, hopped back on, and slid out again.  It was so strange, it was like my read end was just coming out from under me, my bike wouldn't grip the ground and it didn't help that I couldn't get clipped in!  Once again, I found myself laughing (it was the only way to get thru this race).  Finally I was able to ride my bike and decided slow was the name of the game (still un able to get clipped in).  That's when a girl passed me and I was now in 14th place (not totally stoked about this, but I couldn't pedal, I couldn't clip in and every time I tried to accelerate it felt like I was moving backwards).

It wasn't until the "major" decent when I rode by some spectators and I heard a guy say "holy mud!  Look at her bike" and then I crashed into a stake, which gave me the opportunity to actually take a peak at my bike.  Yes, the man was correct, holy mud.  I continued to press on, laughed it off once again, rounded the next turn into the barriers and then this is where disaster struck (please note I am now on my last half lap).  I went to lift my bike up over the barriers and I struggled, big time.  Now, I consider myself quite strong.  I lift weights 2x/week and the weights are even bigger than 5lbs!  They sometimes even weight more than 20 lbs, and because of this I know my bike had to have been pushing over 35 pounds.  I could not pick my bike up.  Okay I lie, I could pick my bike up, but it wasn't easy, it wasn't a light lift up like it usually is.  Holy crap, I think I might have even banged the barriers with my bike (what am I a 5 yr old racing cx for the first time?).  Once I finally crawled my way out of the 2 barriers I set my bike down and ran with it to remount and that's when I heard a weird noise and then I realized something wasn't right, so I stopped (very briefly) and looked at my bike.  I could hardly see my bike beneath all the frozen (yes FROZEN) mud that was caked on my rear wheel and rear brakes (both brakes but the rear had the worst of it), my rear wheel was literally no longer spinning.  The bike was now unrideable.  And um, no wonder I couldn't stay on the damn thing, or no wonder every small incline felt like I was pedaling up Mt. Everest, the bike was useless to me.  Thankfully the pits where right around the following corner and I was able to run and attempt to drag my bike into the pits for a bike exchange.  While this time felt like eternity, it was probably close to 10 seconds.  Want to know the most incredible part of this experience?  The spectators, they where cheering SOOOOOOOO loudly yelling "carry it" "come on you got it".  It was amazing, I actually took up that small piece of advice and I tried to carry my bike.  Do you know how hard it is to hoist 35+ pounds up and over your shoulder when you are breathing at 1000 breaths per min and your legs feel like jell-o?  Not easy, I reached the pits, threw my bike at Chris and hopped on the B bike.  My goal was to now just finish the race and not lose anymore spots.  Thankfully, I finished in 14th place.  That last lap I lost nearly 2 minutes in my troubles.  Pathetic if you ask me, but that's racing and I have come to terms with my result.  Not really what I wanted, but that's what I got, so deal with it.

The only reason I think I was able to keep my head somewhat in the game was because of the spectators.  First and foremost, thank you to all those out there cheering my name.  It was incredible to have so much support so faraway from home.  Then the strangers that didn't know me or my name but kept cheering, I'm so thankful that the spectators brought their best cheering support to keep all of us going when the going got tough.

No pictures of the actual race since Chris was in the pits he didn't snag any action shots, so I will leave you with a picture of Nugget.