I believe that man will not merely endure. He will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. – William Faulkner
I haven’t ever done a team athletic event before. Unless you count my experiences with High School Marching Band. So it was a new experience to me to have a team, be a part of it, with my performance assisting in the determination of the eventual outcome. I can’t describe what it meant to me.
The morning went off as you would expect- kids, camping, meals, preparations. The race started at noon and Gary was first up on our team. Dude is some kind of athlete- won Xterra Nationals last year. It was his FIRST TRIATHLON EVER. Kid you not. We had fun swapping triathlon stories. He’s so cool. Deep admiration.
Three of my four teammates (Jake, Troy and Gary) all work for the Utah National Guard, so that was our team sponsor. The fourth, Tappin, is Jake’s assistant-coach for their NICA team. And I was the token lady-bits and Coloradan. I am still in awe and feel the deep privilege it was to be on this team.
Okay- back to the day- so Gary was up at noon. I was #2 and would hit the trail about 1:00. We had a morning team strategy meeting which was great. Dennis built us an Excel spreadsheet that effectively predicted our start times and lap times. It was super cool. Dennis is super cool.
I walked with Dennis down to the start line to watch them run to the bikes and take off on course. Once they were out I hauled it back to camp to get dressed, fed, and warmed up. I wore the jersey Troy brought for me, drank me some Buzzerk, and did hill sprints to warm-up. I was excited more than nervous and was looking forward to having a great time on the trail!
Gary was in the top 20 of riders to make it back. He handed me the baton, which I slipped into my shorts, then I ran to my bike and took off like a shot.
The first part of the trail is pretty easy- dirt with occasional rocks (which I turned into jumps)- until it turns onto a Jeep road, and becomes the 7 Bitches. Kid you not. 7 Bitches= steep climbs followed by equally steep descents. I did okay on them, only getting passed by a handful of guys going balls-out. I wasn’t worried. They may catch me, but chances were I could catch them on the flats- and some of them I did. Besides, most of them were the hot-shot 4-man team pro guys. No hurt to my ego.
On one of the climbs I went to shift and dropped my chain. No big deal. Popped it back on and kept on. It was early on in the race and we were lucky that this was to be our only mechanical the entire race.
After this trial of hell came the fun part- fast and flat, windy singletrack through the bushes and cacti. At one point I caught one of these later with my left shoe. At 15 mph the needles pierced my shoe and lodged in my foot. I was only 7 miles in. But I didn’t slow, I didn’t stop. I peddled hard and it was a total blast to be able to release my top speed after so many months!
The final climb is mild, but challenging for its length. There are a couple of technical sections before the final downhill. For some reason I expected a little more out of this last mile- more flow, higher speed. But it was peddally and lacked the kind of flow and speed I was aching for. But it was okay. I can take it. The last obstacle was a steep rock dive than more than a few regularly crash on. I simply engaged the dropper and dropped that shiz.
I came across the finish line, zipped up my jersey, and handed the baton off to Troy. End lap one.
I would have another lap before the day was over. Between I rested, ate, rested, ate, peed, played with kids, and rested some more. When I went out again it was dark, but I was ready. The first lap had been just a bit on the hot side for me, and I was anxious for the cool of the night.
Unfortunately, I lost a light just a 1/4 mile in! And even worse, it was the one on my head, not the one on my handlebars! This meant I couldn’t very easily track into the corners. I was worried, scared, and annoyed all at once.
But I did what I thought I could: hopped behind a guy and stuck to his tail using his light. He was on a single speed bike and going slow enough we could talk. This was a problem. I was racing. Intolerable. I opted to “skip the bitches” this round, but when I hit the double track I ditched my new friend whose light I had been borrowing. I would take my chances going twice as fast into the darkness with a single light.
Once I broke free I felt amazing. I jumped from averaging 10 mph to 15 mph. The night was cool, and my only complaint (besides missing my light) was having to pass so very many people! At one point another gentleman and I got stuck behind 4 others. We started joking and laughing before we were able to pass and break free. I don’t know who the guy was, where he was from, and I certainly couldn’t recognize him since I don’t think I ever saw him- but he enhanced the experience and I thank him for it.
The rest of the lap went down without a hitch. I felt great. Probably it was the caffeine, the endorphins. But my first night lap wasn’t a whole lot slower than my day lap. I had pushed hard, and my back and legs were aching- but I had no doubt I would be ready to go again in a few hours.
I got back to camp and wondered how I would ever sleep. That’s when I made some mistakes. I tried to drug myself to sleep. In retrospect I should have just stayed up. I’d done so before, when riding the White Rim, and would have been just fine. I didn’t end up sleeping anyway….