Congratulations Pauline for winning the Pearl Izumi P.R.O. Kit from the El Bandito StuporCross race on July 22.!
Saturday morning started like most race days: me full of jitters – so many anxious nerves as I tried to stomach breakfast.
I have not been cycling for very long and have been racing for even less time, but a couple of things about the El Bandito appealed to me, namely the length of the race and the amount of climbing. It takes me a while to “warm up” when riding, so in some shorter races I finally hit my groove when they’re finishing. I also figured that, with my first MTB race of the year behind me, I’d be a bit more comfortable with the mix of terrain.
The horn went off and the race was on. It was definitely a pile up at the beginning, given the wet grass, steep climb, and apocalyptic asphalt road. Around this time, I remembered the advice, “Save some for the end, because where you start, you are finishing.”
I was in a good group for the first bit, about six of us working together very well and very efficiently. I knew to keep an eye on my heart rate and pace myself, because it was going to be a very, very long day.
It was just as we crested the first run up that things changed. We started descending, I nailed some rock, and about a minute later I realized something was wrong: I was working too hard for how fast the bike was moving. But I thought, “It can’t be the tires – they’re tubeless!”
Even in the middle of a bike race, the cycling community is tight knit and kind, and as I was debating how to determine what was wrong, another rider stopped to help me check things out. In the interest of time, we opted to shoot some Pit-Stop into the tire in hopes that it would seal the puncture and I could continue. I had lost the group I was with, but was still going strong.
A couple kilometres further on, I knew the bike was still not right. The psi was so low again that I knew I was riding a flat. I stopped and put in some CO2, hoping it would force the sealant to do its thing. I made it another couple kilometres until I realized that it wasn’t going to do it – it was flat again.
So, I pulled off to the side of the road just up the climb in order to put in a tube. It was then that the sealant kinda exploded all over me.
I was feeling quite frantic, as I had been doing well in the race, there were not very many women competing in the long route, and I knew that my preference for longer rides would give me a decided advantage. But I had already gone through my CO2s and spare tube. The kindness of the community provided me more help and a tube, and thankfully I still had my hand pump.
At that point I thought, “This HAS to be it! I’m only 40km in, I still have a lot of distance to try to make up time, especially on the more road-like sections, where my lack of technical skills won’t matter as much.”
But the puncture gods were not with me that day. Right as the course split, I flatted for the third time. Same back tire. AGAIN!
At this juncture I could have opted to quit. I could have taken the 70km route and been done with it. I was not feeling physical fatigue, but mental fatigue. I kept trying to tell myself, “This is racing. Things break, things happen.” As I stood there contemplating what to do, I saw two women ride
past me. Right then, I felt even more defeated. But I’m pretty stubborn. And the community once again offered up a replacement tube, so I thought, “I still have, like, 90km to make up time.”
I chased back as much as I could, using the road to close the gap. I eventually caught back up to those two women at the next rest station. I chose not to stop in order to try and widen the gap – a bad idea.
I held the gap until we got into the forest again. I was taking things too fast. Suddenly, BAM – right over the bars. I stayed still for a moment to make sure I was alright before going on. Then one of the women passed me…
Still in the forest, I was chasing her down when, all of a sudden, a big stick became lodged in my back wheel. The bike locked, and over the bars again I went. This time, I took a bit longer to collect myself after landing, as I had more scrapes and I get really light headed when I see blood.
I was starting to feel decidedly defeated at this point. Then a woman on an MTB I hadn’t seen all race passed me. In contrast, I was on a Cyclo-cross bike, and the forest felt never-ending. (I would’ve chosen wider tires if I had known what I was getting myself into.) I’m not used to riding for so long with the kilometres only trickling by ever so slowly. The “20km left” had my roadie brain thinking, “Great! Just over a half-hour!” But that is not the case in the forest, I quickly learned.
I was out of my gels and bars by now and starting to feel bonky. Fifteen kilometres to go… I can last… I can last… At 5km to go, the bonk was really setting in, and I knew what still lay ahead of me: the mud and the apocalyptic asphalt.
About 3km to go, a third woman passed me. I was standing on the side of the road, and we smiled at each other, mirroring a sense of accomplishment that we’d made it that far. I tried to collect myself and get back going, tried to chase. She sat in sight the whole time, but I just didn’t have enough energy to make the pass. I tried to let go of my frustration (which was largely due to 33 minutes wasted on fixing flats, according to Strava Flyby), because racing is racing, and even without flats, a ton of other things can go wrong. No point in holding onto the “what-ifs.”
I crossed the finish line, gave a big sigh, and thought to myself, “New shoes would have really made this experience better!”
But honestly, I just needed a very cold beer.