Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ending the Year with a Bang…or a Snap

          I haven’t been blogging this year for the simple fact I haven’t had much down time.  This past year I have been trying to remain focused and train towards the goal of competing at USAC Mountain Bike XC Nationals.  MTB Nationals moves venues every couple years, and last year and this year it was hosted at Bear Creek Ski resort near Allentown, PA.  When I first learned that nationals was going to be in PA last year I was both excited and nervous because this meant I could easily go race only 2 hours away from home.  When Nationals is out west, which it tends to be, it is hard to try to commit to the time and expense of traveling out there to race….so it was game on! 
            When I raced at Nationals last year I raced in the Men’s Cat 2 19-29 and I did not have to qualify to go race at nationals.  When I made the decision to upgrade to Cat 1 this year than that meant I now had to qualify for Nationals.  Qualifying wasn’t nearly as difficult as I was expecting and I actually qualified at two different races I competed in this year.  Everything looked like it was coming together for Nationals.
            So now I am qualified, training is going good, and Nationals is just around the corner.  I was doing my best to keep my nose to the grind stone and get ready.  A couple weeks out from the race I was getting nervous but feeling ready.  I was making my final preparations for the race, getting ready to tapper my training, and begin crossing of the days leading up to the big day.  Months of training and preparations was all coming together for one day. 
            Race weekend finally approached and I took a couple days off work, I was ready.  The day before the race I arrived early at the venue, got camp set up, got in a practice lap on the course, dialed the bike in, and relaxed waiting for the next morning to arrive and the race to start.  Race morning arrived, woke up at 6am, made coffee, had breakfast, and began getting ready for the race start at 8am.  An hour out I was kitted up, all my supplied laid out, bike ready to go and I began to warm up on the trainer.  Ok, ok, okay….I’m ready….got everything I need….check….bike is good….check….feed zone is set…check……..time to line up at the start. 
            When I entered staging for the racing I felt surprisingly calm, I felt prepared, and I let fate take over because I knew at this point whatever was going to happen was going to happen.  They called our group up to the start line and I actually received the last call up slot, so got to hear my name being announced as I toed up to the start line (felt pretty cool).  We received our pre-race instructions and we all wished each other good luck……tick, tick, tick of the clock…..whistle blew to start the race.
            Off we went into the woods immediately into a climb, and we were going to be climbing for the next mile and a half or so.  Heart rate pegged immediately and I was sitting toward the back of the pack in the start.  I remained calm and reminded myself to stay strong, steady, and race smart as I still had 2 hours of racing ahead of me.  The first lap I felt good but didn’t feel like I was as fast as I would like but I was getting into a groove and felt I would be able to maintain a strong pace the entire race.  I made it up the climb and started down the backside of the mountain.  I made it through the heckle pit (awesome) and entered the dreaded switchbacks and fumbled once, not a big deal.  At this point in the race the woods were chaotic.  There were so many racers in the woods all at once and the leaders of the groups that went off after our group were franticly shouting trying to make their way through the other riders.  I tried not to get flustered, tried to be courteous to the other guys out there, and tried to hold my lines and race my race.  
            I saw the 1km to go sign in the woods and was about the finish my first lap of three…steady as she goes.  As I popped out of the woods heading towards the start/finish area I heard a snap and no longer could pedal…..shit, did I drop my chain?  Then I hear from a rider behind me “broken your chain, broke your chain!”.  After a couple expletives muttered I grabbed my chain off the course and was preparing to do whatever repairs were necessary.  As I reached into my jersey pocket to grab my chain tool a panic began to come over me….where is my f-ing chain tool?  I emptied my pockets onto the grass…not there….did I lose it somehow on course?  So now what?  Do I start asking other racers for a tool….no, this is to be self-supported and you can’t offer or accept assistance from other racers.  So I stood on one pedal and scooted towards my pit area hoping maybe I had something there I could fix it with. 
As I go through the start finish area I hear the announcer saying…”and here comes the first of today’s many mechanicals!”  As I enter my feed zone I empty my bag onto the grass and begin searching for my tool.  As I do this a USAC race official informs me that I am not allowed to access my own supplies that I must repair my bike only with items I started the race with.  My heart sinks….I give him the ‘I’m finish’ signal and he records my race number for a DNF.  It took a few seconds for the reality of what just happened to sink in.
When it sunk in what happened I was crushed, pissed, depressed, and many other negative emotions.  I wanted to throw something, curse, cry, I didn’t even know!!!  I sat my bike down, took off my helmet, paced around for a few minutes, then grabbed my stuff and had to walk away from everyone.  It was a long emotional walk back to my van as I heard the commotion of the event going on around me.  I reached camp and saw my chain tool laying in the van….I never even grabbed it this morning.
At that point my anger was increased and it was directed towards myself for making such a rookie mistake to forget something as simple yet important as that.  All I could do was sit there for a few moments with my own thoughts as I cracked a beer and collected myself.  Six months of training and preparation was thrown away all because I forgot one simple little tool.  I have been doing this long enough to realize that this is part of bike racing, especially mountain bike racing and this realization still didn’t make it very easy to swallow.  I ended sticking around the rest of the day and enjoyed watching the rest of the racing going on and hanging out with friends.  I still had a good day overall but I was emotionally exhausted.
I learned an important lesson and completed a very difficult rite of passage in the cycling world.  I walked away from the whole situation still feeling pretty good about myself thanks to the support of many friends and family.  I realize I am not the first nor will I be the last person for something like this to happen too.  I lift my chin back up and look forward as I still have lots of racing to do this year….but first time a take a couple weeks off the bike before getting back into it.
Thank you all for your support!!!!!

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