Tuesday, April 20, 2010

a year in the making

Team Velo Girls member, Carolyn Thompson, shares her experience racing mountain bike cross country at Sea Otter Classic for the first time.


Well the day of reckoning came and went for me on Sunday April 18th - the location? Sea Otter Classic of course!

Since last spring when I decided I would try my hand at Sea Otter for the first time in 2010, I've been thinking about (and stressing about if the truth be told!) doing well at Sea Otter. In January I got serious and put together a training plan with 14 weeks of focused training leading to a peak for this race. I slogged through hours on the trainer while it was pouring outside and dark before the end of my work day and muddy slippy rides on the weekends. I set my goal as top 10 in my age group knowing that was a stretch goal but a realistic one I hoped to achieve with dedicated training and focus!

I got lots of advice from past racers and our very own Lorri Lee Lown - all of which was playing over in my head as I lined up on the front starting line! This years course started the racers on the race track between turns 4 and 5. Quick de-tour: Can I just say as an avid motorcycle race fan and frequent spectator at motorcycle races at Laguna that I was out-of-my-mind excited to be racing on "the" race track at Laguna!! For part of our warm up we spun up, and then jammed down the infamous Cork Screw turn and I was bubbling over with excitement the entire time! Ok end detour back to RACING! With teammates Kerri Stevenson off in the heat ahead of me a Mariska Vodegel in the group behind, I held my own on the front line at the starting grid. 30 seconds ladies...and we are off!

As if she was shot out of a cannon, the skinny fully kit'ed rider from Specialized I noticed as serious competition before was out in front and in the blink of an eye she was rounding turn 4 headed for the Andretti Hairpin (Turns 2)! I got on the back of a train of 4 or 5 girls but they were taking their time and I wanted to get a jump and put some space between me and others before we got off the track and onto the trails. My legs were feeling good, heart rate a little higher than I'd like but this is racing, so I click up a few gears and pull past all of them, enjoying the pristine tarmac on the race track as I headed, IN SECOND PLACE!!, around turn 11, up turns 10 and 9 before jumping off the track onto the rutted sand run-off section that puts us out on the trails.

The fire road climb bring a passer or two from the group chasing but I bring them both back using momentum from the downhill sections to pull me up the short climbs. The fire road had a well beaten line in it that was free of the scary loose gravel that was there during both of my pre-rides so I was able to push it faster there than I expected - it didn't hurt that I was catching girls from the group in front of my giving me a few rabbits to catch up to. Two girls from my group pass me and this time the pass sticks and I push to keep with them on the final fire road climb before we get to the first section of beloved single track.

We hit the single track and I'm in 4th place now and know I'm fast in that section of the course, I push up a gear and crank and quickly bring them into sight. Someone from the group before us is slowing the train down in front of me which only helps pull them closer in and just like that I'm hooked back up to the train of ladies fighting for top 5! We cross the road and start the single track climb up to the infamous "Beach". I keep in contact with the girls ahead and make a few passes to get past those holding us up. A number of folks kindly pull over when they hear the train of ladies huffing and puffing up the hill and I holler out "one more back" so they keep the spot open for me as well - they gladly do! Climb over and we hit the roller fire road up to the "Beach". I make a pass, putting me in 3rd or 4th but she doesn't give up easily and keeps right with me.

And now the "Beach"...condition s were perfect and I should have been able to stay on but I lost it part of the way down and had to drop a foot - Drat!! I get passed by one, two, three girls...grrrrr! Not happy! I flail with one foot out and one more passes me and I realize I've got to run this baby - so I'm off and running. Finally out of the sand I remount and jam but the damage is done and the girls are out of sight. With my delusions of fame, fortune and top 5 smashed I push on knowing I can still meet my goal of top 10 but can't slack off. The single track uphill after the beach is a non-stop route of short, steep uphill kicks without much relief in between and my hard effort at the start is showing because my legs are not cooperating and I struggle to get up the hardest stuff. Finally at the top I gear up and descend the fire road and then regular road before using all my momentum to propel me up onto the next fire road at about the 45min
mark - time to GU!! Yummy Mint Chocolate!

I climb the short fire road leading to the final single track of the course, pushing through the single track I reach to top very pleased with my single track skills for the day. Then I see it...the trail that has been giving me heart burn since my first pre-ride...3 deep rutted out sections back-to back that I had yet to ride all the way through. My fearless riding partner and husband Aaron had shown me the right line, pumped me up that I could do it but it was up to me to make it happen! I couldn't afford to get off and walk for fear of who was behind me so on I went. Section 1 & 2 = not so bad! Ahead of me looms the third and hardest section - I know the race line is on the far right and that it is initially blocked from view by a shrub so trusting Aaron's advice, and ignoring the 2 boys walking it on the left!, I push on to the right, hollering out to the walkers below that I was riding and on the right. And like that it was over - I had lived,
was not horribly mangled and had actually made it down! Yippee!

With my daemons conquered, hoping I was still top ten I pushed on the final fire road climb up Skyline. My legs were screaming so I did what I could to survive the climb, passing others and getting passed some of the time. With relief in sight and cheers coming from all around I took the hard left down the final trail to the track. I made it through, almost...had to drop a foot due to bad gear choice on a short uphill...and was back onto the sacred ground of the race track with my wheels pointed downhill finally! I put on all the gear I had, channeled Nicky Hayden's MotoGP cornering skills and mashed down turn 6, whipped around turn 5 and finished pushing all out!

I did meet my goal of top ten - 9th out of 21 for my category, but I'd be lying if I didn't was I was disappointed to not be in the top 5! In the end I know that I left everything out there on the race course and am pleased with where my training put me in the end. I have more improvements to make and better race form to achieve throughout the year but this Velo Girl is proud to be in the top 10 racing against some really top notch competition and to have my first Sea Otter race under my belt!

Thanks for reading!

No comments: