I realize that hindsight is 20/20. I felt like my preparation for this race was pretty much dialed going into it. I knew I wasn't going to set Wisonsin on fire or anything like that, but secretly I was really hoping to end up in the top 15 of the overall for this race. I felt like that was within my ability. The week before the race my anxiety levels started to rise and things started to come undone a little bit, but I felt like I was rested enough and focused so that I could lose a little sleep and not have it effect me too badly. As you all know, I'm pretty high energy/obsessive compulsive about everything so I'm very sensitive to changes in the program leading up to big events.
After leaving a little too much on the road out in Wildwood last Wednesday, things started to snowball. Losing a night of sleep or having sore legs for a day really is nothing for me to worry about, but when I train hard and miss rest for multiple days in a row it eats me up. By Friday night the tank was close to empty and I ignored the signs as I was tossing and turning trying to fall asleep; if you don't have problems sleeping then you probably can't relate, but when you are really tired it only makes it harder to rest. Saturday morning came around and I got up early to pack the car and open up the legs for an hour before work. It was busy at work all day and I bounced along the bottom fueled the D-Wayne juice I had won at Castlewood until Scott and Drew came and picked me up for the drive to Chicago at 5. Usually I spend the day before a race flexing in the mirror and threatening to attack my co-workers, but there was no intensity for me. I was cooked.
Between my bike almost coming completely off the back of the chintz strap on rack we put on Scott's car 3 times (not an attempt at humor), a tour of Springfield IL in search of a decent meal, a terrible meal at Olive Garden in Springfield, and getting lost in Rockford as we neared our hotel. We ended up making the 4 hour drive in about 7 hours and got to sleep by 1 A.M.
Aside from any signs of Motley Crue like adrenaline running through my veins, the next morning was business as usual and we had extra time to get lost again and still show up to the race with time to get my shit together. I think both Scott and Drew were surprised that I wasn't going nuts and yelling at them when we got lost. I didn't even really notice that I wasn't threatening to karate chop anyone in the face or suppressing the hair from standing up all over my body as I clenched my jaw in excitement, I was pretty apathetic about the whole event. After all, it was only the most important race for me so far this season; why should I care about trying to rip any legs off?
After selecting some medium heat coloring embrocation and a little warm up we headed over to the start. They PRO and Semi Pro call ups I still got a good spot on the line. If you look behind Tristan Schouten in the red on the left of the picture you might be able to see me about three rows back. As they played the National Anthem I think I started to feel a little of the fire, and then they said go. I actually got a pretty good jump off the line and up the grassy ski slope, maybe in the top 10. Then I started going backwards. Another BIG climb and into the singletrack... The nail in the coffin. I was all over the place.
Let me just say that if you put aside all the little stuff and a some added fatigue from not having an ideal week leading up to the race and the fitness is really good, I'd have a chance at fighting my way through it, which I did for 3/5 laps. What happened on the first two laps was a result of me not having done a race this big before and not knowing how to prep for it. Craig Worcestershire (team Arm Shaver All Star) kinda laughed at me when I told him we were going up the night before. He was going to get up there Sat morning, get a hotey at the venue, pre ride and get a good nights sleep. Now that's frickin' pro! Lining up against 70 blazing fast dudes, most of whom had raced there before, without pre-riding the course was pretty much a train wreck waiting to happen.
I didn't have to wait long for it to happen. I was riding a B game in an A race for the first two laps and there was no recovering from that. I started to get passed by groups of people and quickly started to get down on myself instead of giving myself the usual pep talk to get my head on straight and push on. It wasn't good.
By the third lap I started to get some rhythm going and ride a little better and slowly started to work my way up. I started passing people on both the climbs and the single track and riding smooth. The legs were actually ok.
With two to go I knew I was pretty much just racing the clock and really started to push. I felt like I was going fast and kept passing riders and riding well. I was leaving my race on the trail and was feeling optimistic that I was at least finishing strong.
I came across the line in 2:11, the winning time pro time was 1:55 and there were 25 spots between me and him if that tells you how close these races are. I was totally spent. I haven't finished a race and felt that way afterwards in a long time. Above all, knowing that I made the best of what I had and left it all out there was a huge pleasure for me.
It was kind of a bummer that they made a mistake with the results and we opted to leave, I missed my podium appearance at the biggest race I have ever done. I know that some of you might think that is lame to care, but I do. I finished 5 th place in my field but didn't come close to my potential or goals. I don't even think that I would have won my class had it been a good day, but I feel like I am capable of a top 15 spot in the overall and am really upset that I didn't cross all my t's and dot my i's to know that for sure.
I guess it's hard to see the forest through the trees right now, because a 5th place finish in the biggest mountain bike series in the States isn't too bad.
Time to get some rest and reassess.