moab

Race report 3.28

Only 5.5 hours away, through typical high desert, NM lands, native and ambiguous, beautiful, remote, where you might slide off the road and no one would know.  Nonetheless, not dramatic changes occur traveling from Albuquerque to there.  And yet, Moab is an absolute global mecca of mountain biking.  Heat oppressive from June to September, I drove up, heavily caffeinated, to race in March.  Cool, light rains, cloud cover.  A perfect set of days for a stage mountain bike race.

I race bikes to learn something new.  I race mainly new races; cause I need a new set of fear(s).  Old fear drives me mad.  I crave new experiences where I can go in with some decent level of skill to be competitive, and ultimately pop out improved.  I need to enjoy it, for the reward to be higher than the risk, so that I can get excited about going into a deeper level of commitment from where I was before.  If it’s not enjoyable, I’ll stop.  

In this race, the fields were deep with pros, many ex pros, and many who could or should be pros.  Running like rabbits all over the Moab hills.  And then there were the Canadians.  The Transrockies Stage race is part of a mostly Canadian mt bike series, based mostly in Canada.  And Moab.  Four in my age group.  It was technically rough, dangerous and those ladies knew it would beat them up.  Smart call?....Hee hee.

So, these pro Canadians are there, AND fast people from Japan, Brazil, Portugal, Mexico, Uruguay and other nations I’ve never been to.  Legit TALENT……..and EFFORT to get there; real mountain bikers.  These people paid thousands to get to this race, have been training for the race longer than me….(I kept my skis on till 6 days prior, then rode a few times.) they look and behaved committed, hence earning the 'pro' status.  I look at the race profile, and the videos, and decide it’s a solid training camp for me.  I’ll treat it as such.  And just throw myself at it.  I’ll finish with dignity, maybe shed little blood, and walk away more skilled than when I came in.  I want to be changed. That’s what I come for.

All of that happened, with the list of things I need to work on (climbing like a roadie, flowing massive drops like a DH master) and stoked to train more.  train smarter, more efficiently, cause I don't think I'll put in more time.  

These Canadians I think have been coming to Moab for a while to dry out from a long winter.  It's wet up there.  They seem like they’ve arrived in paradise, happy, upbeat, energized and strong, happy about the thousands of mountain bikes everywhere.  I have taken Moab for granted.  Not anymore.  

Stage 1: 15 miles on dirt road.  Just gravel grinding.  Not my forte, but the views and what feels like a snail steady pace kept me grateful to be there.  The steep pitches ATE into my injury from July and locked down my left glutes, so climbing power and range of motion was crunched.   Then the shoulder hunches and I'm all in a bunch until I start breathing and unlosen some of it.  Climbed slow and painful, just on that glute…And here’s the mind training I neglected, the place where the dark thoughts slip in.  Like: I shouldn’t be racing, I suck, I have no power, I have no skill, I didn’t even thoroughly check my bike, I’m so lazy, I shouldn’t be here.  I’m hardly committed…….I’m too big, read: fat.  All of my coaches tell me I’m too big, though I measure 10% BMI roughly.  I look at my legs and decide to look at the rocks instead.

I ate some chips at the top.  Met a girl from Portugal who was dressed in a lot of pink and I wondered if I should look more feminine in my outfit, add some color, or maybe I should grow long blond hair and take more selfies.  I’m thinking these things would improve my attitude…..as she passed me.  Finally the descent. 

Initially I felt like I’m getting jack hammered, from the base of my spine up.   I finally stopped thinking about it and just rode, found THE FLOW.  The gods DO live in Moab.  Essentially, I became the ninja 25 year old enduro dude. For at least 30 seconds.  Off and on.  Comically, all the sudden, I was surrounded by 2 groups of dudes, all whooping and crushing it.  I’d pass them on ALL the mini tiny climbs, and they’d blow by me on the descents.  And they’d stopped.  A lot.  To shake out their cramps, take pics and do their dance.  We had some good back and forth that drove my stoke up several notches, (one dude carried my bike down the notch...) which was good, cause it was still 8 miles to the finish line.   Didn’t crash once, walked more than once, and finally crossed the line.  Met my goal of under 4 hours, improved hugely, and shed no blood.  Then the race volunteers told me I had another 4.5 miles to the road.   We’re out in the fricking middle of nowhere…No heli evac now.

For that 4.5 miles, I was done.  Done worrying, hurting, thinking, racing, feeling.  And I flew, letting the bike guide me, trusting the drops, not over thinking, just moving with the rock.  Not feeling the pain.  Kind of waited for that moment.  It was mostly blissful, the dudes still crossing back and forth.  They were kind of my guardian angels.  I wish I could tell them that now and buy them a few beers.  That laugh would go on a while.  It was elegant, technical, but lighter, with a nice steep 100’ or 1000’ cliff on one side.  Just enough to keep you focused and more precise on your line.

I arrive at the road.  It’s done.  Chips.  Watermelon.  Happy volunteer faces.  I stuffed the chips.   I don’t eat regular potato chips normally, but I do at races.  I stuff them.  No, I layer them, even though they’re not Pringles, they can be layered, so you can fit 10 at once.  The watermelon is obvious.  Water.  Melon.  Who doesn’t want that after racing 5 hours?

I know we’re not near town, but I asked…. how far to town?  5 miles.  It’s along the beautiful river, flat, I have chips in my belly now and a sweet smooth finish capping off stage 1, so I cruise into town, a total of 10 miles after the 27.6 race miles.

My mind is good, happy, grateful, rewarded, but I can’t stand up.  Can’t walk, can’t move much at all.  I drive the .5 miles to Super 8 and creep up the stairs into the tub.   I’ve been clenching my jaws SO tight, my jaw muscles are more fatigued than my arms.  I’d love a glass of wine, but I’m wrecked...

The body was wrecked.  Fast forward…..

I had been off the bike so long; skiing a lot, and holding on to an injury I didn’t know how to treat.  Overall, I didn’t position myself well on the bike in the climb, didn’t engage my abs enough in the descent, tensed my shoulders too much in the rough sections and didn’t breathe consistently- and clenched my jaws like I was chewing dead leather all day.  I overused my left hip, slamming my leg on the down pedal and steep pitches, and now my hip wouldn’t support my weight. Now trying to stand.

Hot bath.  I hate cold baths.  E-stem with the TENS device for an hour, mild stretching, plenty of aminos, and I just lay still.  Knowing I wouldn’t be able to race stage 2.  At least.  I do a session of traction, and kind of relax totally into just being still.  Enjoying not feeling pain or motion.  Feeling nothing.  

The next day, I don’t race.  I don’t move a whole lot.  Sequencing through my yoga, meditation, e-stem, heat.  And short walks, coffee.  And don’t think much, listening to podcasts, wondering if I’ll need surgery.  They call it myositis ossificans.  When, after a deep contusion, the bone tissue grows instead of muscle cells in through the muscle.  It disabled me for months before we uncovered what it was.

The end of the day, I realize I have to race again.  If the Canadians AND Portuguese girl came all this way, I can’t take if for granted.  Because I know I can.  Because I’m here to race and if I can put some weight on both legs, I can race.

Easy waking up the next morning.  Easy moving into the race staging area, easy starting.  The group is moving, flowing, climbing, even talking kind of mellow....I can see the lead pack several miles into it.  Then they disappear, but I have no expectation other than to respond to the pain when it comes up, diffuse it somehow, either by shifting how I’m using my muscles, or by eating/ drinking something.  Or both.  And tweaking a smile out of my clenched jaws.

It’s a good flow, not intense climbing, less intense technical than stage 1, but demanding constant attention.  There are moments of sheer joy that out there alone, I wouldn’t experience if I were just riding.   I’m pushing myself at a pace I can maintain, but staying fluid on the tech stuff.   Feeling less pain, shifting in my pedal stroke, repeating only light thoughts, and not letting the dragon slayer into my head to slash my calm.  I’m riding well, more importantly, feeling pretty amazing with only slight impingement that seems to shift- and the chips at the first aid station help.  Long dusted by most in the tribe, but I’m solid.

The sand pits come, the nasty last climb arrives.  The notion of false summit in every turn, there are mini crests, then yet another turn and more elevation gain.  I'm getting so strong!! :) Then, the final descent with nerve like it was going to be taken away.   Again, I greet my bowl of potato chips and watermelon, and drool delirious happiness to all volunteers like they’ve just rescued me from a night in prison or a night in the sub zero temps.

I conquered some goals, with room to spare. And came away walking better than I went in, much more skilled, having ridden some of Moab's toughest trails.  And awake, stoked, to race my bike on new terrain this season.  Injuries will continue coming and going.  I’m not going to use it as anything other than access to more information about my body, and my mind.  Info that will tell me more about my health, my skills, my recovery techniques that will deepen my love and need to continue being an athlete.   In my second athletic career, improving my mind, my body, finding the playfulness that IS mountain biking.  Thanks Canadians for reminding me of my backyard.

I’m humbled.  I’m more in awe of what’s going on around me.  That’s where I always want to be.  I get to play around the edges learning from the best, and be a part of it all.  I get to feel so small in the scale of those rocks, and drive just a few hours to play hard and get outside of my head, my dilemmas, to take myself where I wouldn't choose to go on my own.  I deserve to be out there because I’m going to go out and break some barriers, then go back and raise my bar and encourage others to do the same.