For the past few months, I have simultaneously been psyched and stressed as The Sea Otter Classic approached. This would be my second year going and with an additional two races on top of the pro Short Track Cross Country (STXC) and Olympic Cross Country (XCO) races. I was trying to make sure that everything was hyper organized and planned to make the week run as smooth as possible. I am pretty sure that in my attempts to ultra prepare I somehow anti-prepared by not only losing my wallet once but twice within a week. It happens right? Minor hiccup in the plans to book a flight and ship two of the three (yes, THREE) bikes out to California but after a mild breakdown to my dog and a few cookies (plus the help of my team manager/best dude ever, BikeFettish, Paradise Garage, the velogoat and my friends) everything was back on track and ready to go! Fast forward to my layover in LAX. I turn my phone on to find multiple missed calls and messages saying that my bikes (the two I had shipped) did not arrive at their destination... whelp to be honest I don't know if it was because I had just emerged from my 4 hour neck pillow induced plane coma or maybe I'm maturing (most likely the former) but I was oddly calm and just rolled with it. After some phone calls we were able to track down the bikes and have one of them (Cyclocross - CX) rerouted to make it in time for the race leaving me only down the cross country mountain bike. I'd like to pause in the story to give a huge shout out to Tony at Paradise Garage and the crew at BikeFettish for taking the time to help me get everything sorted out and to the race -- if you see them they deserve a high five, beer, or cookies ha!
And resume recap... So we made it to the Otter!
My first race was the Women's Open Enduro on Thursday morning which meant pre-ride on Wed. I'd be lying if I said I was super eager to pre-ride by myself but after some encouragement I headed for Stage 1. By the start of Stage 2 I found myself in good company with other big squish bikes and baggie wearing people. After awkwardly following a group of ladies through the stage I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and introduced myself and asked if I could tag along and ride with them. I don't know why I was so nervous because my question was met with overwhelming positivity and excitement. It was right after beginning the next stage that I saw the names on the backs of everybody's jerseys and realized holy crap I am pre-riding and hanging out with the top of the Women's Pro field.
(Technical Review: Women's Open races are an open category race that anyone can enter: beginner to advanced. Women's Pro category can only be entered by those who have won enough at the open level to upgrade - the pro ladies are the Red Bull helmet wearing, jumping off huge things flying, Enduro World Series riding, kick-ass kind of ladies that we see in commercials and on TV).
I came back to the tent with a completely renewed sense of confidence and excitement and could not wait for the race the next morning. Before I even made it to the top of the hill where we were lining up to start I had found myself chatting among a group of super awesome ladies and we would stay together for the duration of the race. For the first time since racing MTB I don't think I have ever been so relaxed or chill as I was during this race. The positive atmosphere was so contagious as high fives and hugs were exchanged after each stage followed by a debrief on tricky sections and epic features that the stages and transfers flew by so quickly. After checking the results I found out that I had placed 9/40 but most importantly I had the realization of how to race both competitively and not take myself too seriously (something I struggled with in mountain bike season last year).
Keep that positivity train a rollin...
Now for the cross country races. The discipline I train for. The races that I got my teeth kicked in the year prior. Not this year though.
Remember how I said that my XC bike was shipped back to Ohio? I was lucky enough that Kimmi from Smanie Saddles was trusting and kind enough to let me use her tricked out full rigid shred machine for both STXC and XCO. Just being able to start the races set a whole new tone as I lined up at the start for the STXC race against a field of world and national champions. The start gun went off and the hardest 40 minutes of my life began! With 3 laps to go I found myself in the chase group with some hella fast ladies that usually just ride away and I eat their dust. My mind was occupied with tactics and ensuring I get myself into the correct position before the final lap -- I was determined to stay with this group until the end or until I blew up. With one lap to go I made a lapse in positioning and as a result a fellow rider who struggled in the muddy section swerved, bumping me just slightly to the left causing me to clip my bars and take a spectacular dive into the mud. I don't really remember falling or getting back up, all I know is that I was on my bike and telling myself that I was strong enough to catch back onto the group before the end of the lap. Staying calm paid off as I was able to hop back on and sprint it out for a solid 19th place finish -- a result/tactic I thought was another year away.
I know I should have pre-ridden the XCO course at this time but I was so exhausted that I opted to sleep under a table in our booth (it was actually a very comfortable and quiet place) for a few hours and pre-ride the following morning. Pre-ride was pretty uneventful -- the course was the same as the year prior and the rock garden that I had been nervous about doing on the full rigid wasn't near as treacherous as I had built it up to be. There were two turns that I made sure to practice 6/7 times (I would practice these turns many more times if pre-riding the day before, but because it was only hours until the race you don't want to tire yourself out in practice) because I knew they were tricky and it was important to be able to hit them consistently and efficiently. Good news is that I identified the spots where the field would have issues! Other news -- I was that person in the field who was sitting top 15 and washed out on that turn causing everybody to stack up behind me (whoops!). It happens and everybody is that person in one race or another so I guess it was my turn that day. I popped up and remounted my bike CX style before discovering that I had sheared the BOA off of my shoe leaving it incredibly loose for the remainder of the race (I had spare shoes in the pit but was making forward motion so just kept trucking). Lucky for me, I got back on my bike just as one of my friends from CX was passing by and knowing she is an experienced rider and takes good lines I hopped on her wheel and we began our trek forward! Despite all the craziness of breaking my shoe and riding somebody else's bike (counting the STXC race it would be the second time on that bike and the second time riding a full rigid -- trial by fire I suppose!) my attitude was incredibly positive and we worked together to drop unwanted company and pass our competitors. Again, I had my best XCO race AND was enjoying (and suffering) every minute of it. I ended up finishing 30/50 and am pretty dang proud of it even after being that noob who crashed. I still think I prefer suspension but man that full rigid was fun to ride! Oh and got plenty of street cred and cheers about it throughout the race so that was pretty rad.
At this point, I have 2 hours to make my rounds on the nutrition booths to cram samples down so that I can recover before the CX race. My post XCO/ pre-CX meal consisted of 2 veggie patties, various Clif products, and 2 pieces of American Classic party cake. The CX race was unlike any race I had done. They did call ups randomly and alternated between the pro men and pro women which made the start both exhilarating and terrifying as we sprinted into a gravel pit. The course was pretty mellow with the main features being a sandpit and barriers. Surprisingly, my legs weren't completely toasted and after a not so hot start I was able to pick my way through the field (thank you Rotor for the free watts they were much needed). During pr-eride I was struggling with the sandpit but keeping with the theme of positivity I would not let mind doubt my abilities! Aside from two forced dismounts I was able to cleanly ride it which resulted in a 9th place finish thus ending where I started the week!
I'd be silly to say I'm not ecstatic about 4 amazing results and improvements from last year but I definitely was more excited that I kept a positive attitude and was the right amount of competitive to be successful not destructive.
For those of you that just scrolled straight to the bottom: The moral of the story is don't take yourself too seriously and part of being competitive is passion and flexibility. PMA.