I don’t have an iron stomach. That person in our family with that is actually our dog Nessie, she’s eaten 6 whole chickens (bones included) in her life time and has remained un-phased. I know my limits, like how many M&Ms I can eat before throwing them all up on the side of the trail. And usually what to avoid and when.
The morning of collegiate nationals was the same as every race morning, same breakfast, same coffee. I went to make a bottle of skratch to drink in the time between packing up and getting the race venue but couldn’t find it. No worries, I had beet juice which was lower calories so would just throw a bag of gushers in to get me to where I needed to be. Done.
I got to the venue and warmed up on the trainer, I had pre-ridden the course the day before, the unrelenting rain had made it slick but with many sections still ridable.
I reviewed the course in my mind, this line on that section, remember that feature. I went to the start without too many layers on and took my place after they had called me up. I didn’t know where to start so slotted in behind one of the girls I recognized. The start was fast beginning on pavement and immediately threw us straight into the mud. It was chunky, peanut butter mud and the bike squirmed beneath me. I got it back and had some grass to recoup on only to be fed into the next section that was again, completely thick mud that reduced my cadence and increased my power output. Pushing through this section and expending all the gushers I had eaten earlier I was met with the “Bonk Breaker Hill” where it just opens up on the hillside and becomes ‘choose your own adventure’ to get up it.
I jaunted up at an angle to reduce the total ground coverage that I would need. At the top it was still not ridable and I continued to just slog away across the top of this hillside. Getting over the hillside only proved to have an off camber section that had been rutted in so much that everyone was still running. Around that section and I was greeted with a nice grassy downhill, only to land again in a huge mud section. It was flat and not terribly rutted so could muster through, from there we were swung around to the pit (where you can get a different bike). I opted to wait thinking I would want my “A” bike for this next section. I was wrong, everything had gotten incredibly torn up and the water had seeped into any exposure in the ground making for a very precarious situation. I fumbled and bumbled through the dicey section as spectators yelled. I regretted not switching my bike out as mine had become so covered in mud that it added at least 5 pounds. Finally a cement slab offered a reprieve to get back on my bike and pedal. That was short lived as I was soon off, only to get back on, to get off, run over some barriers, hop on, to hop off, run down a hill, and then up, hop on, and around a curve into the flyover. I managed to pedal up to the flyover but with too little of speed I had to hop off and run up, hop on and ride down, turn a corner and hop off, hop on mash through the mud and hop off and finally hop back on and head to the finish. Oofta. Lap one done.
My stomach was a little upset but I just figured it was due to all the running and it would work out on the second lap. The lines that were initially rideable had gotten bogged down and it was more of just mashing through. I went into the pit and did my first bike exchange only having talked through what to do the day before. I nailed it, right Drew? Or at least managed to do it without falling on my face. I opted to switch to my single speed on this section because with all running my single speed is lighter to carry. I was back in the pits and switching out bikes again before I knew it. My A bike came back clean which meant it would also be lighter to carry and I took off running the back section in the woods. The second lap was very similar to the first lap except for crashing right before the barriers as I slid around the corner and went down. I got back up and lugged my now very muddy bike over the barriers with me.
As this point in the race I had no idea where I was in relation to anyone else and my stomach was still acting up. I did more running and made it to the finish line to be told 2 more laps. I floundered my way to the pits and grabbed my singlespeed back to be informed I was in 15th, dang I don’t even see anyone that I could catch. I ran up the hill to find that my stomach was feeling better, it must have worked itself out. I stuck to the same routine as the 2nd lap opting to run most of the places. I got done with my third lap and went out for the final lap, somewhat surprised: if you are too slow (compared to the leaders) they don’t let you go but I made it. I ran into the pits yelling “they let me do the final lap- suckers!” and grabbed me other bike. Last time up the hill and over on the crest I saw a girl in front of me. Maybe, just maybe I could catch her. Down the hill and back into the pits where I was offered a beer, “Sorry I only drink tequila” and rode away. Slightly less dramatic exit as I was having to hop back off and run again. It wasn’t until the barriers that I thought this girl was really in reach, we had just taken over another girl who was running and I was planning my attack, not too early because I’m not sure I have it in me to go hard from this point. I would edge up to her wheel and then she would take a better line, I would edge her and she would stay on. Finally I was able to run around her and get back on my bike faster, or at least it seemed like it. I had miscalculated and turned the corner to realize there was another roundabout.
Oh crap, so I started to dig and started to dry heave. Oh no, this is not good. I was so close to the finish, my stomach was churning and the involuntary reaction was getting less intermittent, don’t let her catch you, heave oh no, oh no, oh no. I saw the finish line I was so close, and as I crossed that was it, I dangled by handlebars I threw up beet juice all over my leg and the side. Oops.
I ended up 13 out of 25 without knowing what to expect my only real goal was to finish on the lead lap and not get pulled. It was incredibly fun, even with all the running and mud and fortunately for me I get to do it all again in the single speed category.
*The hop on and offs that I write about are not as smooth as they seem here but instead become more laborious for me with each one I do and eventually losing all form and efficiency. Really quiet a show.