Sunday, June 15, 2008

I finished the TOE!!!

Warning for the boys ... there's a tiny bit of girl talk ahead.
But if I can live it, I'm confident you'll live through reading it :)
I slept a little better than I had Friday night, but I still tossed and turned all night. Mostly nerves I'm sure, but I wasn't as rested as I was hoping to be on the morning of the race. My knee is aching, and I'm already getting cramps (mm hmmm ... perfect timing ... I couldn't have planned this better). All of this just makes me a little more nervous about tackling the challenge ahead.

But this is my one big goal for the year, and I'm ready to suck up the aches and tiredness and "kill it, kill it, kill it" as advised by my hero Heidi.

Gregg made us some very tasty whole grain french toast, with strawberries from mary's garden. Tasty, and a perfect breakfast for today's ride. We pack up the car, and drive out to Blodgett. And as I get out of the car I hit my head on the roof rack hard enough to give myself a lump on the head. Awesome. I'm so smooth. And apparently determined to add a concusion to the situation.

I pop some ibuprofen and sport legs before we unpack the car. We're early enough that there aren't many people there yet, but we see a few familiar faces and spend a little time socializing before I head off for an easy warm-up ride.

The TOE has a rolling start from the school. Similar to the Mudslinger, except that in the Mudslinger we stop to re-group at the bottom, and then get sent off according to our racing category. This time we're really racing from the beginning, so the pace is a bit quicker. But it's a 50 mile race, so nobody's sprinting either. Still some jokes and conversation along the way, which makes it feel more friendly and social than the shorter races.

But as soon as we hit the singletrack, I can't seem to pace myself. I'm looking at my Garmin, and I can see I'm working too hard. I just can't seem to make myself slow down! Melissa is right there with me, and we chat the whole way. The pace feels manageable for a 2 - 3 hour race, but I know even in the moment that I can't maintain this for the duration. And yet I just ... can't ... slow ... down. I do this for about an hour and a half before I'm finally able to get control over that adrenalin and start managing my efforts again. I manage to do pretty well for about the next three hours, and after that my legs were lead (like they each weighed 100 pounds!) and I don't think I could have done much to increase my heart rate if I'd wanted to.

I wreck a couple of times too in the first couple of hours. Nothing significant ... a new bruise where I fell into a tree going about a mile per hour, and another scrape and bruise where I toppled over at about two mph. And while it's fun to push myself when I'm riding recreationally, I decide I'd better start riding a bit more cautiously for the race.

So finally, about two hours into the race, I'm pacing myself to last for the duration. And I'm also trying to ride within my technical limits and avoid injury.

In the first half hour of the race my knee starts screaming. I'm getting shooting pains whenever the elevation takes a steep climb. I've figured out pretty early that will-power alone may not take me through to the finish, so I take the Rx provided by doc for the swelling knee. I take more ibuprofen at the mid-point too, and try to stay about as doped up as I can without causing myself to vomit. I still end up getting shooting pain in my knee on every climb (and there was a lot of climbing), and on the bumpier descents. And for about the last 15 - 20 miles I wasn't able to keep my left leg bent while supporting body weight. It kept shuddering and collapsing. I had to totally over-compensate by making my right leg do a lion's share of the work. Now a smarter person might have been convinced to give up ... "know when to say when", as they say. But I'm not a smarter person. This is the ONE THING I'm absolutely going to accomplish this year, and if I can move I'm going to accomplish this. So instead of being a smarter person, I'm being a goal oriented, focused, committed person. "It's a blessing ... and a curse".

The cramps also kick in within about the first half hour, and continue to pop up every hour or two throughout the race. It's aggravating, uncomfortable, a little painful ... but nothing compared to the knee pain, and surprisingly also nothing compared to my body's usual behavior. I'm halfway to being a believer in the crazy new diet I've undertaken to manage my "girl" issues. In past rides, this alone would have had me on the ground unable to move. So despite the little extra aches and tummy issues, I'm feeling pretty lucky! Seriously, you should see me on a bad day!

And this really was a great day. The weather couldn't have been better. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the wild irises were in bloom all over the place, the forest smelled wonderfully "forest-ey", and there were beautiful meadow and mountain views all around. There were so many times I wished I could just snap my fingers and get a photo of what I was seeing. I wish I could share with you all just how amazing it was. And it had been dry for days, so the trail conditions were the best I've ridden out there. There was some fantastic new singletrack, and since I was riding near the back, all the new singletrack had been "established" by the first 145 or so riders before me. Some of it was brand new and pretty rough before they came through, so they really did me a huge favor.

The guys at the Peak Sports aid station did a great job of cheering me on. It felt really great to see some friendly faces out there cheering for me during the race. And after Gregg finished his race (at about 6 hours) and changed clothes, he got back on his bike and rode back to the aid station to cheer for me and take photos, at about mile 40 for me. What a guy, huh?! He also showed up later on the course, and then rode in with me to the finish. My biggest fan :)

By the end of this race I had been so exhausted for so long, and in pretty much constant pain in those last couple of hours, that i just about broke down crying a couple of times. Not the shedding tears kind of crying. More like the "I'm having a breakdown" hyperventilating crazy laughing/crying thing. First trying to talk to Gregg on the way to the finish (Oh no ... no pictures of this please), and then trying to respond to the woman pulling my number at the finish. I'm a girl, and I'm also old enough to not care so much what other people think, so I guess it's probably okay to admit that I just about lost it! And and I managed to mostly hold back the sobbing and hysterical laughing when there were people around, so I think I might have pulled off acting like a normal person ... and I don't believe there's any photographic evidence that I was being a freak.

I was one of the last riders to roll in to the finish line, and most of the rest of the riders were seated on the grass waiting for the awards to start ... and facing the finish line. So I got a bunch of cheers when I came in. I felt like a bit of a dork, but loved the comeraderie, and gave a big wave to the crowd.

Everyone was amazingly supportive. Gregg knows "everybody" (a very small exageration) in the local mountain biking community, and I've met and spoken with a number of them. So several guys came up to me to shake my hand, congratulate me, and talk for a few minutes. It felt awesome to hang in there, do my best, and finish! And even though I was really just doing it for myself, it felt really great that they recognized and respected the effort they knew I put in to get there.

I really enjoy the 50 mile race distance, and if there were more of them around I might specialize in that kind of race. There's a unique feeling of comeraderie. Racers have the time to talk to you for a minute or two, because most of them are in a position where they know they need to pace themselves for a long day. It's not like the little two hour races where it's every man for himself. For the most part, I prefer to ride for the love of it. And I don't see myself every really "being" a racer. But I do enjoy the mountain bike race scene too, and committing to racing is also committing to improving my fitness and technical skills. The Test of Endurance combines a little of both ... a long ride out in the woods, just (wo)man and machine, but with the adrenalin and motivation that helps you to push yourself a little harder and stretch your limits.

I LOVED IT! It's a great event, and if I can't race it, I'd love to at least help to put it on. I'd love to race the TOE every year. But next year is already setting up to be unlikely, as I'll be back to studying for an actuarial exam and unable to put in the training time necessary to prepare to race the distance. But I want to try to stay at least fit enough to volunteer to ride the sweep.

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