Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cooper's Rock Enduro

Her eyes are cold and restless
Her wounds have almost healed
And that Camber in the corner
Can’t change the way she feels
He knows her love's in West Virginia
And he knows she's gonna go
Well it ain't no ultra or CX race
It's that damned old enduro

Well it's sweat and blood
It's mud and more mud
It's the roar of a Sunday crowd
It's the white in her knuckles
Through the rhodie tunnel
She'll shred the next go 'round
It's goggles and pads
It's trucker caps
It's brake then let it go
It's the Hails and the Reigns
And the joy and the pain
And they call the thing enduro

Although it would have been convenient to go into the second verse of “All I Do Is Win” with my favorite “represent that mud life” line, sadly my undefeated streak of 2017 has already come to end. I feel like this lyrical selection fits for my feelings going into the weekend of the Cooper’s Rock Enduro, anyway. It took me a full week to physically recover from two long, hard days in the heat at Big Bear, which dumped me into a cortisol-fueled scramble to finish up a project at work last week. When we tried to go out for our “Wednesday EWS” ride last week, I really struggled to bring myself up to adrenaline spiking super focus level during the downhill segments, because I’d already been operating in that mode all day and basically had nothing left. When I finally wrapped up all of my “to do’s” on Friday, I really kind of doubted my capacity to go away for a whole weekend and race. However, I realized that if I skipped the race that I would regret it, and a potentially crappy race was better than wondering what would have happened if I’d tried.

Once the racing was done, we had to ford a river and hike-a-bike out of a rocky lakeshore to catch our ride back.

The course was super ridicu-muddy pretty much the whole way, but otherwise it wasn’t very steep, or technical except for a series of slick root and rock drops at the very end of the last stage. Those were mostly just scary because they were so slick. After the pre-ride on Saturday, my assessment was that the race would be a contest of who was best at plowing through muddy chunder with the least amount of braking. Plowing through muddy chunder isn’t something that I have a lot of experience with, but I have been testing my Hail’s ability to “surf” loose, dry stuff and patches of smaller, tightly bunched rocks where there isn’t an obvious good line. I figured the surfing skills would come in handy, although the mud would make applying them much trickier.

The upside was that it presented an opportunity to wash some of the mud off our bikes.

The race day began with the chunder surfiest of the stages, and shortly after making the turn from the grassy start into the actual trail I slipped on a miscellaneous something-or-other and went down. Luckily, it was neither a hard nor painful crash, but it was enough to cause me to lose time on a relatively short stage and to stick my hand in a puddle, making for an extra wet and gritty glove for the rest of the day. The stage also contained a short but brutal uphill in the middle where I got really gassed and had to dismount after swerving into some bushes from exhaustion. So yeah, Stage 1 wasn’t great for me.

Stage 2 boasted a whopping -6% average grade, so it was an XC-style pedal fest with my seat up, only occasionally standing up a bit to absorb a root or rock. This lasted so long that I had mostly forgotten about the last 30 or so feet of trail dumping into a steep, rocky chute until it was immediately in front of me. I slammed on my brakes and desperately grabbed for my dropper lever, but I was already headed for a terrible line that I couldn’t correct without doing a dumb, slow foot out move on the way down. It probably only cost me a couple of seconds, but it happened in sight a large percentage of racers standing around snacking where both Stages 2 and 3 ended, so it cost me more pride than anything. One of the expert women tried to make me feel better by saying that she forgot the last steep bit was there, as well.

The thing was, even after riding pretty crappily on the first two stages, I wasn’t that upset or worried. Since it was pretty much the same the same group of women as Big Bear, I now knew who was in what class, or so I thought. I figured that I had still won the sport class after making even worse mistakes there, so if I rode Stage 3 and 4 clean, I would be fine. I proceeded with a clean but safe Stage 3, and spent a lot of the final transition thinking about whether I liked this attitude in myself or not.

It was admittedly nice being the least nervous before or during an enduro race that I’ve ever been, and it was also nice not feeling the need to beat myself up too badly for the mistakes that I made during Stages 1 and 2, but I also sort of missed the pressure of competition. My real goal had much more to do with closing the gap up to the bottom 2-3 expert riders than my placing in the sport category, so I felt like I might be letting myself off the hook too easily by trying to calculate how safely I could ride Stage 4 and still probably win my category. At the same time, I really just wanted to make it to the bottom of Stage 4 rubber side down, so I tabled the internal debate proceeded with a somewhat conservative final run.

It turns out that my internal debate was based on alternative facts, anyway. I made to the bottom of Stage 4 safely and cleanly (well riding-wise, my clothes and bike, not so much). When I got back and checked the results, I saw that a woman who had raced the expert class most of last season at the top of the sport class results and me in second place. I was definitely disappointed because I had no idea she was signed up for sport, since there is no pre-reg and everyone’s plates look the same. I assumed that because raced expert last year that would still be the case. She had beaten me by 29 seconds, and 26 of those were from Stage 4 when I was playing it safe. Even with all of my Stage 1 silliness, I had almost closed the gap on Stages 2 & 3.

Ultimately, I was disappointed in not getting another sport class win, because it is fun to get my picture taken on the top step of the podium.  However, the “sport” designation is so arbitrary, that I’m anxious to move up to expert and stop feeling like my results require an asterisk. After Big Bear, I was like, “Well, I ‘won’ but, you know, I didn’t really win-win because it was just the sport category.” I never really felt that way in ‘cross or any other head-to-head type racing when the race is clearly playing out in real time. For enduro, though, we’re all just meandering out there on the course doing our thing at the same time, maybe seeing each other through the day and maybe not, and we don’t really know what’s going on until it’s over. The post-mortem slicing and dicing of the results just makes that weirder. Luckily, there was a much smaller expert-to-sport gap at Cooper’s Rock that Big Bear, so hopefully I can cross that divide soon.

It will be a few weeks before my next West Virginia enduro, because the next one is the same weekend as the TSE. I will probably race at least one more race in sport and see how I do then. I’m learning a lot this season about how to actually race enduro, which is more complicated that just being good at riding really fast on downhill segments in Rothrock that I know really well. Figuring out how to do your best when you’re tired and in unfamiliar territory that doesn’t necessary match your strengths is a whole other beast, but I think I’m starting to do okay at it.

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