Pete and Alycann have done an amazing job putting together the event, and not only that- but every year new trails are added!
It's a great community of people, the trails are fun and challenging (and more flowy in areas than our local trails). It's a treat for sure, and in my opinion, worth being closed a day at the shop to attend.
This year the race would be held on a Saturday. Sunday would be Travis' and my first anniversary of being officially married. So, I figured we should take the weekend off to celebrate. I was overjoyed to have a race without auction stress hanging over my head.
Let me say...I have the best racing juju, ever.
Two days before, I crashed super hard going down into IPT...I take full responsibility for it...my attention wasn't where it needed to be and I saw the pothole-like dip too late. The literal "Oh sh*t...." and knowing that I had no time to react. I landed on both of my forearms but bruised my right one the worst. Banged up the side of my left knee. I sat on the rocks for a few moments before I had the gumption to get up and ride. Fabulous. I was still able to ride, so that was important. At home, my self-diagnosis deduced I had not broken anything. A silver lining, yeah?
On the drive, we appreciated the fall colors decorating the bluffs. This year seems especially pretty, and I'm not sure if it's because we feel a renewed appreciation for life or if it's truly because it's a colorful season. On the drive, an eagle flew overhead, and I took that as a sign from Dad that I should stop worrying so damn much about how I'd do. He'd be there. For him, I think the idea of me doing what I do is enough. Sure, it's extra bragging rights when you have a daughter who wins a podium spot...but I really don't think that's the reason he was proud.
The temperatures were the most confusing and frustrating part of the whole ordeal. We knew we'd be on open road, so in which case, how do you dress to stay warm on that knowing you will warm up and eventually be on 10 miles of singletrack towards the end? It started off cloudy, too, which made it all the more complicated. I decided I would definitely survive if I overdressed my upper half, so long as everything had zippers.
Finally, it was time to line up...the excitement and nervous feelings start to build as you wait for the go ahead. Trying to hammer on the grass to get to the pavement quickly was not easy! Eventually, we were on blacktop and climbing up this immense hill. I have deduced, for myself, it's equally as challenging at the start vs. at the end. I am not "powerful" in the sense of hammering on roads...and even if I were to warm up prior to a race, I feel that I gradually become stronger during the race vs. being strong in the beginning.
Until I hit an edge and went down. My shifter smacked against my knee and I landed on my right forearm (OUCH)...The fellow and lady in pink that were behind us passed. She asked if I was okay, I said yes.
My gumption went down several notches. I felt rattled. Was this going to be another sh*tshow of a race? Honestly, I was feeling like crap. I wasn't prepared to push myself this hard. I don't ride "race pace" at home all the time, but the simple concept of my not having ridden much at all this year was weighing on my shoulders. The stress over trying to defend my 1st place finish that I've had 2 years in a row was also there.
For a short time, I stopped trying so hard.
Let me say this now, it's not that I didn't care. I did care. I did feel that this year would be the year that I might not get first. I was tired of having race anxiety over the whole damn thing. I didn't want the pressure. I wanted more than anything to simply do the best I could and enjoy the day. Seeing the woman in pink pass me made me sad, more because of how it happened vs. the pass actually happening. I know Travis had frustration over it for a little while because he's seen me win this race before. He felt it was a race I could win if I pushed myself harder- I just didn't have "harder" to give.
I picked myself up, got back on the bike, and kept going. On the pavement, I could see her pink jacket in the distance. Crap. I cannot ride pavement that fast. Not with what fitness I have. Not with the headwind. Travis did what he could to block the wind for me. I felt like a snail on the uphill climb. Just do what I can...keep pushing! Eat! Ugh...eating. Blech. Smile at the volunteers and thank them. Be in awe of Tad. Get. To. Singletrack.
Singletrack...I was so grateful to be on dirt. This is where I started feeling better, even tho I felt like I was struggling. How often during the race did I feel like my calves wanted to cramp?
I impressed myself with what technical riding I could do. Impressed Travis, too. There were a few spots where I felt too tired to push, so I had to hustle off my bike and keep going. Climb. Climb. Climb.
At one point, I started talking to Travis. "You know what? I'm glad I'm not first this year. It takes the pressure off."
"She's right there."
I looked over and saw her! The woman in pink! She was further up the winding section but within eyesight.
Holy crap. I caught up?!
Know this. I did try to pick it up in spots and not lollygag, but at the same time, I physically knew that I couldn't go past a certain point. I would've likely legitimately blown up and I did not want that. I wanted to leave myself out in the woods, but not make myself feel like complete crap. I didn't want to ride rushed either. Rushing on trails I ride once a year would likely result in more crashes or mistakes that would put me back further.
This was the first time I had another female as a carrot. It was exciting! I made it my goal to see how well I could keep her in eyesight. It gave me the motivation to keep doing what I was doing...don't give up- keep fighting. Either way, coming back to this point and catching up is a win itself.
Pavement again. She's so strong. I hammered the best I could, but hard and fast road riding is not my strong suit.
My strengths are climbing and technical singletrack riding. Riding consistently. Smart. Maneuvering rocks/roots. Skillful. I can be powerful in spots, but not for long stretches.
The second bit of singletrack is my favorite. It was in here where I found that perfect sweet spot of mindless riding. Where you're so in the zone that you aren't paying attention to anything other than your body being on the bike. I tried to ride a pace and speed that would help me use my brakes less. This meant not being a hammerhead...a happy place of speed and control.
My heart was bursting with joy. I felt like my dad was with me at this moment- a moment I haven't really had in months. For the first time in a long while, I wasn't plagued with stress. For the first time during a race, I wasn't feeling anxiety, pressure, or stress. A leaf was snagged by the stem, under my bike computer- a yellow maple leaf. I truly felt that it was a sign from my dad. "I'm proud of you, Josie." I knew that he was there.
I came to the spot in years past, where I've gotten off the bike. Another fellow was off his bike, and I couldn't remember if I've ridden it or not. I tried...and failed! Ah. Yeah. Hit my left knee (the one that took the brunt of Thursday's crash)...tore my tights. Ah, whatever. Made the other section that I did ride last year- that made me feel good!
We were nearing the home stretch- and then sent back uphill on newly built trail! Literally, a trail that was just finished- and it was challenging. Clay-like mud acted like velcro on my tires. I did ride a good portion of it. It was not as bad as Chequamegon, and I hope next year I'll be able to experience it in prime condition! It did take a lot of energy. I saw the woman in pink again. We were not too far apart. It was exciting!
I tried to ride as hard as I could to the finish. I was a little muddy. I saw her and made my way over to say hi. Like I've said, this is the first time that I've ever had another woman to actually compete against to this degree. I found it refreshing. In all honesty, it wasn't my year to pull out a first place victory. I knew it. My post-race cough was a solid indication that I definitely put forth the effort I had. It was fun to hear her surprise over my catching up to her and how she felt she needed to work hard to beat me. It was nice to hear another woman compliment my technical riding ability- and I told her that her ability to road ride well definitely challenged me. She's a more multi-faceted rider than I am and she does cyclocross events and such, which I have no current desire to do.
It was eye-opening for me.
My body is able to do some pretty amazing stuff.
With my lack of riding this year, I was able to pull a second place finish with such a close time to the first place finisher.
I do not feel bad about that at all. I gave her competition. I made her work to win. I made myself work to keep up. I felt my dad's presence telling me I was doing just fine.
So much good stuff!
Again, the PertNear 20 delivered. I may not have taken away a fly-away victory, but it was still victorious for me nonetheless. I got to enjoy a chase for the first time, quietly amazed myself with what I was able to accomplish with the exhausting year I've had. I was able to finish with a smile. Mettle wins medals...and had to dig deep to remind myself that I can persevere through a lot.
I am absolutely positive that I did the best that I was able to do this year. I really can't question it. You can go over the "what ifs" as much as you want, but I know with how my body feels as I type this...I did. (Apologies to my massage therapist!) It's not always about winning...my biggest victory of the day was being able to experience that simple and beautiful moment out on the trails. Having my mind open enough to feel like my dad was along for the ride with me.
The second thing that I felt was really awesome was women supporting each other. Cheers, handshakes, compliments, and conversation. More women in this sport is a good thing!
Thanks again to Bluedog Cycles for hosting a fun event.
Thanks again to Travis for being there.
Thanks to Dad for being there in spirit.
Until next year!