First mountain bike race of the season. A little nervous. A little apathetic. A little, “Sure, fuck it, why not?”
I’ve been focusing on road racing with the goal of upgrading to a Cat 2 by the end of the season. With more mid-pack finishes than podiums, I’m realizing that this goal will extend to next season. Maybe the season after that. I’m trying to focus on the journey and the process of it all instead of rushing to the goal. I’m trying not to compare my results to my competitors. Maybe it’s all in vain, but I’m trying.
I needed a change.
A mountain bike race is much more relaxed than a road race. Rarely, if ever, do I see a mountain biker on a trainer, tuning everyone out, stone face, resting race face on at the starting line. Instead, most of the mountain bikers are farting around, chatting, and realizing, “Oh, hey, I need to do a little bit of warm-up.” I still take it seriously, but it’s easier to let your guard down at a mountain bike race.
Because I’m still a novice mountain biker, I think I put less pressure on myself than I do with road. Even though with a learner’s mindset, we’re always learning – even the pros. Giving myself credit for PR’ing a descent on the mountain bike and being more excited about that than the first place I earned. In road, I focus more on what I could have done better; why I didn’t land on the podium, all the things I did wrong. It’s obvious my strengths and weaknesses in mountain biking. In road, I feel like everything is weak: my sprint, my climbing, my cornering. I still question how I became a Cat 3.
When I went to sign up for the Rattler Series’ “Pure Venom” mountain bike race, I considered signing up in Sport. In the three races last year, I got two firsts and one third. The 9-mile race for the beginners seemed way too short. Sport had nearly twice that length. Then I remembered why I’m a beginner: descents still frighten me. I feather the brake nearly the whole way down. When people tell me to just let go and let it flow downhill, I laugh at them. You’re telling a control freak to let go of the one thing that’s stopping her from plummeting to her death? They clearly didn’t know who they were talking to.
There were only three novice women lined up, myself included. I joked, “Hey, we’re all guaranteed a podium.” It started at the bottom of a hill. My plan was to drop the two women as fast as I could on the uphill so I could take my time on the descents. The descents on the Sport course were the reason why I didn’t sign up for it. Frankly, I didn’t want to look like an asshole. I feel incredibly self-conscious descending. I don’t have the confidence I do in descending on the road. I know it takes practice. It’s something I haven’t made the time for. And because of that, I stayed with Beginner.
I felt guilty dropping the two women in the first minute of the mountain bike race, but I had to work to my strengths. I gunned it up the steep hill and continued on, the announcer nearly missing me cross the timing line. I caught up to the Juniors and the Beginner Men in the first lap. As soon as I passed the men on the ascents, they cruised past me on the descents, thus confirming why I still race in the beginner group. Sometimes, I feel weird about being a Road Cat 3 racing Beginner in Mountain Biking, but the two are so different.
The announcer missed me as I crossed the finish line. Dripping sweat, I cooled down in the grass alone. After wiping the sweat off my face with my shoulder, I rolled up toward the picnic tables awaiting the others to roll in. Out of the blue, my buddy, Jim, from pedal RACING, rolled up to my side. It was a relief to see a familiar face. We talked about the race and how I felt guilty for signing up for beginners when I had the fitness of the Sport category.
Jim said, “The beginner category is so you can race until you’re comfortable on the bike and the terrain. There’s nothing wrong with waiting until you’re ready.”