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Racing Pro: My first mountain bike race ever (& Why I don’t Currently Race)
I scooted my bike up behind Zephyr, a slender, Yeti-clad (obviously sponsored), 20-something year old who was undoubtedly in way better shape then me and clearly not new to this whole enduro mountain bike race thing – like me. She was down in a squat, shifting her weight side to side as she warmed up her body for the 3+ hour punishing race ahead of us. Gusts of wind blew moon dust into our faces and we made small talk about how windy it was going to be at the top of the mountain where two of the five downhill stages began.
As other women riders lined up behind me, I heard one of them ask “you brought your ankle weights, right?”
Um, no. I did not. I didn’t even know that ankle weights were a thing.
You see, this was my first mountain bike race ever. And for some reason unbeknownst to my raceday self, I entered the competition as a pro woman rider. Silly rabbit.
I’m pretty confident in my skills as a mountain biker. I go fast – faster than most men and women I ride with – and big features like drops and steep rollers are usually no big deal. So I figured, why not? There’s nothing to lose, right? I’m in my home turf at Mammoth Mountain and I know the trails like the back on my hand.
I got this, I told myself as I filled out my rider application.
The night before the race, as I was lying in bed half excited and half terrified, I even conjured up the image of myself opening a bottle of champagne on the top-tier of the podium.
Spoiler alert: I did not podium.
Instead, as race day commenced, I struggled and cursed and gasped my way through the entirety of the competition. A selection of rotating thoughts going through my head were “don’t crash”, “good lord these ladies are in hella shape” and “when is this going to be over?”
I knew I was in trouble approximately three minutes into the race when the woman rider behind me – the one who assumed I had brought my ankle weights – passed me on the left and smoothly sailed over the flow drop, a 10-foot wooden drop feature that I have been too chicken to attempt. Then a minute later the next woman rider shot by me on the right and was soon obscured by a cloud of dust. To be honest (and to show how completely and utterly naive I was as a newbie enduro racer), I was a bit shocked.
I’m a good rider, but apparently I’m no match for pro women enduro riders. After I got passed the second time, I knew I wasn’t going to be the rockstar mountain biker who enters her first race as a pro rider and wins as the underdog. I resigned to simply just finishing the race without losing too much face or worse, smashing my face into a pile of rocks.
The second stage didn’t go much better. This time I got passed by a handful of pro men riders (not surprising) and lost some time for letting them go by. At the bottom of the second stage my nerves were so frayed and I was breathing so hard that I crossed the finish line at virtual standstill.
But I was still going to finish.
Finding my groove
Stage three is when I finally began to relax. I loosened up and I resolved to just have fun. I remembered the advice of my brother who texted me earlier that morning and said “just ride your bike”. I dropped any expectation of beating these she-beasts – because lord knows that wasn’t going to happen – and I started to enjoy myself.
I rode how I usually ride (ok, maybe a bit faster and bit more recklessly) but I didn’t pedal so hard that I felt like I was going to throw up and I didn’t succumb to the voice in my head telling me to go faster, faster, faster. Instead, I just rode my bike.
And you know what? I loved it! When I pushed the pressures of the competition aside and rode simply to push the limits of my own personal boundaries without worrying how I was stacking up against my competitors, I found my flow. I didn’t struggle, I didn’t fight against my bike or the trail, and I didn’t care if someone passed me (which no one did after stage two).
It was a glorious feeling and I finished the final stages of the race with a huge grin slapped across my face.
I realized that even though I got my ass handed to me on my first mountain bike race ever, that was ok. Racing – for me – is not going to be about winning. It’s going about pushing my limits and becoming a better rider for the sake of simply wanting to become a better rider.
Of course winning is fun and if I ever find myself on a podium I will for sure not complain, but winning is not why I ride. I ride because mountain biking makes me feel free and alive and like a badass and that’s all there is to it.
(And for those of you wondering, miraculously I didn’t come in last. I came in second to last.)
Where I’m at Today & Why I don’t race
I wrote this post almost a year and a half ago. While racing again has crossed my mind, I haven’t officially entered any enduro races since. I’ve ‘raced’ many times against the Strava stopwatch and have collected a handful of Strava crowns, but I don’t think that the race scene is my future.
1) I love mountain biking. I’m a very competitive person and I have the feeling that if I turned my passion into a competition it will quickly become a love/hate relationship. And the thought of me hating mountain biking makes me super sad 😢
2) I’m lazy. I don’t want to train, I just want to ride my bike.
3) To be competitive, you need to take risks and I’m not willing to risk breaking bones and smashing my face on a regular basis. Sure, crashes happen every now and then on everyday rides, but start racing at a high level and the risk factor skyrockets.
4) I love exploring new places and sharing them with other. I think this is the main reason racing doesn’t have an appeal for me. I don’t want to be stuck riding the same tracks just to learn how to perfect each berm and nail each drop in order to shave off a few seconds from my time. I want to explore new places near and far and share my experiences on Two Wheeled Wanderer so that other can get out and do the same!
What about you? Do you race? What do you love or hate about it?