I was at dinner with my mom on the night before the race. A text came through from George that one of our teammates, Rob was sick and had to back out. We scrambled and found a last minute addition. My friend Sandie was planning to go to the race to cheer on her boyfriend Blake. She had been looking forward to a day of hanging out and taking pictures. But she agreed to race with us, as long as we accepted that she had not prepared. No resting from her training… no prerace meal… and some extra beers thrown in the night before the race… As long as we didn’t mind, she’d do it.
I was so relieved. “No problem. I don’t care that you had some drinks tonight. I don’t care if you aren’t up to form. Just join us! We need you!” I said.
So early Saturday morning George, Jason, and I set off in the big blue van toward Marysville, PA for the Marysville Relay. I’d never done a mountain bike relay before, but I heard that it would be loads of fun. The normal series points chasers would have a relaxed attitude because this race would not yield individual XC points. The fact that each racer would have time to chill in between their turns would lend to the laid back atmosphere at the venue. I heard that people dressed in costumes and there would be plenty of beer all over the place.
I was psyched. It sounded like fun and my team was excited. We set up, found Sandie, and took a practice ride. The course was about 2.4 miles long and it was supposed to take 15-25 minutes to do. I heard the fastest Elite men would hit times under 15 minutes. I was expecting 18-19 minute times for myself. The racecourse left the grassy staging area where all the team tents were set up. After looping around a little bit, it climbed a fire road and then continued climbing on singletrack trail. The logs were numerous, but small so far.
Next, we would descend back to the staging area, hitting a couple larger logovers on the way down. We’d swoop past the tents, hit some twisty single track, and then loop back around toward the crowd for some man-made obstacles. There was an easy line and a hard line. If you took the easy line, you’d have to snake through a cyclocross-style death spiral. If you took the hard line, you had to hit a series of log bridges and skinny ramps. The only hard thing about these obstacles was that the entry point to the first bridge was a blunt step-up. On the practice run, I approached it and bailed out before I hit it. There were already crowds watching. It would be even more crowded when the race was on. I like to practice obstacles in peace, with no pressure or distractions. I made up my mind that I’d be taking the easy line.
After that, the course climbed the highest ascent we’d tackle. After reaching the top, we’d spend the rest of the time snaking downhill, hitting a bunch of logs, plummeting down some fast sections, and then doing a flat trail near the stream. There was one more easy/hard section. I tried the hard line in practice, but it was way too technical for me. There were steep, rooty parts where you had to climb the roots. Imagine the dirt of the trail is gone, and all that’s left is a four foot high root ball. You had to climb the root ball, hug the tree, but not too close, avoid the low hanging branches, and not fall in the stream (which was on the right, about four feet down, with a drop off stream bank). I don’t think I could have done it, even without a stream right there! So, once again, it would be the easy line for me. This ended up being a tight, slalom course, lined with yellow tape, through the mud.
George went first. He’d been in track in high school, so he volunteered to do the Le Mans style start. He lined up with 103 other people (all the starters from the 2 person teams and the 4 person teams). When the gun went off, George sprinted hard. He had one thought going through his head. DON’T GET TRAMPLED!
He was in the lead and we were so excited! The group went around a curve and out of sight. When they finished their loop, he came through in about 20th position and grabbed his bike. He was winded and suffering, but well ahead of the halfway point. I was so glad he did the first turn. I haven’t run in years, let alone in bike shoes!
I got situated and got into position for my turn. George came through and tagged me. I shot off, going my fastest. I poured on the power the entire time. I didn’t save anything for later, knowing that I only had to race for about 20 minutes. I passed so many people. Beginners were out on the course with Elites. Men and women. Geared bikes and single speeds. The race results would all be affected by a handicap for each team, based on the level of the riders that made up each group. This way any team could win the race.
So, I blew past men and women alike, loving the feeling of being able to pass people again. Various fast men passed me, but I was never passed by a woman on this lap. On the big climb, I saw a woman in a C3 jersey up ahead of me. Was that who I thought it was? If so, she was one of my competitors. She beat me by 10 minutes last year. I was gaining on her.
I got excited. Could this really be happening? Was I faster than her now? I was approaching my peak. Maybe she was nowhere near her peak yet. Maybe she’d wup my butt later in the season. But I was gaining on her today! I got a little scared. I hung behind her longer than normal. Then a guy passed us and I decided to make my move. I got around a male rider who was between us, and then I made my pass. I bombed down the hill and didn’t see her again.
Later the results confirmed that she had faster times than me, so now I’m beginning to wonder if it was just a different girl on her team. I’m confused… Maybe I didn’t pass her after all. But I’m going to hang on to that feeling. I believed in myself, and I will take that with me.
So, the lap ended. I came through the finish line and tagged Jason. It was crowded and hard to make the tag, so we moved our tag spot down for the rest of the race. Jason took off and I chilled out.
The weather was great for racing, just cool enough where you didn’t sweat. After sitting around, you could get a little chilly though. I was planning to warm up well for each lap, but the laid back atmosphere took that drive right out of me. At the normal races, I will be sure to warm up properly, but that day was just… fun.
Jason finished his lap and tagged Sandie. Then it was George’s turn again.
We all went three times. We worked really hard on our last runs to ensure that George could get one more turn. George’s 3rd run was excellent. He went broke, doing his fastest lap time yet. I completed my fastest lap as well. The only woman to pass me on the course was Vicki. I don’t mind that, because she is one of the fastest women around. Jason took off with a wheelie and then a fast sprint and turned out the best time of our team. Sandie knew what time she must beat to ensure George could go again. She said, “You guys made me race with you. Now I’m going to make George go one more time!” She succeeded, and George sprinted off for his last lap.
We came in 12th place out of 65 four-person teams. I was pysched that my times were not far behind my husband’s. And a sprint style race favors men, not women! Yes, my husband and I are always racing each other… George did the most work out of all of us, running and doing the most laps. Jason was our super star, and on a single speed no less! And Sandie, who raced totally unprepared, and also on a single speed, pulled out great times and really pulled though in the end, allowing George to get one more lap.
Total time lap 1 lap 2 lap 3 lap 4
CERES RIDERS GEORGE S 1:19:20 0:23:54 0:18:56 0:18:33 0:17:57
CERES RIDERS ANGIE S 0:57:29 0:19:20 0:19:08 0:19:01
CERES RIDERS JASON P 0:54:35 0:18:55 0:18:01 0:17:39
CERES RIDERS SANDIE R 1:04:39 0:21:37 0:21:55 0:21:07
TOTAL TEAM LAPS 13
TOTAL TEAM TIME 4:16:03
I took a few things from my experience at the relay.
-I hadn’t realized how much fun a different sort of race could be. I want to do a relay again; it was so fun!
-After comparing the times online, I can see that my lap times were faster than a couple of the women I raced last year! I am now beating some Elite women!
-I was reminded how to be aggressive. If I just sit behind someone and wait for an opportunity to pass them, I could be there awhile. I need to just go for it and let the chips fall where they may.
-I still need work on tall obstacles. In a race, it’s a lot harder to lift the wheels over logs. I found myself hitting things I’d clear if I weren’t racing.
Now, I have two more weeks of training before my big race at Fair Hill!