After a month in Arizona and a short stint in St. George, Utah, I continued west to California. Last season on the Thursday before this race weekend I got online, registered for racing the following three weekends at Fontana, Bonelli, and Sea Otter, and then went out to ride for four hours. I had picked out a trail from Strava heatmaps that would take me up and over the mountains from the valley I was staying in and descend towards the California coast. Two hours out, right as I was about to turn around on the seemingly scarcely used, largely washed out, highly overgrown trail, I hooked a handlebar in some shrubs and crashed hard landing with my arm above my head. I took the impact largely with my upper ribs which cramped impressively as I stood back up. It was tough to inhale or make big movements with my arms so I limped back up the trail in the waning daylight happy the final hour would be descending.
The course at Fontana has been in place for years, always featuring graffiti, piles of broken glass, and a bit of urban discard in the form of rusty box springs or old televisions. The area has actually been cleaned up and polished a bit with the encroachment of neighborhoods to the base of the mountain. There is now definitively a park rather than a mere clump of rocks and while the graffiti remains, the glass is largely minimalized, no longer are there paintballers shooting at the racers, and much of the trash has been removed.
2016 was the first year I made the pilgrimage to Cali for the spring races in a number of years, likely around ten. The course is very punchy with numerous spots where the trail narrows and steepens, requiring a scramble or strong technique to carry speed from each of the rollers or rocky descents before. Coming to this very tight course feeling on edge from the pain in my ribs made for an intimidating pre-ride circuit. Intimidation is known to contribute to poor technique and I wasn’t riding up to my ability. I was determined to race regardless of how I felt with the secret hope that everything would just magically be better in the morning. I slept on an ice pack and alternated that with heat to try to release the cramp my side was tight with.
I loosened up a bit as the race progressed that year but never felt very strong and was consequently pulled from the field. My main focus isn’t on being fast for the spring and summer racing anymore but still, being pulled was ultimately embarrassing. As I stood to find and relieve my feed zone help, something popped in my sternum and a clicking began with my breathing. The following day was brutal and I spent it with my fingers crossed that I would be better the next weekend.
Fast forward a year and I’m healthy and happy, coming off a strong cyclocross season and “vanlifing” my way through the warmer parts of the southwest. With a few mountain bike races under my belt I lined up with the top ten women in the country and ten more who were just getting started. My intimidation of the course is still there however, likely four additional laps of practice on this short course would have made a world of a difference. Alas, I don’t have the inspiration to spend time on a hot, dusty, two mile rock outcrop in the middle of working class California neighborhood when there are mountains to explore without the need to drive.
As I progressed through this years race with the front end completely out of reach and my motivation lacking, I realize that most of my intimidation is self-imposed and likely residual from being hurt the previous year. I can ride everything on this course comfortably and after a bit I relaxed enough to have some fun. I figured I would be pulled as I had been the year prior, on such a short loop if you aren’t trying your hardest you tend to loose out on that chance. As I began to focus on not getting pulled I rode each lap as if it were my last one. This didn’t translate to particularly fast but rather more consistency and embracement of the fact that racing bikes hurts. I particularly like the motto of “I ONLY get to do this X more times” as I go around as opposed to “oh man, I HAVE to do this X more times.” My fifth lap began as the winners were crossing the line and I relaxed a bit knowing if nothing else I bettered last years performance by staying in the race until the end.
This gave me a lot to think about. I love cyclocross for it’s wide open courses and room to let the rider decide how to make the most of the space. Technical courses are usually my forte and definitely more time and a better look at this course would have helped. The wake up call was not just from a change of ten feet to a one foot course width, but also the time and effort it takes to go around this track in practice. Coming into a race with your sites set on surviving rather than thriving doesn’t typically pan out to a great performance. Fortunately those are some good lessons learned and the following weekends course is more to my liking. Here’s to reinforcing positive thinking and preparation!