Monday, June 26, 2006

Fifth place!

Geoff took this photo at the mass start of the 24 Hours of Kincaid race, a sprint to the bikes that were lined up 50 meters from the starting line. Before the giant stadium clock ticked 12:00:00, I had a quick exchange with the three women in the top left. They talked about how ridiculous it was to begin a 12 and 24-hour-long race with a 50-meter dash. But what a fun way to begin what can become a grueling, repetitive, sometimes excruciatingly slow race. I ran it. I'm not ashamed. Then I climbed onto my bike for the turtle crawl into fifth place of the solo division - and first woman, though there aren't separate rankings. It's my first time being in the top third of any pack, let alone some of the top endurance racers in the state. Slow and steady, but steady is key.

When I set out into the bluebird weather of high noon, I truly had no idea what I was in for. I rode Kincaid Park only once before, in July 2003, and I remember it as somewhat difficult - but then again, in 2003 I had about as much mountain biking experience as a 6-year-old in Kansas. And then I heard people talk about Kincaid as a "road bike" trail network. I figured - how bad could it be?

Either those people have one gnarly road bike, or the Kincaid race organizers, geniuses all, plotted out a loop to circle the toughest terrain that glacial moraine has to offer. Less than a quarter mile into the race the hills began - fast rising, fast falling, climbing a total of 1,100 feet in every lap. Interspersed among that steep double track was at least three miles of fairly technical single track - jumping roots, ducking fallen trees, and plummeting down veritable cliff bands with my butt so far over the seat that I could almost feel the tread on my back tire spinning around. It was difficult enough that after six miles I thought I was going to cry, because I thought there was no way I was going to be able to sustain such effort and focus for 24 hours. But at mile 7 the miracle of Kincaid opened up. The trail dropped into a roller coaster so fast and fun that by mile 10.5 - the starting line - I had completely forgotten why I was so upset. Then I continued that process. For 15 more laps. Those race organizers are geniuses.

The effort of going all night was actually my time to shine. With the 12-hour racers finished, and many of the team racers and most of their support network in bed, I suddenly found myself alone in the Zen twilight - pumping out the miles with serene complacency and a carefully selected songlist on my iPod. At 3:30 a.m., after just one lap with my headlight on, I watched the sun begin to rise in nearly the same spot I had seen it set three hours earlier. I did my fastest lap of the race in the quiet dawn between 3:43 and 4:55 a.m.

It's amazing how those quiet moments, rolling past patches of purple lupine or a moose settled in to watch you go by, add up to statistics that make your mom's jaw drop. Even today, I think about the way I just rode nearly 170 miles yesterday, climbing more than 16,600 feet in the process, all the while maneuvering all those roots and hairpin turns - and it doesn't even seem possible. At yet, at the time, it's just the process, the routine, the way things add up. Slowly. One lap at a time.

I feel like I have more to say, but it's just about time to hit the pillow. Tomorrow, I'll probably try again. In the meantime, I just wanted to thank my fellow racers for their support, Tim and Dave of Megasorass, winner Pete Basinger for being the inspiring machine that he is, and race organizer Reggi Parks for being so enthusiastic and cheering for me every time I went by that checkpoint. And of course, Geoff, for the 3 a.m. peanut butter sandwiches that showed up in the cooler and for lubing and tuning my bike when I was too fargone to care. These races are a team effort no matter how much you enjoy the solitude. That's what makes them so rewarding.