It is hard to believe that the last 6 hour race I had done was way back on May 6th, but owing to cancelations due to poor weather and low entries, our second race of the season was now here. The 6 Hours of Crabtree is always a really fun event, as Crabtree is our “home trail” and always gets a great turnout from the Raleigh mountain biking scene. Both Matt and I had high hopes for the event; I was coming off of a big training block left over from Nats, and Matt was itching to race again. It seemed like we were primed to have a really great race day.
In the time between Nats and 6HoC, I was living a mountain bike high! My riding time was spent doing base work and easy miles, so I had plenty of flexibility on what I could ride. What I wanted to ride turned out to be plenty of mtb and I had been enjoying hitting up some new-to-me trails with Matt and working on more technical aspects of my riding. In the two or three weeks since Nats I spent more time on the mtn bike than I probably did in the lead up! I am really enjoying riding with new confidence and enthusiasm, and I’m almost sad that cx will be here soon and the mtn bike will be in the shed for a bit.
The week of the race the weather here in Raleigh was looking pretty miserable. Every day there was a good chance of rain or storms, and Matt and I were obsessing over whether or not the race would be canceled due to wet trails. Crabtree is very well taken care of and handled with care, so if it was wet I just knew they wouldn’t allow a bunch of racers to tear it up. There was also the strong chance of storms on race day so we had the added worry that the race would be canceled during the event! I tried not to focus too much and still planned my week like we would be racing. I got in the majority of my big miles early in the week and then settled in to recover a bit before the race. Sadly my body had other ideas as I had a bad allergy attack on Thursday that left me feeling run down and exhausted all day Friday. I was suddenly worried whether I would even make it to the race the next day! I took it super, super easy and just accepted where I as physically and knew I would just race by feel and not go too crazy. Although we had a wet couple of days, the race organizers posted that the race was still on no matter what, and so I packed up my stuff Friday night to grab and go on Saturday morning.
I love racing at Crabtree because it requires very little travel time at all. The trails are only about 20 mins from my house, so I had a very relaxed and chill morning before heading to meet Matt at the race. When I finally arrived it was only myself, Matt, and the race organizers, which told me that the weather must have scared off quite a number of competitors. Oh well, I was still there to race no matter who showed up. Matt and I set up our tent and pit situation, and then changed to get ready to race. Matt and I had decided that I would ride the geared Santa Cruz since I would be faster, and Matt would ride the Stumpjumper SS since Matt knows the lines of Crabtree like a pro. This came with one caveat:, the geared bike took the first lap in order to have a better start and position on the uphill hole shot. I was a bit nervous about starting with the rush, but I knew this was a part of racing that I needed to get used to if I want to move towards bigger events, so I accepted the challenge. I grabbed the SC and pedaled off to see what the conditions of the trail were like. It was definitely wet, but it seemed like it was still holding some tack. I hoped this would be a good indication of what the rest of the trail was like so I headed back to our pit to hang with Matt before I needed to warm up. There were all these massive turkey vultures circling overhead, and I wondered if it was an omen of what was to come (superstitious, much?). Matt even joked “Hey Abby, are those here for you?” and I tried to put the mental image out of my head. More friends from other cycling teams started to show up and set up around us, and so we had a nice friendly alley of competition around us. I could tell this race was MUCH smaller than the last 6hr at Lake Norman, but our category had a healthy number of entries: 6 teams in total. Before long it was time to get warmed up and ready to race. I wasn’t nervous as much as focused on my plan for the race. I wanted to set Matt up in a good position, which meant getting a strong start and holding it through the lap. It was a lot of pressure to ride fast on wet trails, but after what I faced at Nats I felt capable.
We are here to ride bikes and kick ass
The start had us lined up at the bottom of the parking lot, which meant we had a steep paved climb, and then a loop of the lot before we hit the single track. Because of this awkward start there was no prize for the hole shot as the organizers were trying to keep things less aggressive due to the conditions, so I only had to focus on getting settled into a good position. I just kept my plan in focus and as the start whistle blew I took off with the front pack. We took the loop on the parking lot and then dove into the single track in an aggressive but manageable pace. I was pushing hard and had the lead pack in front of me and another group right behind me. I was keeping my wits about me, as I know Crabtree very well and could ride it faster than most trails, but I was also making sure to keep an eye out for slick spots. The trail wasn’t too bad around the lake, but once we entered further into the woods there were some nasty slick spots just lurking around corners. Many riders were losing traction, and I had one really good save around a bend. The race course followed the trail in a counter clockwise direction, which happens to be the way I usually ride and had just raced the last month, and so I was flying! We took a left onto the more technical stretch on Loop 6, but I was still just in the front pack, which I was very excited about. The trail was still very slick and wet, and there are several wooden bridges scattered throughout the trail, which we had been warned about. I knew where they all were so I was trying to keep a high speed in order to have some time to slow it down if I needed to. I knew I was in a good position, and that there was only one Coed team in front of me, with a small pack behind me that included the next Coed team. I made it my goal to not allow them to pass me so that Matt would have an awesome position for his lap and we could create a better gap. The female racer behind me did ask for a pass on a quick downhill section that I did not allow and do not feel the least regretful about, as passing on a downhill is dangerous and I quickly gapped her on the climbs where she was much weaker. I was still keeping an eye on the wheel in front of me and we were reaching the last portion on the lap when I was completely taken by surprise. I was flying down a short downhill section that was slick red clay with a short bridge in the middle of it. I was going so fast that I had no idea what happened until I hit the ground. The SC must have lost traction on the slight angle of the turn and slid out on the mud and hit the bridge, but all I knew is one second I was on the bike and the next I was slamming into the ground with the bike tangled underneath me. The noise was terrible and as I came to a stop with the bike and myself in the middle of the trail, I heard shouts of concern and panic. I quickly threw my body and the bike off the trail as a couple racers flew by. I heard someone asking if I was okay and it was the female racer who had been behind me. She helped hand me my water bottle and I thanked her and told her I was okay before she left. I stood there bewildered and dazed, not knowing if I was really “okay.” I was covered in mud and hurting in multiple places but most noticeably my left thigh. I decided not to waste any more seconds and jumped on to pedal my way home and hopefully not lose any more time. As I started pedaling I realized my left thigh was throbbing with pain and I could see blood coming through my kit. I kept my panic to a minimum, knowing that I would have time to deal with that when I got back to transition. The bike seemed all in one piece, but I was very cautious as I finished the lap. I saw Matt waiting for me, and I could tell from other riders’ faces that I looked a mess. I told Matt to head out and be careful, yelling that I had crashed but I would be okay (which really I had no idea if it was true or not). I made my way over to our pit and started to assess the damage as concerned friends came over to render aid.
Happier times at the start of the 1st lap
I was still very dazed as I tried to get myself taken care of, not only from the crash but also just the effort of the first lap. Luckily two of my fellow racer friends grabbed their first aid kits and patched me up, and I took some pain relievers and sat down to assess where I was physically. My left thigh was badly torn up, with a large gash in it and a huge bruise from getting caught in the handlebars during the crash. My left elbow was also bruised and banged up but wasn’t that much of a concern. I had noticed quite a bit of pain pedaling on my left side after the crash, so I was already worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it through the whole race. I tried to just focus on the present and not think too much about later. I had an ice pack on my thigh to try and help keep the pain and swelling down, and I drank some water and had a snack to get some food in me. I felt terrible. I just knew my stupid crash had cost us the race. We were sitting in 4th and there was a large gap between us and the places above us. The worst part was that the crash had happened so quickly I felt like I had no way that I could have stopped it. We were going to fail to reach a podium spot all because I had a huge spell of bad luck. I sat there hoping Matt put in a fast lap and wishing that it could be possible to erase my failure on the first lap. I had sent Matt a text message for him to read when he returned that explained what was going on, in case he needed to take an extra lap. Looking at the clock I realized Matt would be back soon, and so I gingerly limped to the bike and started to pedal around trying to get movement back in my leg. I found that although it was painful it seemed to help to keep some movement in the leg, so my goal was to take it lap by lap and see how the rest of the day unfolded.
I went over to the pit and Matt came tearing in, I shouted to him that I was okay to race and took off on the trail. I was riding a lot more conservatively than my first lap, in part due to my confidence being shaken and also my lack of strength in my left leg. I tried to stay as smooth and fast as possible, since having to put down a lot of power hurt my left side. I managed to get into position behind another racer and ride his wheel for a bit. It ended up being one of the racers who heard me crash and asked if I was okay, adding that “he hadn’t ever heard a crash that bad before” so I apparently worried a fair number of people. I was still frustrated that I didn’t feel super confident, but I knew it was better for me to warm up bit by bit. I was also sad because I knew both 3rd and 2nd place had a large gap on Matt, and here I was making it even bigger. I decided to stop feeling so sorry for myself and instead focus on the positives: the race was not canceled, the bike was not broken, I was not badly hurt, and my laps (although not quick) were helping the team as long as I stayed as consistent as possible. I ended up letting a solo 6 hour rider pass me, and lost sight of him until I caught him at another slick bridge on the course. I noticed that his kit was a bit dirtier than I remembered, and asked if he had crashed (because I have no shame). It ended up that he had crashed on that bridge so I made sure he was okay, and felt a bit better that at least I wasn’t the only person having a rough day. It was also funny because another rider caught us and admitted that he too had crashed out, so that added another confidence boost. Before I knew it I was back at the scene of the crime, and I saw just exactly how my crash had happened as there was a lovely set of skid marks out there. It looked like the bike’s rear wheel had hit the soft clay at the foot of the bridge, which caused the front wheel to slide out on the wet surface, thus causing a perfect storm of pain for me. This time I was careful not to repeat the mistake and I moved past that section quickly. I still felt like I was holding back too much but I wanted a safely confident lap under my belt. My leg seemed to be holding up well with only minimal pain, so I was happy just to be able to continue to race. As the trail wound its way back towards the start-finish I could hear the noise of music and fanfare, and in a few short minutes I was passing the torch back off to Matt.
As Matt sped off down the trail I went back to my tent to commence my icing/drinking water/eating game plan. My leg didn’t seem to be any worse so I was cautiously optimistic that maybe I would finish the day. I chatted with friends and I checked the results again. According to the live results we were in 4th but not too far off of 3rd place. I still felt horrible for costing the team so much time, and in my eyes there was no way we could finish on the podium at all. I had a couple texts from Matt waiting for me: he was glad to hear I was okay following the crash and said he would take double laps to help give me a break and gain some time on the teams ahead of us. I let him know I would be glad for some extra downtime, and for him to let me know when we switched next lap. Matt was pulling some very consistently fast lap times, so I was in the transition at around the 35 min mark to switch off. It was disheartening to wait there and see the other duo teams ahead of my transition before us, and it served as a reminder just how much I had cost the team with my bad luck. I tried to stay positive and be proud of the fact that I had rallied and I knew we should never give up completely. If I had crashed and taken out several other riders, there was no telling what might happen to affect the standings. Suddenly Matt popped out of the woods and was flying down the pavement towards me, and off I went for my 3rd lap.
The day was really starting to heat up, which was helping to dry out the trails but increasing the humidity and mugginess when in the woods. I was really sweating, not only from working hard at racing but I also felt slightly fatigued from the shock from earlier. I told myself to continue picking up the pace so we didn’t lose more ground, and with the drier trail I was getting more of my confidence back. There were also many parts of the trail that were being packed in from being ridden on, so there was more grip to let the bike rip. My crash was still in the back of my mind, as I knew just one more like that would be the end of our race for me. I was glad for all my experience in Crabtree as it meant that all I had to worry about was to keep pedaling and not worry too much about lines, and what was coming up on the trail. I was doing the math in my head and figured that I would probably get in one or possibly two more laps since I had taken the first lap. As I was getting closer and closer to the music, and thus the start line, I was feeling more like myself and ready to take another break to ice my aching leg. I popped out and handed things over to Matt who shouted out that he would pull double laps to help give me a longer break and I was very happy for it. I rolled back over to our tent, where some of my old teammates and friends had shown up to say hi. As I stopped to speak with my guy friend, I heard my name being shouted and saw Matt running with his bike up the trail. “Abby! I flatted! You have to take over!” yelled Matt, and I apologized to my man and took off back to the start. We were lucky that the flat occurred so early as it wouldn’t add too much to our race time.
As I took off back down the trail for what was now a double lap I had to be slightly amused. There I was all ready to relax for two laps, and instead it was I who would be putting in some extra work. The trail was really turning into some great conditions, and I was therefore able to put my foot down a little more confidently and try to make up the time the flat had cost us. I couldn’t believe our luck: first my crash and now Matt’s flat. It was like we are simply cursed to have the most hectic race days this season! Things were really getting stretched out as well, as there was hardly anyone around me. The only other soul I kept seeing was the same solo 6 hour rider who seemed to be really riding the pain cave. He asked if I was also riding solo, but I let him know that I was only insane enough to do a double lap. I definitely do not have it in me to ride Crabtree for 6 hours straight. I sped off and again was alone in the woods just trying to make it back for some rest. I was really getting that itch that I just wanted to be off the bike and be able to drink and eat something, but I tried to stay focused. The problem when you are so familiar with a trail is you know exactly how much longer you have to go and it can be excruciatingly frustrating when all you want is to sit down. I knew that Matt would be going though the same pain and I would have a good hour plus to relax, so I tried not to be too ornery about it. I was also still trying to put in a good time. I knew that having myself do double laps was not going to help make up any time, and the most I could do is try not to lose any precious seconds and focus on a consistent pace. I was really feeling like I was failing a bit by not being any faster. I knew that Matt would make up a lot of time on his double laps so I tried not to be too hard on myself. Pretty soon I could again hear my friend’s speaker blaring out “The Ride of the Valkyries” and I was popping back out of the trail to gratefully switch off to Matt.
I was so ready to be done that I immediately went over to the tent and started to drink, ice my leg, and check my phone for details from Matt. I was surprised to see that he had left a text that we were in third place! Apparently he had managed to pass the Storm Endurance team on his last lap, and I knew that neither member of the team had not passed me on mine. I was really shocked and relieved that we might just end up with a podium spot after all! Maybe my crash had not completely ruined everything for us! I was holding out hope that Matt could catch 2nd place on his laps, so I was keeping an eye on the race while trying to chill out a bit. It helped a lot that I was so tired I didn’t want to move, and also my guy friend had showed up to get a taste of this crazy mountain bike life, so I got to spend a good hour just talking and snacking and hanging out. My leg was very swollen and painful, but I knew it would hold up for one last lap. I was watching the clock to see if we would make it for my last lap under the cutoff (and a small, tired, injured part of me was almost hoping we wouldn’t) but we should have plenty of time left for the 9th lap. I may or may not have complained to said guy friend that I didn’t want to get back on the bike, but I will blame that on the dehydration and pain medication wearing off. As I was keeping a lookout for Matt to come through to start his second lap, I noticed that the first and second place Coed teams came through… followed by the Storm Endurance racer. Damn! Did Matt get passed??? The live results showed us now back in 4th and I was slightly let down. How could this happen? Had Matt crashed as well?? I started to stress and luckily had someone to calm me down. Matt came through and I told him to go FAST! Hoping that he would pass 3rd place again. As I sat there I noticed that the other Storm Endurance member was already out of kit and packing up and wondered what was up. Were they not planning on trying for a 9th? (What I hadn’t realized was there were two Storm Endurance teams and in fact I had the members mixed up!) I was not worried that maybe my 9th lap would be more important to our standings than I realized, and I wondered if I had not only the fitness but also the confidence to put in a fast lap. The conditions had improved by a lot and it was now prime racing dirt, but I was still a little shaken by the crash and my leg was a constant reminder of how dangerous it could be out there. I vowed that I would let neither our team nor myself down, and I would race as hard as I could to keep our third place spot secure if it came down to it. Before jumping back on the bike I checked standings one more time and was pleasantly surprised! We had bumped back up to third! I checked the clock and noticed that Matt would be coming in under the 3:30 cut off time, at around 3:15, which would give me 45 minutes to get back home. My easier laps were around the 40 minute mark, so I knew I had some extra space to take it a bit easier, but with third place being in close contention I knew I couldn’t risk it by playing safe. I turned my full focus back to the race itself and waited for Matt to pass it off to me.
I waited at the exchange with the second place team from CSH. We were both very silent with little to no words being shared. I think we were both just completely focused on finishing up the race. I saw her teammate approach and she dashed off and left me there waiting. Inside I was cursing every minute that they had on us, and blaming myself for that crash. If it hadn’t happened the CSH team would never have passed me on the first lap, and we would have been the ones in a comfortable second place. Suddenly Matt appeared and I was off for my final lap of the day. Possibly from the extra rest, and also from a renewed sense of purpose to make up for my mistake, I shot off with the same speed I had in the first lap. The conditions were finally just the way I liked them, and I was able to maintain more speed through the corners and downhill stretches. All the nerves that had held me back a bit during my middle laps seemed to melt away and I was back to feeling like my old self once again. The SC was eating up the trail with relish and I was having a blast. I was completely alone but I knew that Storm Endurance in 4th place was probably on my tail trying to catch me and regain their own shot at a podium spot. I would not lose it. It would take another crash or worse to take it from me now. We might not reach a higher step, but I was not going to let us down again. I was pushing, standing, climbing, flying, and being as aggressive as possible. I had almost completely forgotten about my leg and it would only occasionally remind me of its existence. It seemed like the complete opposite of my last lap where I felt like it was taking ages to get around the trail. Instead, I couldn’t believe how quickly it was flying by on this lap! Before I knew it I had hit the scene of the crime and had to smile at how the day had started with such drama. As I started to climb back up the trail as it slowly snakes its way back towards the fire road, I saw some thing blue and orange up ahead. The 2nd place CSH rider! HOW? At first I was convinced that I was not seeing correctly and it was another solo rider out on their own, but nevertheless I kept my relentless pace up just in case. There isn’t much elevation to this portion but it was enough to make my strength at climbing more obvious, as before I knew it I had caught the rider. It WAS the CSH racer! It was SECOND PLACE! I had no hesitation at all as I went for the kill. I knew I had the fitness and I knew that I had the confidence in the rest of the trail to really end this once and for all. I was going to win back our second place and I was going to redeem myself. I didn’t even have to call for a pass when I came up on her; I think she knew that she was beat, as she moved over for me to overtake her. As soon as I was by it was on! I hit the fire road and laid into the SC with all the power I had and sprinted towards to skills area that began the last bit of trail back to the finish. I was riding confident and fast and never bothered to check behind me. There was no way anyone was going to catch me. We hit the rock garden option, which I easily took and started to climb my way towards the parking lot. I could hear music but didn’t even register what it was. All I was thinking of was the finish and how surprised Matt would be to see me first. As I climbed the gravelly portion that leads to the finishing shoot, I saw the other CSH rider posed with his camera to catch his partner presumably solidifying their second place. Instead he saw my face and I broke out into a wild grin. I knew she was nowhere behind me by his reaction and I was safe to sprint it towards the end. Matt was standing there also with his camera and I laughed again. He looked utterly bewildered as I flew past and yelled “SECOND PLACE!” as I came through.
Utterly maniacal grin right here
I was exhausted and yet so elated I hardly noticed it. I hadn’t taken a single sip of water that whole lap and was dying of thirst but I didn’t care. I could deal with that later! I sped over to Matt as he watched the CSH rider come through and realized what had happened. I just started laughing as he was in just as much shock as I had been when I had made the pass. Second place! I was so relieved that I almost wanted to cry tears of joy (they might have been from the pain setting in). I had crashed out and lost what I thought was the whole race but together we had stayed positive and fought back for our second place! Not only had we made it to our podium spot but I had really raced that last lap just as hard as the first and stayed safe and fast the whole time! I felt like the small bit of confidence the crash had cost me I had won back! Before, I had my doubts whether I would even be able to ride the rest of the race, and instead I was able to be a big part of our comeback. I was grinning the biggest, dumbest grin ever as I climbed that podium with Matt, and it felt great to be there. We will have one more race together before the end of this series and mountain bike season, but I think our progress together was really showcased today.
~*~always the bridesmaid~*~