Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What I did on my summer vacation / the SERC series 2006


(Or I should say:) "What I Learned on my Summer Vacation"
by Molly Graves, VB-K Tennessee

Well, it's finally over --
the long weekend car trips,
the forgotten, fermenting water bottles full of two-day-old Cytomax,
the chamios-pads-turned-to-sandpaper from mudfest races --

Yes, the South Eastern Regional Championship (SERC) mtb race series ended this past weekend in Anniston, Alabama -- and this is my final report.

A general disclaimer: This season was my first season racing Expert. I moved up not because I was slaughtering all the Sport riders in the Southeast, but as a challenge to myself and basically to see if this is something I want to do on this level. It was hard. What else can I say? When you finish races so far back from the lead pack that all the other girls are clean and dry and dressed up sipping cocktails as they cheer you on over the finish line (This is when the words "Good job!" can be the worst thing to hear!) -- well, you can feel pretty damn stupid sometimes. But whatever. I'm over that part. Here are a few of the things I learned:

SERC #1 -- Reddick, FL (March 12th): First of all, not all of Florida is flat. At least not mountain bike trails built in and around old mine quarries -- no, they are full of wrist-slamming, teeth-chattering drops and climbs just as steep. I learned very quickly to scoot even further back and off the saddle than ever before. And don't even think about hitting the brakes. Both Lynne Barkeloo (my only other TN Bella Expert partner-in-crime for the season -- who was riding her first Expert race pregnant at the time though she did not know it!) and I learned a great deal about setting a pace we can handle for three laps, and HYDRATING WELL! A large number of the guys who took off like rockets on their first lap had to drop out for dehydration -- I had never experienced such extreme conditions in March.

SERC #2 -- Columbia, TN (March 26th): Sami Fournier of the Bella pro team joined us at this race, and we were delighted to have her racing with us on one of our local trails! Unfortunately, Sami came late and didn't get to preride, so I think the race got tricky for her later on. Still, it was a great feeling to line up at the start with three Bellas in the pro/expert class (Lynne was still riding pregnant -- still with no clue!), and to watch Sami take off and blow everybody away at the start! What a great feeling to have a team! :) I felt like I raced well in this race -- I caught a couple of girls on the last lap and set a pace I could keep. It was also my only "podium" finish -- that is, if you call 8th place, standing on the grass beside the-person-beside-the-podium a "podium" finish! Still, I was happy to be standing up there next to Sami. :)

SERC #3 -- Bryson City, NC -- Tsali (April 9th): My lesson here was one I should have learned from Sami at Columbia: NEVER SKIP THE PRERIDE! At least, if you've never ridden the course before and you are nervous and want to know where the cliffs are, like me. Peter and I got to NC late and it was raining hard. I wanted to go check the trails out anyway, but he convinced me I didn't need to. I wanted to scream at him the next day when the entire pack of riders pulled away from me in the first 5 minutes, but when I found him later on he was just mad because he had only gotten 2nd place in his division. Grrrr... (No, not bitter at all... !!) This race was terrible for me. I had no confidence, and couldn't trust myself to get any speed up. I spent almost the entire race by myself, until the girl who had gotten lost earlier caught up to me and passed me. Additionally, Lynne had finally realized she was pregnant and so I lost my training partner for the season. I will never skip the preride again, if I can help it...!

SERC #4 -- Clemson, SC (April 30th): Almost didn't go to this one. Peter has turned into a roadie this season, so I ended up having to drive by myself to most of the races after Tsali. Expensive, and not so much fun. My lesson in Clemson was to respect all hills, no matter how seemingly innocent. The Clemson course didn't seem that bad after a quick preride -- in fact, I kind of made fun of the "big climb" at the end. Bad move. Very bad move. After three laps, the hills fought for revenge. And I gained a new respect for them. Kathleen of the GA Bellas came out to race with me on this course, which was fun. Good to have some Bella company in my class again.

SERC #5 -- Jackson, GA (May 7th): AKA "The Mudfest" ! Yes, this is where my brand new Bella shorts quickly turned to sandpaper. I have washed them over 20 times, but they will never be the same. This is the muddiest race i have ever done. It quickly became a struggle to finish. Several of the girls I was racing against dropped out because of brakes that wouldn't function, etc. I somehow made it through, though it took me close to 4 hours to do three laps. My mud skills improved a great deal, though, and I can't say that this is training I would have done by choice. Exhausting race -- and then the long drive home alone, highly caffinated...!

SERC # 6 -- Fontana, NC (May 27th): Patti and I decided that people must race Fontana just to be able to say they've done it -- you know, to be able to throw out the mtb-er comment, "Woooah! But this trail is nothin' like Fontana! Heh!" and have everybody nod knowingly... There was nothing fun about this course for me. More mud (though I could now say, "this is nothing like the Jackson mudfest!" !!), and climbs climbs climbs. I guess my lesson here would be (as Cathy of the Ga Bellas would say:) Don't forget the hill repeats. Yowzers. I have a lot to learn as a climber. A fellow expert racer and I turned this race into a training race after the first lap, and by lap three we were just happy to finish. Another exhausting race. Wait, isn't this supposed to be fun??!

SERC #7 -- Macon, GA (June 25th): My only drop race. I skipped this one. I was sick, I was exhausted, I was seriously wondering why this series had seemed like such a good idea...!

SERC #8 -- Ducktown, TN (July 16th): Okay, finally my first race on my new Kona Kula Primo that I finally got pimped out and ready to ride. The only problem is that my body was feeling somewaht less than Primo -- I think the extra lap and all the traveling was starting to wear me down in a serious way. Still, Ducktown was a Tennessee race and an easy drive, and on top of that Peter was actually going to race, too, so I had company. I tried. I just didn't have any energy. I felt it from the very start. I was climbing things in my middle ring that I did in the granny last year, but I just felt... beat. My times were actually worse than last year, and they felt it. This is when I started to realize that I was just done. I needed a break, but there was one
more race in the series...

SERC #9 -- Anniston, AL (July 30th): Thank God! The end! Peter kept telling me I didn't have to do this race, but I knew I had to -- I really needed to just finish it and have the satisfaction of having weathered the series. I was talking to a pro rider before the race, and I told her that I felt stupid using the term "overtraining" when I didn't feel like I had really trained THAT hard -- and her commemt was that overtraining wasn't so much about how much you trained, as it was about the difference in what you did this year compared to last year. And that really made sense -- last year was nothing compared to this year, which gives me hope that next year will be much easier in that respect. As for Anniston, no real moments of glory. I finished. And ditto for the series. My one real time on the podium was for the overall series awards -- I got second in the women's Expert/Pro overall for 2006. It is kind of silly, knowing how much some of those women kicked my butt -- but I guess it goes to show you that sometimes just showing up has its own reward.

All of these race results and some photos can be found at www.goneriding.org

The End. And if you actually read all of this you are very patient. Thanks!
-- Molly G

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