Finally a race with no mud or mechanicals! It was a hot one in Chattanooga this Saturday for race number 6 in the Southeastern Regional Championship series (SERC). I have been focusing more on the Southern Classic Series races (SCS), mainly because they have been a little closer and they are sponsored by my team, J.A. King. However, I was excited to get the chance to participate in a different series, especially because that usually means getting to race with a whole new field of women, adding an exciting element of the unknown to the race.
For this race, Zeb and I arrived on Friday afternoon to pre-ride the course at the Enterprise South Nature Preserve and register before the race (I have to get better about not forgetting to pre-register before the online deadline..). Even at 6pm when we were out on the trails, it was still extremely humid and sticky feeling out, and I had to be conscious of drinking more water than usual to not get dehydrated. Luckily there hadn’t been as much rain in Chattanooga as we had been getting in Western NC, so the trails had no mud or puddles to navigate. Though I had to concentrate on not sliding out in the dusty corners, this was definitely a welcome change after so much riding and racing in wet conditions. The trails were fun and fast, and flat enough to hold an 11 mph pace during the pre-riding. There were even these huge bunker-like rooms out on the trail that we rode through, which was a cool new element I had never seen. They were also literally cooler because they were shaded and made of concrete, which gave a refreshing section of cool air as we rode in and out. The race promoter said they were old ammo storage units, but I haven’t looked into that. They were an impressive size whatever they were. I knew the race the next day would be a fast one with these conditions, but I was feeling good during my ride.
However, getting back to the car after the openers, I noticed my front tire wasn’t holding air like it should. I looked closer and saw a tiny hole in the tire, with a little air hissing out. Thankfully it was small, and I spun the wheel to let the sealant plug the hole. I was worried about getting a flat the next day in the race, but I pumped up the tire and the sealant held strong. I let it sit for a few hours, and when I saw that it was still holding air, I decided to wait it out and make the final decision in the morning. I didn’t want to risk losing air in the race too much, but I also didn’t want to break the seal and put a tube in, since another small puncture with a tube in the race would mean definitely getting a flat, rather than being able to rely on the sealant a bit.
The night before the race, I try to eat a big dinner to fuel up for the next day. On a friend’s suggestion, we drove into town and ate at Mojo’s Burritos, which turned out to be a great decision. I got a massive plate of nachos with so many toppings and cheese and beans and veggies I didn’t know what to do with myself. I would go back to Chattanooga just for those nachos 🙂 The race the next day was at 9:30, and I was happy to start on the earlier side rather than in the heat of the day. For the Pro/Cat 1 open women’s class, we had 6 racers making up the field. Some had travelled as far from Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Florida.
We lined up on the start for 24 miles/3 laps. The race started with a half mile pavement climb to the trailhead, and since I had never raced with any of the women before and didn’t know their speeds, I wanted to get the holeshot to try to get away from the group. What I didn’t realize was how hard it would be to stay in the front for such a long start, and I definitely burned a match trying to stay in the lead. I pulled away from the group on the first lap, but they weren’t far behind, and after 20 minutes with my heart rate not dropping below 190, I was worried at how fatigued I was feeling so early on. The course had rolling hills and wasn’t too technical, but I had to be careful of the little sections with sharp rocks to not get another puncture. In the future, I probably shouldn’t go out so hard so that I don’t blow up in the middle of the race. Coming through for the second lap, I could see that the racer from Pennsylvania (named Allison) wasn’t far back and was riding strong. I tried to stay away, but about halfway into that lap she caught and passed me, and I struggled to stay on her wheel. Luckily I didn’t have any mechanicals or crashes, and the tire that I was worried about held its pressure for the whole race. I was able to stay away from the third place racer and finish in 2nd, one minute behind Allison.
I was so sweaty and thirsty after the race that I downed a whole water bottle and stuck my head under the hose that was supposed to be for washing bikes. I guess it’s good to start getting acclimated to hotter races as we go into summer, but I forgot what it feels like to race in humid weather. It was cool to be able to race with a strong field of women rather than just having a couple people to race against, and I enjoyed talking to them after the race as well. They were all dedicated and driven racers, but also humble and supportive of everyone out there. The woman who finished in third was only two minutes behind me, so it was exciting to have a fairly close race. As we were packing up to head home, the mother of a racer shared some watermelon she brought with me – I love watermelon but it is even more refreshing after a race and I was so grateful. I was happy to get second at the race and it was great training, but I am hoping to finally break the streak and win this weekend at the SCS race in Danville, VA. Racing is always uncertain and exciting, so we’ll see how it pans out!