The week before.
I was riding at Blue Hills with Thom, Will and Greg the Leg. It was one of those rides where everyone will swear they were the slowest one there. Fast company, lots of climbing, hurting. We stopped at one point and the topic of weekend plans came up. Someone mentioned that the Norcross Scurry was on Saturday as opposed to the traditional Sunday race day. This was news to me. Since it was Thursday, two days before the race, I would typically be resting. Instead I was in the middle of an uphill hammerfest. Worst rest day ever, my race prep got off to a horrible start.
The night before.
It was going to rain, that much was certain. I took a pretty lazy approach to prepping for this race. Right before I went to bed, the sky opened up. I headed to the basement and swapped out my front tire. I have been racing on the tire we affectionately refer to as the "knobless wonder" for the last month, but this was the last tire I wanted to run if it was going to be wet. I have numerous (4) mud specific tires, and I love the traction and control I have when I run them. Problem is, they don't hold air. I raced with them once and flatted (still won though). I trained with them twice and rolled them off the rim both times. Greg the Leg had this same tire on his bike during our Blue Hills ride, and it burped air a few times, once right in front of me, while riding a straight line, on an off camber, dry trail.
I threw on a slightly more aggressive front tire, and kept the same tire I've been using for the last few dry races on the back (Kenda Karma, no link required). I knew neither of these tires would be any good in the mud, but I was confident they could get me to the finish without any failures.
Woke up. Pouring rain. Took the dog for a walk and the entire park was flooded. Baseball fields had turned into ponds overnight. Had some breakfast, hopped in the car and turned on the windshield wipers.
As I drove through the rain, my excitement started to build. As I've said before, I don't like 90 degree sunny days. I hate the beach. I like temperatures in the 60s, and rain is nice. I may hate riding on heavily eroded trails, but I like riding in mud. I love riding in the rain, but as a NEMBA, and IMBA member, I follow the Rules of the Trail, which usually means not riding trails in the rain. But since the Rules of the Trail don't apply to race courses, today was going to be a treat. The more the rain came down, the more excited I got.
Since I rested the day before, a solid warm up was going to be necessary. I planned on getting to the venue two hours early to give myself time to recon the course and get nice and loose. Problem was, the directions posted by the promoter on Bikereg.com were wrong, and I got lost. I showed up with enough time to register and check out the first mile of the course. Turns out I was going in the wrong direction and actually preview the finish, not the start. Either way, my short preride confirmed two of my suspicions, 1) I would be riding with mud in my eyes for the entire race, and 2) I did not have the right tires.
Get to the racin' already!
Tweet! And off we go. The start is fast. This confuses me. It's wet and slippery, why is everyone sprinting into the first corner? When we get to that first corner, more than a few tires are sliding instead of rolling, mine included. I figure I should let everyone who wants to sprint into slippery corners go ahead, I'll play it safe towards the back. This pattern of letting those who are actually trying go ahead of me repeats itself over and over. It's not long before I realize that mentally, I am pretty far from wanting to race. It's cold, which I love. Rain is coming down like the hammer of the gods, which I love. The trails are really fun, with lots of singletrack, which I love. I was having a ton of fun, why ruin it by trying to actually race when I don't have the correct mindset or equipment?
At this point in the mountain bike season, I have meet or exceeded all the goals I set for myself back in March. I'm satisfied with my 2009 season, I have nothing left to prove. I only have one goal left; start cyclocross season healthy and hungry. Hungry as in wanting to tear the legs off every Cat3 in New England. The problem is I have been racing a ton lately. I had a stretch of something like 8 races in 9 weeks. That will dull your racing edge, and your hunger. Combine that with the treacherous conditions, and the goal of starting cross season healthy and hungry was in serious jeopardy.
Back to the race.
I flipped the switch from "race" to "ride." I detoured through the center of every puddle I could find, why? because riding through huge puddles is fun. I stopped to take a leak three times, even though I didn't even drink half of what I had planned. I started letting people pass in bunches. First, all the Pro/Open guys, then wave after wave of Cat1 racers. I don't think I got a single "Thank you" when I pulled off the trail and put a foot down to let someone pass. Everyone was absolutely miserable. This made me that much more satisfied with my decision to ride for fun. I had the Scorpions song "Rock You Like A Hurricane" stuck in my head. Problem is, I only know 8 words (well 6 words, 2 letters) of that song. "Here I am! Rock you like a hurricane!" Over and over as the rain fell more and more. Pretty sweet actually.
On the third lap, I was convinced that Thom, with mud tires front and rear, a singlespeed on a messy course with little climbing, and a lower than normal gear; was going to take the win. I slowed down and kept one eye looking backwards, waiting for him to come up behind me. I had big plans, plans involving getting off the bike and doing my best cheerleader dance. It didn't happen, so I rode slower. Still didn't happen, at this point I figured if I hadn't been lapped yet, they must have called the race after three laps. I was wrong.
As I mentioned before, I don't usually ride off-road in the rain. This is because it promotes trail erosion. Well, I discovered that it also promotes bike erosion.
At the end of the first lap, I had no rear shifting. I put the chain on the big cog (the only one it would stay on without skipping), and relied on the front derailleur, effectively making my bike a triple speed.
At the end of the second lap, I had no rear brake. I stopped to assess the situation and couldn't see the pads through the thick layer of mud covering my bike, but did notice a bunch of metal shavings sprinkled around the area of the rear brake. "Eh, whatever," I though. I got spare pads and a spare rotor at home, I'll ride it out.
At the end of the third lap, I had no front brake. This was probably because I stopped using the rear and relied exclusively on the front. On my way through the start/finish, Jill asked me if I wanted to ride out the fourth lap, and I replied "sure, why not." I'm not going to wreck my bike for three laps just to take a DNF. At that point all the Cat2 racers had been staged, so I had to weave through all of them before I could start my final lap.
It should go without saying, but after a few hours of racing in a downpour, the trails are going to turn to mud. By the forth lap, the course was a mess. Most of it was fresh cut to begin with, so it was soft and loamy, which doesn't mix well with water. It probably took me an hour to finish the final lap on my brake-less, triple speed bike. I had the luxury of Cat2 riders coming up behind me, so I could pace off of them. Problem was when we got to one of the growing numbers of unrideable sections, they would take off running and I would walk leisurely, then wait for another Cat2 to ride with.
After about three hours of riding, while not eating or drinking nearly enough, I started to feel a bonk coming on. I started crashing a little more often, bars were traveled over, knees were bloodied. At one point I sat down on a large rock, had a gel, finished my bottle, collected myself, then got back on the bike and finished strong.
3:33:50. Longest race ever! Over an hour off the podium. No line at the bike wash though.