Little fish, big pond
“Little fish, big pond,” the phrase kept floating to the surface while I scanned the nation's most elite cyclists lined up in front of me in the pouring rain at the start of the Oz Off Road Pro race in Bentonville, Arkansas. Back home I’m the big fish in the small pool, I outclimb almost everyone and make a habit of chasing down Georgia Gould’s QOMs. But here I’m just part of the field, hope for a PR, and to finish. I know I’m not technically gifted, I don’t have support staff to hold an umbrella for me at the start (yes, one of the gals in the front line had someone holding an umbrella for her), I do most of my own bike maintenance, I work 40 hours a week and no matter how much I train I’ll probably never be in the top 10. But I go out and do my best and get to ride some AWESOME trails and can legitimately call myself a "Pro Mountain biker."
This race was 50 miles, the first 30 or so were in varying degrees of rain. Like the Eskimos, I suspect Arkansas has a hundred words for "Rain," and we experienced them all. The trails were amazing, just a little slick, and most of the rain ran off, but our cycling kits went from damp to completely soaked. I tucked my prescription glasses into my pocket in the first 15 minutes because they were useless, spattered with rain. I passed a few people, including some of the best of the best starters with flat tires. I wound up 21st out of 34 starters. Only 27 finished, and rumor says much of the attrition was due to shredded tires in the sharp rocks.
I'd like to say I finished better, and maybe some day I will. I can say I did my best and will probably do better next year now that I'm familiar with the trails and may consider trying contacts again and actually be able to see!
Most importantly, I took a swim in the big pond and didn't drown. Sometimes that's all we can hope for, to give it a chance and see what happens. I think that's why racing is so addicting, you have some amazing days that let you know you are doing it right, and some not so good days that give you something to work on next time. It doesn't matter what level you're racing at, whether it's Beginner or Pro, national race or your local Strava time trial, these goals are fun to chase after and make you feel alive.
For now, time to let the mangled elbows heal (I have new scars on both from this year), clean off the bike and rest up this winter because next year is going to be even better!