Shake ‘n’ Brake 2016 Race Report

I ride up a hill, I ride down a hill.

The salt from my perspiration has dried into ghostly patches on my shoulders and hips. It’s very hot, perhaps the third or fourth ride of the year where the temperature is over 80 degrees. The clear sky is nice.

Two hours ago I followed a poorly placed turn marker and added 5 miles and 23 minutes to my race. A satisfactory top 10 placing has been sucked into oblivion and now I struggle to repair the mental house of cards that keeps my legs turning.

My mouth is dry and my stomach is uneasy. The small voice of doubt has been informing me of my various failings as the day goes on.

Shouldn’t have eaten so much this week.

Lining up near the front is better than in the middle.

You’re dehydrated, you should stop.

This is hard for no reason, go lay in the grass out of the sun.

I reach down and lock out my front fork before standing to climb the next pitch. It feels good to move around on the bike. Earlier, after I noticed my error and got back on course I felt good. I was passing other riders and flying up the shorter rollers thinking about getting back into the top 10. As I moved through the mid-pack stragglers I started some mental arithmetic and with surprising accuracy determined the time loss of that course diversion. The more I twirl the numbers around in my head and the more riders I pass at a large speed differential it slowly crystallizes that my result is not going to matter.

This is a funny thing to realize as my results only ever matter to me. This importance is not in a vacuum, to have any result there needs to be other riders. It’s motivating to compete against someone out on the course. We’re not directly racing each other as our placings are not “in the money.” The competition is more visceral, more intimate.

I am better than you, in this very specific instance for this very short time.

As I pass no one of worth I find no satisfaction in the race. What a strange statement, but that is the motivation laid bare.

This is similar to last year where I saw no other rider on the course for the last 3 hours of a 7 hour race. The internal machinations required to keep going are exhausting. It is intrinsically enjoyable to ride, to ride gravel but after a certain point the effort, the sun, the course grinds you down to a nub. The self-bargaining always wins the day.

I feel terrible now but if I keep going I will feel better later than I would if I stopped now in comparison to how terrible I feel now.

True again on this day. I finished and felt the flood of relief from stopping something that hurts and feels good at the same time.

This is a good race. The course was excellent, the most minimal pavement and the gravel was in good shape and showed the full spectrum of dry gravel types. Some places it’s loose and chunky. Some places are tight, bare red dirt. The single track is smooth and flowing with some steep but short climbs that will tax riders on cross bikes – but any advantage here can easily be wiped out by the smooth sections of road immediately after.

The aid station volunteers and course marshals were motivated and helpful. The offer of post race barbecue and beer was truly excellent.

I floated back to Atlanta running on sick guitar riffs and pounding war drums. Thoughts of flying down loose gravel at 40 miles an hour running through my head.


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