There comes a moment in any race when it comes down to the mental battle. It doesn't matter if the race is an hour slug fest at Bear Creek Terrace or a 24 hour endurance test. The demons are always there, lurking - whispering in your ears that its okay to stop - everyone else is hurting just as bad. The sign of a great athlete is knowing when the demons need to be silenced, ignored and when they rightfully demand attention. It's a hard task to stay mentally on top throughout an entire race. There are highs and lows - thrills of satisfaction when riding smoothly and fear of the worst when laying in the dust with a bike on top of me.
How bad do you want it? How much are you willing to suffer to reach your goals? Questions that roll through my mind as I'm pedaling. That first lap is always hard physically - the pace, the excitement of the start and of the chase. Easier mentally except for being aware of exactly how long there is left to ride. Be aware, stay smooth and steady. Don't burn all your matches right now, making foolish passes - there's plenty of time for all of that later. Things settle on the second lap - settling in for the long ride, knowing that there is time left for tactics and that now is the moment to ride smart. Trust the pit boss, take care of the little things that will add up later.
Things get hard as darkness settles across the woods. Lights on, casting shadows across the trail, illuminating eyes among the trees. There are times where I am the only creature stirring. Me, my bike and the brilliant beam of light from my Exposure Lights. It's lonely out there and the demons are ever louder. But I can't give into the whispered entreaties - sit down for a minute, take a break. I'm not where I want to be yet. I need to keep riding. And with the darkness comes the cold - at first a welcome change from the heat and wind of the prior hours. It keeps getting colder, bone chilling, numbing. This is June in NM, it's not supposed to be freezing! The volunteers scattered around the course keep cheering, awake at all hours of the night. If they can stay awake to cheer and ring cowbells, I can keep pedaling. Keep seeing the positive, focused on the moment, not the next ten hours.
Everything is hurting - my arms, my back. The spunk of the first few laps is long gone, replaced with a deep seated fatigue. Nick keeps me moving - into pit, wash my face and eyes, eat a bite, drink something and off on a clean bike. I'm riding all night - he's doing everything else that I need. Cleaning bikes, preparing food, mixing drinks, charging lights and keeping an eye on the competition. All I need to to is ride - and keep riding until I physically cannot or someone tells me the race is over. I'm still the hunter, still chasing a pink and white jersey through the darkness. And then things change. I see her in pit and she doesn't notice me ride by. There will be a little back and forth, but when the sun rises I am alone. Alone and in the lead.
But the race isn't over. Not yet. At least two more laps remain before it is over. Mentally I'm trying to eek every speck of speed I still have in my legs. I want three more - to firmly have the race in my hands at 11:00. Now the balancing act is between the will to keep driving as hard as I can and the realization that physically I can't do another three laps. I don't have time and I'm falling apart. Two voices - pulling me in opposite directions. Ride harder, stand on those pedals and go. You can do this! At the same time, my hands hurt so bad - I can hardly shift. Holding the bars through the chunky, sharp rocks has me close to tears. Camber or Fate - it doesn't matter. Rolling through on lap 12, I see Nick. He tells me to ride back to pit, on the course. No other words exchanged. It's 21:56 - I have two hours to finish one more lap. I get to pit, park my bike and wait for Nick. Every minute I wait is one less minute I have to ride - but I know physically there is no way I can finish another lap.
And I don't have to. I am finished. Mission accomplished. Twelve laps, 235 miles in 22 hours. National Champion.