O-cup #6 – Buckwallow -Getting back on track!

O-cup #6 took place at, what I consider, a mountain biker’s paradise, Buckwallow.  Located just outside Gravenhurst, Ontario, it is a magical place filled with whale-back shaped mounds of granite that have the friction of 20 grit sandpaper.  The beautifully designed trails are impeccably kept, are quick to dry and lie within a pristine Muskoka style forest.  No matter the skill level of a rider, everyone leaves with a smile and great stories to tell for years to come.

Smiles all around

Familiarity of the trails did nothing to ease my apprehension for this race.  I wasn’t sure if my injured leg could handle it or even if I could handle it. I’d like to say that the last 5 weeks since my epic crash was an easy road back to cycling, but I can’t!  My leg sustained a lot of damage, the kind that will last a lifetime.  Adding insult to injury, my post-chemo complications kicked in with a vengeance.  Rehabbing my leg became a challenge since I couldn’t differentiate between the pain in my leg and the remainder of my body. Physical pain was a constant from head to toe.  This made my leg recovery slower and limited the speed of my daily functions to that of snail.  Getting through the day became the immediate task and riding my bike and racing became secondary.  The opportunity to feel normal looked like a long-term goal.  But, as always, my inner drive surfaced and I decided just days before the race, if I couldn’t kick anyone else’s ass…I could at least kick my own.

To make the race extra sporty, mother nature decided a monsoon for a few days would add some flavour.  The trails were turning into rivers the day before the race so even the pre-ride was cancelled. It was a guarantee that even these sandy, drought stricken, quick drying trails were too saturated to recover.  Come race day morning there was still an ominous cloud looming overhead and steady drizzle.  Fortunately, the cloud moved onto another town and the sky ran out of rain by the time the races started.  It was going to be a warm but slippery and muddy race.

Smiles for Lori

I am seldom ever nervous at the start of a race…this one, well I wanted to vomit like Linda Blair from the Exorcist.  My anxiety level was rising and my heart rate was matching the speed.  As I stood in the corral, I tried to take deep breaths which just enhanced the feeling of a lump in my throat.  I kept telling myself , “Ride to ride another day.”  The laughter from the conversations around me were muffled by the sound of my heart pounding in my ears.  “Confidence Jany, confidence! You’ve got mad technical skills so work some magic on the trails,” passed through my head.   I knew that if my fitness failed, it wouldn’t matter…I could rock the rocks providing I didn’t crash.  My added mental crutch for the race, smiley faces drawn on my forearms.  The smileys were a tribute to my dear friend Lori Kofman (Erace Cancer Cyclng Team) who suffered a broken hand and wasn’t able to race.  Lori always made me smile and put me at ease. I was taking her smiles out on the course and when I needed something positive, all I had to do was look down.

My final focus came from an 11 year-old, incredibly talented cyclist named Mackenzie.    My husband and I met Mackenzie and her mom earlier in the week while riding.  We invited them to ride with us and little did I know that such a meeting could become so powerful.  During our short ride together with her and her mom, I shared the little knowledge I have of racing, riding technical stuff and mental strategies.  Well, much to my surprise, she appeared at the side of the start line with her family.  She told me she had a great race, came in second and what I had told her made a difference.  I was called a mountain biking hero and she really wanted to see me off at the start.  This adorable young lady gave me a big hug and wished me luck.  My heart melted and my eyes filled with tears.  I was so touched by the fact that they waited hours to see me off and that I had made a difference in her life.  She was now giving me what I hoped I had given her; strength, belief and confidence.  It was the lift that I needed to get back on track.  I find it amazing how those amazing, simple moments appear just when you need them.  No more, “woe is me!” after that.

I had a great start in the race and held the lead for the majority of the lung-busting 1.5 kilometre double-track sprint.  Linda Shin (30-39) made a great move on a corner and I watched her surge ahead.  It was fantastic to see her so strong and crushing.  I tried to keep on her wheel but my lungs weren’t up to the task.  I watched as a few other racers passed me on the next double-track section and I couldn’t tell if any of them were in my category.  “It’s not over til you cross the finish line,” ran through my head.  The remainder of the 1st lap became a focus on achieving a steady pace, seeing how muddy the technical sections were and how sketchy the rest of the race would be.

The trails were in better shape than I thought.  There were a few muddy sections but the rocks, although wet, had friction..  The sandy sections were no longer loose and soft but instead, hard-packed and fast.  My pace was great for the second lap although I felt my legs begin to weaken.  Passing racers who had passed me earlier gave me a boost.  I knew I was making up time.  Heading into the single-track and rocks, I would feel myself smile.  It was in there that I was in my happy place.  I was able to smash ’em, jump ’em, dodge ’em and roll ’em faster than others.  It was my husband and the Freewheel Cycle crew that helped me with that skill over the years and it was paying off in this race.  The technical sections also helped me not tap into my final reserves of fitness that were quickly diminishing from hard pushes on the double-track sections.  As long as I smashed the rocks and didn’t crash, it was where I could make a difference in the race.

I never looked back to see who was behind me, nor did I remember whom, in my category, may have been in front of me.  Going into the third lap, I reminded myself to ride safe, be smart and finish.  It didn’t matter where I placed (although it is pretty awesome to be on the podium).  The goal was to finish the race and have a smile on my face.  With only a few kilometres to go, I put the burners on as much as I could and my arms responded with ease to every root, rock and jump.  It’s easy to do when you know you’re almost finished.

Joy in the Middle

Coming across the finish line, I was filled with a sense of relief.  I had survived the race. There were no epic crashes…just a trip on a root walking my bike…go figure!  My leg held up thanks to the support provided by Kinesio Tape (this stuff really does work!)

My eyes flew wide open when I saw the results screen.  Shocked to see I eked out a 1st place finish, my eyes welled up with tears again.  It was an incredible feeling to see that I would be on the podium after such a painful month.  It also meant that I am continuing to hold my position as 1st in the overall series, one of my goals for 2012.

There isn’t a podium shot out there where my mouth isn’t open and screaming from sheer joy.  The above picture is no exception.  I can’t help but shout out how happy I am and how awesome the moment is to be up there with other incredible racers/friends.  I am loud and proud and everyone will see it. What this picture doesn’t show is the help I received getting on and off the podium from the two other racers, Robyn Duke and Lori Davis.  I can ride a bike but my leg doesn’t work in other ways.  They were quick to respond to my physical weakness and become my crutches so I could stand in the middle!

The next race is the Provincial O-cup in Duntroon just outside of Collingwood in September.  With renewed confidence and a semi-functional leg, I will be working on getting my fitness back so I can finish the O-cup season with my best race ever!

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