Dirty Duo Sentiments: Why Everyone Should Race

There's a euphoria that presents itself post race, and only then, that everyone should experience at least once.  Of course, like a narcotic, it can quickly become addictive and you may actually begin to crave it.  A hard trainer workout, face paced group ride, one rep max deadlift, all these things never approach what happens after you give an all out effort in the face of competition over a sustained period of time. Very little else shows you what you're really made of.

The Dirty Duo race happened recently in North Vancouver.  This is an event that offers courses to both mountain bikers and trail runners, in a variety of formats.  15/25/50 km options for the runners, 30 km for the mountain bikers, and a relay category for the 25 km run/30 km ride.  In true North Shore fashion, the forecast for this year's event promised and delivered monsoon like conditions.

My relay teams have been consistent winners at this event, and to be honest, this was my favorite way to race - organizing winning teams and handing them water bottles when and where needed.  Very content to sit on the sidelines and take the podium pictures post race.  Last year, I upped the ante by putting together a women's relay team that also took first place.  Was I proud?  Of course.

Fast forward to 2014.  I wanted to follow up last year's performance, but was lacking a female cyclist that I felt could put forward a strong enough effort to take the win.  I had the runner, Julie Miller, who competed in Ironman last year, and is heading to China this year to represent Canada in Triathlathon.  But who to race with her? 

Having signed up for the Singletrack 6 race this year, I knew I had to practice what I preach, and start racing.  I hate racing to be honest, because I'm terrified of failure.  I train a lot of athletes, many of them podium contenders, both locally and internationally, and I feel the pressure to perform and show myself to be of the same caliber.  But truth be told, I'm a small business owner and a single mom, and time to train is scarce, as is sleep, recovery, and everything else it takes to be an athlete.  But come July, I'll be racing six consecutive days, with more elevation than I've ever experienced, and it was time to sink or swim.  So I offered myself up as Julie's partner, then I got to work.

In the three weeks before the event, I rode the trainer and only the trainer.  My highest volume week had me on the trainer for 263 km.  Same view every day, my dog lying in front of the trainer, giving me the stare down.  If she could speak, it would be along the lines of "are you f***ing kidding me?  Is this your idea of fun?  Remember when we used to ride bikes outside?"  The commitment to the trainer was due in part to typical February weather, but moreso, I couldn't afford to waste time.  Each ride had to have a purpose, and sitting on the trainer watching my power numbers eliminated guess work and random rides.. I test drove "block" training, where simply put you perform as many interval sessions your first week as you can, until your legs die and your power drops off, take a day off, then hit them again.  Same energy system every time.  Session #7 was my breakthrough, and this was only 10 days in, when I saw higher power numbers and lower heart rate.  Nice.

I watched the looming forecast as we neared the weekend, increasing from an initial 20-30 mm of rain, to a final forecast of 50+mm.  I had 15 clients racing that day, and for many of them it was either their first cross country race on a mountain bike, or their first trail running race.  We spoke lots of pre-race meals, how to fuel during your race run, and most importantly, how to keep your mental talk positive.  This is absolutely KEY.  If this fails, you're done.  And I've failed at this miserably in the past. 

I went into the race more prepared mentally than I've ever been.  I set a finish time goal based on my pre-ride, planned where and when I was going to eat, and practiced my self talk.  The night before I laid out everything I would need for race day, planned my breakfast, and got a good night's sleep. 

Race day went as expected.  Light drizzle to wishing one had an ark instead of a bike.  I waited nervously, sorry excitedly (positive self talk here), for Julie, and for some reason, she caught me by surprise.  Tore off my jacket, Arthur threw me my bike, grabbed the tag, strapped it around my ankle and was off.  Two minutes in and I was soaked to the bone.  But I kept an eye on my Garmin and paid attention to how I felt, and fed myself lots of positive feedback.  I repeatedly told myself that I was going to race my own race, and be content with meeting my time goal.  First descent I was passing cyclists who were running their bikes downhill.  The one thing I'm confident with is descending.  Then onto Fishermans, first gel, while being pelted with rain on the flats.  Up the Hyannis connector, trying to not blow up, knowing that it was only 5 mins of suffering, then onto Bridal Path.  BP was all about staying clean and pedaling.  Just move, keep steady.  Hit Old Buck and needed to eat again, and got passed by Calhoun while doing so.  At least he was kind enough to tell me I was doing well.  Put my head down again and pushed, knowing I was home free by the time I got to the top of Neds.  Neds was a free flowing river, as someone else so eloquently put it, your pet gold fish could have survived that day on the trail.  Dodging trail runners everywhere, trying not to make a mistake, feeling sorry for the many cyclists who were off to the side changing flats, feeling superior that my tire pressure was so high I didn't have a chance of flatting.  Remembering how I used to ride downhill bikes on this trail, and now here I was on my 4" travel cross-country bike trying to ride it the same way.

Across to Bottletop, down, Fishermans, up Homestead, trying to remember how many pitches there are. Starting to feel alone, but happy with my time so far.  End is near now, can empty the tank.  Last pitch up Richard Juryn legs died, got off and ran, no pride left, then pinned it back.  Nothing compares to that final stretch when you know it's all about to end, and you just might be happy with the result.  Maybe we'll win?  Must race your own race.  Don't think about it.  You know your goal.

Last stretch is flat, and it's raining so hard I can barely see.  Cross the finish line and there's cheering, a lot of it.  For me??  AWESOME!  Julie grabs my bike, Tom takes a couple photos, and then the uncontrollable shaking sets in.  I'm wet, very wet, and cold.  Arthur leads me back to the truck and strips me down while my teeth chatter.  Fingers don't work.  Can't form a sentence.

Back up, warm now, to check results, which make me smile.  We win the women's relay, and I'm the fastest female rider that day..  I used to fantasize about what it would be like, to win, you know, just once.  To be the fastest that showed up that day.  To put it all together.  To race a good race.  And winning would be nice.  Just once.  As someone who knows suffering much better than me says ...."you're only as good as your last race".  Maybe I just peaked, but I'll take it.

Will I race again?  Absolutely.  Will I win?  Who knows.  You can't control who shows up, but what you can control is how well you prepare, what fitness you build, and how you commit to the suffering that is endurance racing.

Over beers later we discuss and dissect, and I have immense satisfaction at the emotional response to racing I sense around me.  Siobhan describing how on the last flat she gave everything she had to try and pass her closest competitor, because she couldn't live with herself if she didn't.  Everyone sharing their stories, of how they spent their Saturday pushing themselves harder than they ever thought they could.  It takes racing to show you what you're made of.  I'm officially a believer.

All materials ©2019, Monika Marx | Design by Action Design | Development by John Housser | Photography by Stephen Wilde and Danielle Baker