Of all the ways to warm up for a bike race, swapping out your rear shock in the parking lot 30 minutes before your start is not be the one I'd recommend.
Also, putting in an hour+ of warmup/ trail riding before a two and a half hour XC race might not be such a great plan either. Or tearing your kitchen apart and putting it back together again. Or...
Let me back up. In the runup to this race, I broke just about every part on my bike. Yesterday, my bike was stripped down to the frame, pivot bolts removed, Linkage assembly dismantled. My new (wider) handlebar arrived Friday, my brakes the day before that, and my shock will be with the good folks at Fox till next Wednesday. So for the last seven days or so, I've been trying to source a functional rear shock with a compatible eye-to-eye length like it was a black market kidney. Luckily, my teammate and all-around wonderful human Matt provided me with an excellent replacement. Unfortunately, his race ended 30 minutes before mine was supposed to start.
I rolled up to the line with the benefit of a call-up(!) due to some previously acquired (and deeply coveted) Kenda Cup points. I'm actually hoping that this series works like playing Skiball at a Seaside Heights arcade, and I can trade them in at the end of the season and get a human-sized stuffed panda or something.
I always dread the start at Weeping Willow, because it is freaking b o n k e r s. And this year, instead of the 2 mile long holeshot, they hit us with a singletrack climb 60 seconds into trying not to get killed by Neal Burtons astonishingly narrow (but still quite pointy) handlebar. The race played out the same way it does every year: everyone is going way too fast, everyone is making small (but potentially lethal) mistakes, and everyone somehow thinking they can hold Billy Melones pace for more than 6 minutes.
The inevitable gap was created by one Mr. Steven Crossley, after he misjudged a log jump and yardsaled us off of Burtons wheel. Lest you think I'm singling out Steve, I was struggling to get out of my own way for the entire first lap, and managed to make a wrong turn after I thought I saw Dylan McNicholas dangling just ahead.
It wasn't Dylan.
Our little group got a whole bunch bigger after that.
Bryan Horsley apparently hates big groups (and my legs) and proceeded to heap abuse on us for the next 15 or so minutes. Now whittled down to 5, with National Champ Jacob Harris and Not National Champs But Still Ok Dudes Tyler Berliner and Andy Gould in tow, we went into lap 2 feeling like we had already done a hundred push-ups apiece.
I led for the first part of the lap, pacing the first climb and trying not to remove handlebar-sized chunks of bark from every tree within arms reach of the course.
We worked well together, taking turns blowing corners and generally keeping the pace high. We rotated through on a "lead till you end up in the woods" policy, as our otherwise-reasonable bike handling was impacted negatively by the combination of crushing pace and diminishing-radius turns. Horsley took a flyer, prompting Tyler to chase and us to suck wheel. I responded as best as I could, using the singletrack to creep up without using too much energy.
And then, all of a sudden, Tyler was no longer pointed in the right direction.
Our little group was made 20% little-er.
And it wasn't long before I started taking on water.
Going into lap three, I could tell something was wrong. And by "something", I mean "everything".
I cramped hard on the first climb, and lost the group. Slowly, like getting ketchup from a bottle on a diner table, I made my way back to Jacobs wheel. This happened a few more times, and I started to think I would actually get away with it.
Getting dropped is like pushing a fridge off the roof of a building - it takes some time getting there, but once it happens, all you can do is sit back and watch the inevitability of Newtons first law turn that gleaming rectangular appliance into an unrecognizable polyhedron of once-functional metal and plastic. Some days, you're the one granting the least aerodynamic of household objects the gift of flight. Other times, you're the one getting tossed unceremoniously off the third floor of an apartment block.
So it was that I was inexorably scraped off Jacobs back tire.
Fading fast and in danger of a race-ending cramp, I tried to manage my pace. Turns out, I'm a terrible manager.
My brain was like "GO GO GO GO" to my legs, which responded with all the enthusiasm of a teenager working behind the counter at a rest-stop Arbys. When I stood up, my arms slowly collapsed into my hands. I was about to buy some waterfront property in Bonk Town.
I was (somehow) passing people, but was too browned-out to say anything coherent. So if I passed you near the end of the race, and you don't have any idea what the words to "How They Light Cigarettes In Prison" are, just imagine me saying "thank you, I really appreciate you letting me by" instead of whatever nonsense ended up pouring out of my dried-out talk hole.
Upon finishing, I was a disaster. I didn't eat enough before the (2300kj!!) race, and the food I normally take with me wasn't nearly enough. I was cramping and incoherent.
But I was 9th.
Which means a few more points toward my future life-sized stuffed panda.