Race Report - Afton Avalanche

8:26 PM

No pic of me, but a good one of the Spouse sticking his tongue out on a climb...
Let me tell you about my Hate-Love relationship with the Afton Alps mountain bike trail. 

Two years ago Afton Avalanche was my first category 2-mountain bike race (my previous experience was a couple of citizen races).  The Spouse and I pre-rode the course the day before in the rain, and it didn’t take long before I hit portions I couldn’t manage.  I walked through the downhill rock gardens.  I hiked up the tight switchback hill because I couldn’t keep my front wheel from popping up and my back wheel from spinning out.  A couple of downhill 180s had me off my bike because they were bisected by thick and threatening roots.  And the loose gravel trough that led to the start/finish area…don’t even get me started.

Suffice it to say, there were tears.  I’m not too proud.  I will admit that I stood there in the rain and cried because the course scared me so much. 

The next day I stood at the starting line completely drained, but with the right mindset.  I accepted that I could quit the race at any time.  I could just step off my bike.  When the whistle blew, I let everyone go and then gently pedaled my way through the trail.  Of course, I finished the race (underneath my stubborn exterior is a deeper stubborn layer) and came in a good 20 minutes behind the main pack.  I was giddy at the end, having survived two laps, and in complete awe at the babes who finished so far ahead of me.  I remember intensely asking a teammate, “How do you get good at this?”  Her response thankfully simplified everything down to a simple piece of advice:

“It’s just time on the bike, Meredith, time on the bike.”

Fast forward a year to my second attempt at the Avalanche, and it turns out she was right.  I had a lot more time on the bike, and I was a lot more confident.  The downhill rock gardens?  Scary, but do-able.  The uphill switchbacks?  On a dry day, no problem.  And roots?  I laughed at (most) roots (others still made me cry…).

And once I was able to get over all the scary parts of Afton (which, as it turned out, were not all that scary) I discovered the best part: the hills.  If you are not doing something scary and downhill, the trail points you up a massive uphill.  And says: CLIMB!  And me?  I’m good with climbing.

So this year, when Afton was missing from the initial series calendar, I had mixed feelings.  Nope.  My first reaction was: WOO-HOO!  No scary stuff! 

And then, when Afton was re-inserted into the schedule, I remembered the hills.  Oh, the hills.  This past Sunday, the hills saved me.

One of my weaknesses is that I often get into the first lap of a race and accept that my current position will be my finishing position.  Stupid, I know, but when a rider gets out of my sightline I figure she is gone.  Sunday I watched first and second place in my age group ride away from me on a major climb and figured I was good for third place.  But instead of checking out like I did last race, I marshaled my effort and rode just on the edge of an asthma attack (turns out, it is possible).  If I couldn’t ride their race pace, I figured I could at least ride my race pace.

One lap later I learned something new: while some riders may have fancy and explosive attacks, my grind-it-out pace can work in my favor when a race keeps throwing hills at you.  Though I wasn’t able to pull back both riders, I was able to pull back one to take second place. 

And Afton?  Definitely back in the Love category (no tears!) – one indication of my progress is that I was disappointed to see how much smoother the trail was this year.  Vail Resorts bought Afton over the winter, and I hope their modifications are only because they are concentrating on reworking the ski slopes this summer…not a neutered trail for the future…

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