Dirt Rag Magazine

TSE: A learning experience

Vicki Barclay held on to finish third, that’s her second from the right.

By Vicki Barclay

The Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic finished more than a week ago now. It has taken me some time to decompress and let the proceedings of the week soak in: I managed to climb to the 3rd step on the final podium, a step higher than I dreamed of; I crashed harder and more often in that short space of time than ever before; I learned a lot about the physiology of my body and psychology of my mind; I was beyond proud of Rich; I raced my brains out; I am still glowing with post race endorphins and thankful for the local support which pulled me through. Below are my post race reflections.

With hindsight, I desperately want the race to happen all over again. I sneakily watch the daily YouTube videos that were produced by Abe Landes and Zack Repp. The inspirational shots and music are as motivational now as they were when being showed each evening at the camp. The experience was so unique. It strengthened the bond that I already have with some of the people I train with in State College (Rich, Richie Rich, Bob and Pete) but also gave me a chance to spend a week meeting 100 other like-minded souls who are driven enough to ride their bikes for seven straight days. On the flip side, I remind myself that every morning I felt like I had been run over by a bus, and how I couldn’t believe it was only day X of the week; that I should enjoy my more normal life routine of science and bikes (yes, in that order). But in truth, I yearn for it to be once more, crashes and all.

During that memorable week, Rich and I were going through the daily grind together. Although we were living in the same house, and helping each other out when we could, we were also completely self-absorbed with the goals we were trying to achieve: Rich to remain in the leader’s jersey and me to hold onto 3rd place. After each race, there would be a short time when we would feel relief that a stage was over. We would hang out and chat with fellow racers, spin around, sip on recovery drinks. Then the realization would hit: we needed to get home, eat nutritiously, lie in a darkened room, ice our weary body, munch on ibuprofen, fix, clean and lube bikes, prepare drop bags for the next day and wash and pack kits. Each day we became more efficient, and the little things seemed less important: who cares if your gel bottle is sticky?

Physiologically, I discovered that race weather does not affect me as much as I think it will (this statement could come back to haunt me!). I love to race in the rain, but I also appear to manage in the heat and humidity (and it was frequently more than 90 degrees and what felt like 90 percent humidity!). I also learned that my pain threshold is pretty high. That and adrenaline is a powerful thing! I would never have considered riding my mountain bike with the pain I was enduring had I not been racing. But when the race went off, my body took over my mind and each day I was able to complete my goals.

Psychologically, I realized I suffer from a huge lack of confidence or that is the way I portray myself. However, I believe that all riders/athletes do and at times it is a good thing. It is what motivates us to train and race harder so that we can continue to ride up next to our idols (male or female) be it a race or a group ride and think ‘one day I will be as fast as you’. During the ladies parade on the final day, Amanda and Selene offered me advice on my racing and training. Even into the final evening as we watched the hilariously entertaining beer derby, Amanda continued to offer me support. She is a down to Earth pro. I liked that.

A common feature I have noticed in other post-race blogs is that people’s strengths and weakness in most cases played out differently to what they had imagined prior to the race. I also experienced this flip. Going into the race I thought my strengths were riding through the rocky trails and my weakness the road. During the race, I was surprised how my legs were smoothly ticking over on the roads, and I was more bobbly and apprehensive than usual through the rocks. I hope I have grown as a racer from those realizations, as I continue on my quest to become a faster, smoother and stronger racer.

Not only was it interesting to analyse myself throughout the week, but to witness the strengths of the other woman who were racing. I learned so much from those competitive, but so positively encouraging, woman who have far more experience than me at this game. Amanda powered away from us on the road, whooped us on the smooth trails, and offered me invaluable race advice; Karen I am sure who have continued to crush had she not gotten sick; Selene maxed our VO2 max, drilled us through the rocks and always laughed at the end; Rebecca always shouted positive words before passing, offered warm congratulations and smoked the smooth trails of Raystown; Sonya powered through the rocks, especially at the Super D’s, and never failed to smile and giggle whatever the circumstance; and Sue, well Sue has it all. I loved having her ride behind me so she could give me pointers and in front of me so I could try and learn from her skills. She endears everyone with her warm and approachable personality. Equally I have respect for the woman who raced nearer the back. To complete that race is no easy feat. There were personal goals galore throughout our whole pack of woman. Respect!

I feel like I have seen Trans-Sylvania in the making. I remember when Mike Kuhn first started staying at our house, as he tried to piece together his dream race. He wanted to put Pennsylvania and more importantly State College on the map as being the mountain bike Mecca that it is. He took advice from locals on the trails that should be used for his magical race and of course began infusing his own ingredients, which are a signature of his races (hard fun). Now I have taken part, I can whole-heartedly congratulate Mike, Ray, their families and supporters for putting on a great show. Each night in the van going home, Rich, Richie and I would discuss how impressed we were with how the race was being run and how lucky we felt to live in a place which was been represented so well. The dedication these promoters have to making this the best stage race in North America is evident. If you are considering doing it next year, don’t consider it, do it!

Finally, I am excited to see how Trans Epic will change my racing and fitness and how the mental advice I have been given will affect my race strategy and confidence. The latter I have a feeling may take a little more time.

More from TSE: Read all our racers’ exclusive dispatches from the race.

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