Battenkill and Childbirth
Battenkill, claimed to be America’s toughest one-day race, is no doubt epic. A 62-mile road race for ameteurs, with no shortage of climbs and 10 dirt sections, you almost wish it would rain, just to make it that much more outrageous. In fact, some rain would have helped matters in earnest this year, as drought conditions in upstate New York rendered parts of the course a dustbowl.
This was my fourth time racing Battenkill. After placing 8th in last year’s race, I swore I was done, but my friend and teammate Ellen was intent on improving on her time, and insisted that if she was going, I had to go too. I couldn’t say no to Ellen. She’s way too sweet. 🙂
This year, our race didn’t start until 2:30 in the afternoon. Even though I’d had a good night’s sleep and a restful morning, it somehow felt like it was time for a siesta rather than a race. Ellen and I rolled out of the farm house, where we’ve stayed each year with a group of friends, and headed in the direction of the start in Cambridge.
Arriving at the start with just about 10 minutes to spare, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the cat 4 line-up. When the gun went off I jostled my way up toward the front and picked a wheel to latch on to. Ellen joined me and we vigilantly held our positions for the first 10 miles of the race, through the quaint covered bridge, until Juniper Swamp Road, the first dirt climb.
Push, push, I urged myself. My legs were burning. It’s was the steepest climb on the course, but the dirt was packed. Out of the saddle. Count to 10. Sit. Keep going. Keep your cadence quick. Stand again. They’re getting away. Crap. Go, go! A small gap formed between me and the lead pack. Go hard, don’t recover at the top. Tuck and descend, catch back on!!!
The first selection was over and I was with the top 20 or so. Keeping myself toward the front of the group, I wasn’t suffering too terribly. Mile 27 was another dirt climb. Damn. I kinda forgot about that one. Legs are tired. Push. Let the pain settle in. Can I go harder than this? A group of 12 pulled away from me again. One other woman was with me and she and I sheepishly shared pulls in a vein attempt to catch back on. By mile 40, she had dropped back and I was on my own. CheeseFactory Road was flat and open, with lots of gravel and plenty of wind. I kept my pace steady and hard. I glanced back and saw only a few stragglers in the distance. A welcomed little bit of pavement was next, but then I made a left onto the next dirt section at Wrights road, and felt as though I had descended into the sandpit of doom.
It’s pretty telling when there’s an ambulance waiting at the bottom of a descent and a paramedic just standing there, watching the cyclists hit the sand and gravel at the bottom. My wheel swerved and I unclipped. I not so proud, I thought. I had already broken my collar bone in this race two years earlier. It’s more fun to finish the race in any place…other than the hospital.
Just as I hopped off the bike and started to run it through the deep sand, a group of 7 girls passed me and each of them managed to make it through the sand without dismounting. Aghhh! My reserve turned to resolve. I got back on, climbed out of the pit and caught the group. A woman from the Rockstar team turned to me and said, “It’s supposed to hurt!” I snort-chuckled in agreement.
Five of us fell into a tight rotation for a while until we approached the final climb: Stage Road. Stage Road has played out pretty similarly for me from year to year. Whether it’s the gradient or where the climb occurs in the race, this climb suits me, and apparently the Rockstar girl too. We climbed away from the rest of our group, and as we approached the top of the hill I said to her, “You said, it’s supposed to hurt!”
She and I took quick turns pulling, rotating brilliantly and holding off the girls behind us. 3km to go…2km… and one. A few more rotations and we turned on to Main Street. I could see the finish in the distance and I just sat on her wheel. She tossed her head back, glanced and me, then turned back and started her sprint. Ah! She went too early, I thought. I paused, then, started after her. I was almost right, and I almost caught her, but she had a few inches on me at the line!
I finished 14th this year. Ellen finished a few minutes behind me. Our faithful friend George had driven my truck to the finish and met us with water. As we spun gently in the direction of the truck, Ellen agreed that next year we could plan to do a different event, maybe even something non-competitive, like a bike tour of the Alps. George, too, agreed that after nearly a half decade of testing ourselves at Battenkill, that it might be time for a new adventure. That night, over our recovery meal of chili, guacamole and beer, we tossed out ideas: Tour of the Gila, Ride the Rockies or maybe the stage race in Kansas that one of the guys who was staying with us promoted. Battenkill: Yah, been there, done that.
The next morning, as I sat on the couch, coffee in hand, chatting with my fellow Batten-survivors, George crossed the room, looked our way and coolly interjected, “Yah, I’m coming back next year.” Ellen’s eye’s widened and she burst out, “me too, me too!” Even Raquel, who had sounded convincing when she’d figured that her skill was better suited for circuit races and crits, signed on. “I’m definitely coming back,” she said.
And so there it is. Just like the pain of childbirth, the pain of Battenkill doesn’t seem to last in our memories for very long. “12 months to Battenkill!” George declared. “12 months to Battenkill,” we echoed.