Zen On Dirt

Watching records fall

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It’s sort of strange to sit here from my little corner of the desert watching the times roll in from the check points from Iditarod. As it stands now, if Heather Best can keep it together, she’ll shatter my record on the course. The boys are well on their way from Nicholai to McGrath to break the men’s record by hours. I’m finding my reaction to the situation interesting from a self-examination point of view.

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I was curious to see how I’d react to “watching” the ITI. I figured I’d react in one of many ways, especially if my record was going to get taken down. I’d either be wishing I was there, racing alongside of everyone there, trying to defend my title. Or I’d be planning my glorious return to racing to regain it, accepting that this winter was one for the desert. Or maybe I just wouldn’t care. Maybe I’d be glad that I rode in shorts and a jersey today instead of having to worry about staying warm.

It was clear from the get go that they were riding on a fast course. Four hours ahead of my pace my Yetna, seven by Skwentna. It looks like she got some solid sleep in Puntilla. The writing was on the wall unless they encountered some horrid trail conditions on Rainy Pass or in the Burn. While everyone said that we had ‘the best conditions ever’ last year, that rookies could never appreciate the luck we had, the times being laid down by the top guys this year are pointing to even faster conditions this year, that is, unless Kevin and Tim have increased their power outputs by huge amounts the past 365 days. They are absolutely flying. Edit: Kevin just finished, breaking JayP’s record by a whopping 14 hours. 

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I spent my afternoon ride thinking about records. When I watched Cat go after my CTR record in 2012, I watched like a hawk, and truth be told, I really didn’t want her to break it. I didn’t want anyone to challenge what I viewed as my dominance in ultra-endurance racing. When she left Silverton at the time time I had the year prior, I thought the record was done. It held and I was relieved.

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What watching this event is driving home for me is how little records matter in the end. We can’t lay ownership to records because they can, and will, be taken away from us eventually. This has been a really hard fact for me to accept in the past. What we can lay ownership to is the experiences we have out there.

This realization made me a little bit sad, because if you read my account of the ITI, I had a 80% miserable time out there due to rookie mistakes out on course and being so focused on breaking Lou Kobin’s record. There’s so much history to the route that I didn’t appreciate, and really, as much as I had to admit it after my rants about the relative dullness about my experience out there, a lot of beauty that I missed because I was so wrapped up in the singular focus of go-foward-as-fast-as-possible. Yeah, I had the record, but at what cost? But, trying situations teach us a lot about ourselves, and that one was no exception.

As I fully expect the ITI record to go down in the next 24 hours or so, I also fully expect my AZT record to fall this April. The difference is, I look back on my AZT ride with a huge amount of happiness. From the get go, it was an afterthought to race it, an excuse to hang out with Scott for a night before the race started, to escape the cold of Colorado, and to eat yummy Trader Joe’s candies. That one was always about the experience, not the record, and it showed with the memories that I walked away from it with.

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So what I’m walking away from this with is the somewhat newfound/newly acknowledged knowledge that I’m not, nor was I ever, defined by my racing. This is a freeing thought for someone who’s defined herself as a bike racer for the past decade and is still struggling with the what-next portion of life on occasion. I’m also realizing that someday, I’d really like to ride to Nome, but not in a race situation. And most definitely not alone or in a sleep-deprived state. Mike’s description of his trip at touring pace has captured my imagination. This guy’s two month winter trip touring around AK has also sparked an interest. AK has always fascinated me but my ITI experience definitely turned me off from really pursuing a return. Now, with a bit of perspective, it seems like it has a far more realistic potential.

I’m stoked for Heather to put down a good time. It’s been fun to watch.

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