Inspired by watching the first women’s world cup race of 2012 in Pietermertzberg, South Africa, I turned to Ironman Danish and commanded him to help me RAPIDLY improve my technical MTB skills. Luckily, we live in South Florida. So while we have no real “mountains” the trails here replace mountains on our trails with ridiculously technical elements like teeny tiny plank bridges, crazy log overs at the top of a “hill,” and gnarly tight coral rocks and trees to navigate in between/around/over etc.
My declaration to improve has lead me to spending some serious “QT” at Markham Park. Until only last week, if you asked me whether or not I liked riding Markham Park, my response WOULD have been “hell no, AND it pisses me off that it is called Markham- since it is even spelled the same way as my maiden name.” But, I must say, after four days at Markham this past week, I now can honestly say I actually like riding there. (note like not love) One of my recent adventures at Markham saw major progress in my skills including being able to ride in the entrance gate (woo hoo!) AND being able to ride the entire “warm up” trail. The fact that the “warm up” trail is called a warm up trail is sort of a joke in my opinion. I think it is one of the hardest trails there (minus Gun Range, that trail is pretty tough). Now, after about 50 re-dos of both elements I am able to ride the gate straight through the warm up trail and onward!
This past weekend, I knew Ironman Danish had work all day both days so riding with him was not going to happen. I spoke to a few of the MTB racer girls here in South Florida and we all decided to get together at Markham Park for some work on skills and to hammer with the ladies. I was VERY excited to see how the girls approached some of the more technical elements at the park and wondered if girls really rode like girls or if they rode like Ironman Danish. A few friends, including Fast Freddy, were also heading to Markham Park but with the plan of riding the “levee”(the levee is literally a bunch of levees connected out in the Everglades which happen to start right next to the park)–I had no interest in riding the levee but when I got to the park and a few of the girls (and a few guys) mentioned they wanted to ride the levee as well, it looked as though the levee was suddenly in my plans as well. Unfortunately, Fast Freddy and crew had already taken off on their levee ride.
The levee was brutal, turns out it is a “hammer” ride. The hammer dropped immediately when we hit the levee, and we dropped almost the whole group we were with–going 20mph from the get go (we averaged 18.9 mph for the levee portion of the day). I sat in the draft of one of the guys to conserve as much energy as possible. We stopped to wait for dropped riders after about 9 miles and when the one rider remaining came through, she was ready to hammer! Turns out, she was only dropped because she was not warmed up: she rode stronger and stronger and stronger as we rode further on the levee. (The speed increase also could have been partly due to the massive alligators we rolled past on the levee. I swear one of them stared me down as I rode past) Our levee trip involved some adventure as well, since when the levee ended, rather than crossing a highway to get to the other half, we decided to bushwhack and cross the water (full of gators) on a rusty metal plank. Good times.
Needless to say, when we returned to Markham Park, I was overly warmed up and have never been so happy to ride the trails there. I was also worried about actually being able to ride the trails since I was POOPED from the levee ride. Those who had retired from the levee ride earlier were already in the trails. The rest of us refilled our water bottles and headed in to the trails. My focus quickly switched from surviving the levee to studying every move of Cat 1 Expert Women’s Racer Jennifer Moos. I was so pumped when she stopped, turned to me going into one of my least favorite trails in the park and asked “so, what do you think you really need to work on?” No sooner did she ask that then I was forced to put my foot down to get over a large rock obstacle/step positioned between two tight trees. I said “well, like this, I can’t ride over this.” She stopped, backed up, rode the obstacle again herself and began to instruct me on how to approach the obstacle. To my amazement, just watching Jen helped me understand how to approach the obstacle–like a girl (a badass girl, but a girl). Ironman Danish and other guy friends approach that obstacle and similar ones with more brute force/strength–Jen approached it with finesse. I noticed this to be the case over and over. Finesse on the trails is definitely what it means to ride like a girl.
As I rode the rest of the day, I became an apprentice of the art of women’s mountain biking. We eventually rendezvoused with the other women (including friend and fellow racer Beata Wronska), and were flying through the trails in a pace line of 6 women. Being a part of the pace line was AWESOME, especially when flying past guys stopped on the side of the trails :). So, as I continue to race and train for more races this year (including Leadville 100 MTB) I will work on perfecting riding like a girl and I will definitely work on trying to avoid taking my bikes off sweet jumps looking like Napoleon (the current state of my jumping):