With the sprint distance portion of my mountain bike racing season coming to a close, I was pretty excited to have two things happening. First, the race was at what amounts to my home course. I know the terrain, have ridden the course (most of it anyway) many times, and feel very comfortable there. Second, it was an incredibly beautiful day. Just about every race has been in cold and or wet weather. This was a day where there actually a risk of cramping due to heat.
With this being a home race, the Project 529 team was out in force. There was a healthy handful of yellow Santa Cruz bikes; more than I had seen at any race this season. The turnout overall for a Budu race seemed light, especially given the weather. However, it was Cinco de Mayo, so who knows.
I had a single plan for the race. I wanted to keep my heart rate under control, and work my nutrition plan ahead of the NW Epic race next weekend at Stottlemeyer and the half Ironman next month. My experimentation with nutrition this week was to pre-mix Gu and water in a flask, and consume my calories that way. I also wanted to work salt tablets into my race plan, as Hawaii will have heat and humidity which we don’t have here in the Northwest.
It’s never a good plan to introduce too many new things for a race, and I knew before the gun went off that I would likely have problems with how I stashed my bottle with the Gu/water mix. During my pre-ride, my knee hit the plastic holder which I had zip tied to my top tube, and I thought that there was a change the bottle would pop out during the race. I should have listened to that inner voice.
As the gun went off, I was pretty shocked to see Christian (“VB” as we call him) take off like a scalded cat. He was sitting in 4th or 5th position heading up the fire road. I knew that he wanted to drop into the downhill single track and let his downhill skills carry him forward, and I didn’t want to get in his way as he is leaps and bounds faster than I am downhill. The two guys between us were holding his pace, so I figured I would just settle in and let the race come to me. He’s fast, and I was white knuckling that section of the course. Following him was was without question the fastest I have ever gone through there.
As soon as we turned into what I will call the “goat track” section of the course, we caught some of the 50+ racers who went off in the start wave ahead of us. As we closed one of them down and were yelling for him to pull over, he pulled off to the right. He was nice enough to let VB go, and the two guys in front of me, but for some unknown reason he pulled back onto the trail in front of me. I collided with his frame and went over the handle bars into the weeds. I was…pissed. Looking back, I know how mad I must have appeared because as Alex went by me, he was shouting at me to settle down and collect myself.
I remounted and threw my plan out the window. That’s my biggest problem. Lack of rev limiter, and the red mist descends when I race. I got back on the bike and dropped the hammer to get back to VB. In short order, my knee knocked my Gu flask off my top tube and hit the ground. More swearing. To stop at that point would have been stupid, as we were still quite bunched up from the start. So to sum up, within 10 minutes, I have hit the ground and my nutrition is lost to the forest. Perfect.
I continued to hammer, but knew that I needed to settle down. I needed to let the race come to me. I slowed my thoughts down enough to consider that there was a chance that my flask would still be on the ground on lap 2. I had planned on a swig at the start of lap 2, so this would just be a 10 minute delay. Just as I was processing those thoughts, I passed Alex at a log pile crossing on which he put himself on the ground. Then we made the turn up the big climb. I was completely cotton-mouthed and my HR was 181. Exactly the opposite of where I wanted to be. So I settled into the climb and took on some water. I really tried to focus on getting my HR down and calming my mind, while at the same time allowing my engine to work as I knew it could.
I finally caught and passed VB and continued to move forward through the field. The first lap was a bit too fast for me, and I knew that if I was going to make it through all 15 miles of the race, I needed to cool my jets a bit.
As I started lap 2, I saw my family had arrived. There’s something really special about seeing your wife and kids cheering for you on the side of the course. It gives a bit of a boost to an otherwise weary body.
Lap 2 was pretty uneventful. As we hit the first uphill section, I was able to look behind me and see that VB had made up quite a bit of time on the downhill section. I didn’t want him to get around me, but knew that I had nothing for him when the trail goes down. However, he passed me when, as luck would have it, my Gu flask was on the side of the trail, intact, and I was able to stop, pick it up, take a swig, and pull at my jersey to get it into a pocket (under my camelback) so as not to risk losing it again. I almost immediately got past him again on a climb when he pulled over with something in his eye.
The back half of the lap was spent playing tag with a couple of riders. I was sandwiched in between a 50+ guy and someone in my age group. When I finally managed to get in front, the age group guy started stalking me. I could hear that he was close enough, and when I asked if he needed by, he just kept saying that he didn’t feel that ambitious. As we made the final turn up the fire road, I knew I had put time into him and didn’t see him again either.
With my Gu flask handy, I took my last swig, and my last salt pill, and still felt good. My sweat rate was high, but this was also the first 80+ degree day of the year, and certainly the warmest riding conditions I have seen since last year. I felt really good and decided it was time to really push on the last lap. Sadly, my body had other plans. Everything started to slow down. My tires felt like they were glued to the roots instead of going over them. I was making tired mistakes. My lines were not clean.
Even with my pace seemingly slowing, I was still closing down riders from the other classes. As we crested the final climb of the day, I knew that I was in good shape, and I really wanted to get the guy in front of me. In looking at the time sheets, he finished :58 in front me. From where we were on the course, I think I managed to get within 20 seconds, but every time I got close, he managed to find another gear and go faster. We accordianed like this for the last mile and a half, but he eventually put too much time into me. I made a mistake on one of the final turns, completely over cooking it, and knew my race with that guy was done. Then on the final turn, I almost dumped the bike, having put my foot down and only just managing to save it.
Overall, I had a good race. Despite my feelings that I was going much slower, it turns out I was faster on lap 3 than 2. I was the top rider from Project 529, which was a great feeling as well. The timesheets tell an interesting story. I was 29th overall in Sport class, which probably had 70-80 riders in total. I was 8th/14 in the 30-39 age group. Two minutes would have put me into 6th place. First through fifth was populated by the guys who, if you asked me, would be great if they were riding in the expert class. 1:08 to 1:12 was the time bracket for the top 5, with six minutes back to sixth place. However, our first place guy, at his pace, would have put him in last place for the expert class. Those guys are FAST.
From a nutrition stand point, I am not sure Gu is working for me. The last two race weekends, where I have gone exclusively Gu, have left me in GI distress for hours after the race. I need to talk to my coach about this. It’s possible that I am taking on too many calories, or not enough. I don’t know enough about nutrition to know what to do.
I also have learned a few more things about myself. I really, really need to get the rev limiter under control for these sprint distance races. The pace at the front is unyieldingly fast. At the first race at Dash Point, which was a shorter race overall by 17 minutes for the leaders, I was 17 minutes off the front. Soaring Eagle this weekend was roughly 1/3 longer in distance, and I was only 12 minutes off the front. I went from almost DFL to a top 10 finish. I’ll take that progress and build on it for next year.
I won’t be doing any more full lap pre-rides on day of race. Even though I rode the pre-ride much slower than race pace, that was still 40 minutes of hard-ish riding I probably don’t need to be doing. Next year I will get a better pre-race warmup routine.
That’s it for the short course mountain bike racing this year. Next weekend is the first of the epic distance races – 30 miles! It should be tons of fun, and I hope to improve on my placing last year, where I was 58th of 69 in the Mens open division, and 1h43m off the lead with a whopper of a time of 4:12:01. My race fitness this year far exceeds last year. The stretch goal for this year is 3hrs, with a realistic goal of 3:30.