It was awesome!
I tried to ride my mountain bike fast a couple weeks ago, and it was really, really fun. I also have a blast racing cyclocross, so I was fairly confident that I'd enjoy mountain bike racing, enough that I planned my summer around it and starting getting out on bikes again in January in order to start establishing a good base for going fast starting a couple weeks ago. But I also had a nagging worry that maybe I just wouldn't like it. Maybe all the things I love about riding my mountain bike would be taken away in racing it, maybe it would be too long a race for the type of athlete I am, maybe I would just suck too much as a mountain biker to be competitive and have fun.
Anyway, when I got to the registration tent to sign up, my trepidation increased. I asked to sign up as a beginner, and they said that I could but noone else was racing that class. I signed up in the next class up, "Sport," and figured that I wouldn't judge my racing ability by how I did in this race. At the start line, I put myself behind all the other men. I figure it's poor etiquette to force people to pass me if I'm really not competitive with them - it screws up the other person's race without improving mine. When the whistle blew, I clipped in, did a little bit of a sprint - nothing hard, just to get up to speed - and found myself near the front. So I put myself on the leader's rear wheel, figuring I'd just try to stay in contact with the lead group for the first half of the race.
The course started with a long, relatively gentle fire road climb. I felt like I was starting to work a little bit too hard at some points, but I wasn't ready to let the leaders go yet either. So I stayed on them, and even ended up at the front very briefly. I didn't think I could actually open a gap or maintain it for another hour and a half, so I downshifted and cruised.
I was feeling pretty cool until we hit the singletrack. I've been riding on the road a ton, but I've been pretty bad about going out and riding singletrack - I can hop on my road bike any time I want to, but I have to drive to ride my mountain bike. Anyway, it was twisty, with tight uphill turns and some roots and erosion barriers that I had a hard time getting over. I lost the three leaders, but, if I remember correctly, I didn't actually get passed.
I actually ended up catching two of the lead group again after the trail section, but they dropped me again in the next one and one of them I didn't see again until I went and told him, "Good race" afterwards. It was really fun though - I had no expectation of being competitive, let alone hanging for a while with the guys who won it. I lost one of the other guys from the lead group for a while, but I saw him again, and caught up with him, near the end. Someone else also passed me, but I don't remember the circumstances. He probably passed me either in a trail section or immediately after one.
The course was 15.9 miles long. My time was 1:23.20. That means I was cooking along at 11.5mph. For me, off-road, that's pretty fast. It was a fast course, but I still rarely maintain that sort of pace even on fire roads. There were twenty racers who finished. 12-14 men and 6-8 women. I placed fourth overall, which meant I was pretty competitive with the men as a group, and I actually placed first in my age class. Granted only two other people were in it, but I'm still pretty stoked about my finish. Now I have a decision to make, though - I anticipate the competition in the series I'm most interested in to be a little bit stiffer, but if I can race "sport" and do well, I'd rather do that than race beginner and be a sandbagger.