I actually bumped into one of my teammates on the ferry, and he took my messenger bag, which was really nice - it was a bit heavy, with all the water I brought, and riding to the race course with just a camelbak was much more comfortable (he'd already promised a ride to the race to two other people, and didn't have space for more bikes.)
Riding to the course, my legs felt tired and I found myself having a hard time finding the right gear. When I got there, Joel, my teammate, had actually just arrived - he had time to park and walk the short distance to the course in the time it took me to ride there, so I wasn't going as slowly as I felt like I was. We started to pre-ride together, but Joel's a faster rider than I am and we got separated pretty quickly.
The land the course is on is pretty flat. It had some grades, including some pretty difficult climbs, but no really major elevation gain or loss. Because it's been warm and dry lately, the course was very dry and very fast. It had a lot of rollers and stutter bumps, so keeping the bike on the ground on the gentle downslopes was difficult and keeping the rear wheel hooked up on the climbs was sometimes hard too. The soil was mostly pretty sandy, but the trees were quite dense and there were small ones getting very, very close to the trail. I'm not usually nervous about using bar ends on my bike, but they scared me a little today.
The most interesting, and strangest feature on the course was the large grey dirt mounds. They were very steep - probably the angle of repose of the dirt they were made out of. They were a lot like really overgrown moguls from a dirt jumping track, but without a significant descent leading to them and at 10' tall, getting up them was challenging. Two were in places that made it difficult to carry much intertia, and the trail actually turned passing over one in another location. I thought they were lots of fun.
A lot of the course was on what looked like fire roads, although they seemed a little too narrow for anything bigger than an ATV or dirt bike. They were mostly very straight, so the course pretty much alternated fast, non-technical straightaways with twisty singletrack. The singletrack wasn't too technical either, but all the turns gave me trouble. I think that it will change my lap times a lot when I can figure out how to take turns faster.
By the time I finished my pre-ride, the sport class riders were already staging for the start. I still had time to eat another power bar and switch from my camelbak to a water bottle, but not as much as I like to. I guess I also didn't have time to start questioning my ability to perform well, but I'd already been doing that since getting off the ferry, so it was kind of a wash.
The race followed the pattern I'm beginning to be accustomed to - my age group started hard and fast, and I tried to give myself a position that wouldn't force me to pass a lot of people once the pack started to spread out. I did pass a couple people, but not too many, and I don't think I worked as much passing them as I might have fighting for a better position at the very beginning. I tried to keep the lead group in sight for a while, but as tired as I was feeling, I wasn't going to try to maintain their pace - it was a mistake two weeks ago, and I was feeling a bit better that day. So I ended up dropping away from the leaders, and I dropped the guys following me, and rode pretty much alone for a while. Near the end of the first lap, the leaders from the older age group passed me, and then I started giving up spots to faster people from the 35-44 category every now and then. Sometime during the second lap, I also caught up to some of the people who'd gone out ahead of me at the beginning. That's always a nice vindication of my pacing.
On another day, I might have tried to ride really hard for the third lap. Today was not that day, and I just continued at the same pace. There were a few spots where I thought about trying to go a little faster, but ultimately the fatigue won - I was racing pretty close to the fastest I could go, and I was afraid that the recovery time that would follow a hard effort would easily outweigh any gains I might make.
Most of the way through the third lap, I caught up to my teammate. I later learned he'd had some trouble with his chain on two occasions during the race, and wasn't having a brilliant day. He had it solved when I saw him, so he hopped on my wheel right away when I passed him. He followed me for a while, but two more riders chased onto us and he passed me defending his position from them. The race was almost over at that point, so I started riding harder, and managed to keep him and the two other riders in sight for the rest of the race. We went through the last few turns like the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse, or perhaps the three horsemen of the apocolypse and someone's cousin who was available to cover a shift on short notice - I kept the other guys in sight, but it was a struggle.
The organizers for this race were taking the bottom strip off of everyone's race number and staple it to a bulletin board to simultaneously track and post people's positions at the end. I think the immediacy of that is totally cool - no waiting while the marshals figure out places. I'm not sure if the two other guys in the cluster I finished with were in my and Joel's age group or not. He got sixth, and I finished seventh.
I think the field today was about the same size and at least as competitive as the group that came out for the Tucker Classic two weeks ago, so a seventh place finish is a little better than my last one. I felt better going into the race two weeks ago, despite having had poor sleep, but I think that riding too hard in the beginning of that race cost me; this time I think I paced myself just right. I was slowing down a little at the very end, I think, before Joel and the other two riders passed me and gave me some extra motivation, but not as badly as what I had to do during the middle part of the one two weeks ago. When I last looked at the bulletin board, a little while after I'd finished (and had a chance to grab my camelbak again, since my bottle was empty) there were fifteen names up in my age group. I'm not sure how many started, but I think it was more than that. In any case, I definitely finished in the top half of my age and class, so that's good too.
I felt pretty demolished when I finished. My legs were weak, I was thirsty, and I had a little bit of a headache. One of the things I love about racing is that unless I have a failure in motivation, I almost always push myself to the limit of what I can do on that day. I don't think there's anything I could have done differently today that would have improved my race. Getting there earlier might have been nice, but I doubt that it would actually have made a difference in how I did. In any case, I think that I rode the best race I could from when the organizer said "go" until I crossed the finish line. I think a lot of this blog sounds a little negative - tiredness was certainly a theme today. However, I did better than I did two weeks ago, and I'm feeling very fast. I think that all my training and preparation is working, and I'm having a blast.