Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hot. Dry. Dusty. Steep. Really, really hard.

I thought Padden Mountain was a difficult race. The weather was actually really nice for racing, though - close to what I'd ask for if I could put in a request. Today was hot. Really hot.

According to the NWS, temperatures were around 82 when I started and 88 or so when I finished. Humidity was pretty low, so getting enough water into me was really hard. I was a bit dehydrated by the end.

The course started with a brutally steep climb. It kept going. For a really long time. I heard it was a mile and a half from guys who pre-rode with odometers. On the first lap, I did a fair amount of walking because it was really difficult to maintain balance if I got slowed down by someone in front of me, and hard to regain enough momentum to remount once I was off. Between the difficulty of the climb, especially since there was a lot of traffic around me, and the heat, I wanted to quit. But it flattened out eventually and the course followed the shoulder of a hill for a while, in some swoopy singletrack that was lots of fun. I didn't do it as fast as maybe I could have because I was a little dumb from the climb and the heat, and I didn't want to make a mistake and wipe out. Also, the trail was really, really dusty. There was some real depth to the dust, like sand at a beach. Then there was some more climbing.

At the top of the last climbing section, a couple guys had a water cooler set up and were handing out little Dixie cups with water. The first time I passed them, I slowed down a little and took a cup. I drank some and poured some over my head.

The descent was really difficult for me. I'm not a great technical rider and there were ruts across the trail that scared me a lot. I also didn't feel like I was getting very consistent traction. My whole bike was jackhammering a lot. I tried to be loose and soak up as much as I could with my arms and legs, but it was difficult. I also tried drifting some of the turns, but where Padden tended to have well-benched switchbacks with the occasional really technical section thrown in, this course tended to be constantly sketchy and off-camber, although without anything particularly technical in a rocks, roots or drops sense. Just dust, ruts, and erosion.

There was a brief flat section on fire roads and what looked like old mine tailings, and then the fun started again. I had a fleeting moment of thinking I could just stop right then, and not have to do it two more times. Then I continued past the finish area, climbed the first brutal climb, and took the hairpin onto more of the course instead of going past the gate onto the road and slinking home. I started feeling more positive after making that choice and generally did a bit better than on the first lap, although there were still a few sections I ran up and I still didn't descend very well. I also started riding past more guys who were walking and caught the back of the women's category.

The third lap was about like the first two in terms of difficulty for me. I had to run the first really steep climb, but it was short and at the borderline of where running, or climbing in a harness and hauling the bike up with a handline, is more efficient anyway. I allowed a pass in some singletrack by a guy who said I'd see him again on the next climb. He was right - I saw him walking up a climb, and didn't see him again until after the finish.

Out of 14 finishers in Sport Men 19-34, I was seventh. Unless there were some stragglers who finished after I looked, which is possible but somewhat unlikely. I'm a competitive person and would like to be getting better places, but I'm pretty proud of what I'm achieving with this series. Of course, it's not over yet. There's one more race in two weeks, with a less insane elevation profile - just as many feet of climb, but over several more miles. It's not enough time to increase my fitness level, but it is enough time to go mountain biking a couple of times and hopefully improve my skills and comfort on descents a little.

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