I had it on good authority that the first big climb in the race was going to be on a fire road, so when the pack started going faster than I felt I could hang onto during the start loop, I let it go. The start loop went down a dirt road, into the lower singletrack portion at the end of the course, and then through the start/finish line and into the lower singletrack portion at the beginning of the main loops. Rough, flat singletrack has to be my biggest Achilles' heel as a racer - I'm not a brilliant technical rider, but on the climbs, fitness level is more important and on the descents, I don't think it's as important because the descent itself will help me get back up to speed if I negotiate an obstacle more slowly than the competition. During the climb, I worked my way up past a lot of the people who had opened gaps on me in the singletrack earlier in the race.
I did the big descent somewhat poorly, for a couple reasons. It was pretty exposed, which scared me, although it made for some amazing views, and I was too much in my head and not enough in the moment, so I stayed a little slower to avoid making mistakes. I still wiped once during the first lap because I tried to negotiate a drop in a more advanced way than it really called for and landed with my front wheel a little cockeyed, turning it into a fulcrum so that my bike could catapult me over the bars. That was my only unintentional separation from my bike, although it was enough - I was definitely feeling that fall on Sunday. There was a creek crossing after the hard descent. That scared me too, but it looked totally cool.
The descent fed back into the singletrack on the valley floor, then there was a shorter version of the climb leading into what felt like most of the descent, more of the valley floor singletrack, and the race was over. Aside from being pretty bad in the singletrack especially between the first and second laps, I felt pretty good about my second lap. I think I even managed to be a bit more aggressive in the singletrack the last time, and I found it in me somewhere to charge the finish.
I ended up coming in tenth in the race. There were 18 finishers in my class, and another four men who started. My time was 2:21. The guy who won my class did it in 1:53. Finishing this race tenth landed me in 7th place for the series. I was only 9 points (on top of 370) away from being tied for 5th, so I'm already thinking about how to do better next season. Anyway, it was a good race for reminding me how far I've come, and also a good race to motivate me when I start doing base miles in January and the weather's really hostile.
I'm not saying where or how I got the first photo. The second one is from joelb_98045's flickr.