I overslept on the morning of this race. I decided breakfast wasn't negotiable and got out of the house later than I'd have liked to. When I got to Leavenworth, I went to two wrong places to try to pick up my race packet before going to the course. So by the time I got my number twist-tied onto my bike, my wave was already on its way up the starting climb and I still hadn't warmed up.
Luckily for me, the race organizers had a way to deal with this. They started me with the Clydesdales, about fourteen minutes after my wave, then placed me in my class according to my time. That meant I was essentially doing a time-trial, just with more closely-spaced riders on the course. Apparently a couple of other riders weren't in the right waves either that day, for one reason or another.
The course follows the Freund Canyon Loop. The organizers say it's 8.6 miles, with 1800' of climbing. I did two laps. It's basically a very long climb on either a fire road or generally non-technical singletrack and then an equally long descent back to the start/finish area. I'd been going back and forth on a strategy for this race - obviously if I bonked on the climb during the second lap, it would really hurt my time. On the other hand, if I saved too much, I still wouldn't have a time machine with which to travel back half an hour and tell my previous self to ride faster.
The climb was long. Mostly it wasn't very technical - it just went up and up and up. There were a few sections of singletrack benched out of the side of the mountain that were more difficult, especially when they were also steep, and there were 3' tall roller things built along the top part of the loop that were difficult to get up if I was already climbing, including one that made me dismount on the second lap.
Starting from pretty far back in the race was interesting. I was behind some of the women's fields, but ahead of some of the older men's fields and the juniors. I spent a lot of the race catching and passing women, before chasing into my own field. I also got caught by a couple of really competitive older guys and juniors, and some of the women blew right by me on the descent. I think cyclists who are douches on the road should have to actually enter a few races, so that some women or 14-year-old boys can show them what "fast" really means.
The descent was pretty incredible. It's the first XC race I've attended that incorporated a wall ride. There were a ton of berms and a couple of deep stream crossings. By the time I got to the bottom, I felt like my right calf muscle was going to explode, but I'm just as goofy-footed on a mountain bike as I am on a snowboard - switching leading feet feels incredibly awkward to me.
I promised myself I'd climb like it was going out of style on the second lap, but didn't end up working as hard as I meant to. I've been meaning to alternate sitting and standing on really long climbs, like the one on that course, but I didn't shift up enough times when I stood up to be in the pedals. Next time, I'll try a different shifting technique and see if it works better. I also lost focus for a little while in some of the high singletrack, and then caught myself riding at a more reasonable pace than the situation really merited.
At the end of the descent the second time, I was supposed to turn right and go through the finishing gate, but I turned left as I had on previous laps. Something felt wrong - no racers lying on the ground and panting - so I asked someone and found my way back to the finish line. I doubt I lost more than a minute doing that, though.
A lot of people say a mountain bike race is a lot like a time trial - you ride at the highest pace you can sustain for a period of time, and then see how your time stacks up. I disagree. If I'd started with my class, I'd have tried to stay in with one of the faster groups. I might have blown up sometime during the race and done much worse, and I might have stayed focused and done a little better. Time trialists don't really know how the other riders are doing, but in a cross-country race, at least within my own little piece of the course, I do. The winner of a mountain bike race will have the shortest time, but many of us are racing each other, not the clock. I think that's huge.
Ultimately, I did alright. I was 14th out of 31 finishers and 36 who entered. The 12th and 13th guy both came in within a minute of my time, so I can't help wondering what the results would have been like if I was together enough to show up on time. I guess my result shows that while I may sometimes do my best to screw myself up, all the training has a lot to do with it too.
I'm skipping this weekend's race. It's very far away and a long ride I went on yesterday afternoon was my first non-commute ride since my biopsy. So my next "real" race will be either 7/10 or 7/18, and then my XC racing season will be done.
It's been an odd season. Mechanical problems, not many races, and not as much time to train as I'd like to have all contributed to making it a bit of a sophomore slump. I was busy because I'm in school again, working toward a goal that I think will really improve my life, so it's worth it. But I'm going to plan next year more conservatively, and I think I'm going to choose just one CX series this Fall and maybe even skip a few if I start getting into "workathon" mode about something I do for fun.