Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First "Real" Race of the Season

I had my first massed start cross-country MTB race for the season on Sunday. It was put on by BuDu Racing. They do a series of six early-season races that a lot of people treat as part of their training for the Indie Series. When I first started racing cross country in 2009, the Indie Series had eight races, in a variety of venues, with some of them fairly close to Seattle and only one that I decided was too far to travel. Last year, it was down to four, and this year there are four again, but two of them are very far away and I don't think I can afford the travel, one of them conflicts with something else I'm doing, and that leaves one race. So I'm thinking of emphasizing something else for my racing season this year, but haven't decided what. Anyway, that leaves the BuDu races as likely the bulk of my season. I'm not crazy about that.

It usually takes me a couple of races to hit my stride. On Sunday, I was having a really hard time just keeping the rubber side down. I started from the second or third row, which is where I like to start - back of the guys who charge from the very beginning, possibly crashing or going faster than they, or I, can sustain, but close enough to stay within striking distance. I felt like I was hanging with the group pretty well, and then I made a mistake and crashed. I basically spent the whole race going hard and then wiping out, or at least getting hung up and dabbing. At one point, I knocked my saddle off the rails. It's the second time I've done that, so I knew how to get it back on and it didn't end my race this time. I've also decided that much as I like not having mud flung all over my butt, I'm not going to use my rear fender in races under three hours anymore.

I have, of course, the usual array of excuses - course was wet, technical isn't really my thing, etc. I'm confident that I could have ridden almost everything at the pace I tend to default to when I'm riding and not racing, though. I have a new kind of fall that has crept into my catalog - falling back and to the side when negotiating a log or other obstacle in a sharp uphill turn. I don't like to blame my equipment, but I'm trying a slightly longer stem to see if that helps with that, and also gives me a little more room on the bike.

Anyway, the good news was that when I was upright and not trying to get my saddle back on, I was going pretty fast, and riding at maximum effort. BuDu's races are short, so pacing is not really an issue, and I think that riding with my new team has been expanding my ability to ride at truly masochistic effort levels for longer.

The project, which is the same one I've been working on, is to keep trying to improve my bike handling skills. If I can ride as hard as I did on Sunday and ride clean, I think I'll improve my results. One of the problems I have with practicing handling is that unless I'm trying to keep up with someone faster, I tend to lose focus on riding fast when I have to make a decision, and I really only ride at tempo pace in bursts, when I remember that's what I'm trying to do that day. I think that if I do laps on loop trails, so I don't have to make any decisions, it'll be easier for me to keep riding at the effort level I want to practice, and where my handling starts to fall apart. As the season progresses, the courses should also get friendlier to me by virtue of the weather improving, although this doesn't always happen during BuDu's season.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Racing Tapeworms

I went to strange sort-of race on Sunday. It was the Tapeworm Time Trial. One of the few times I've managed to meet up with a group from the Evergreen Mountain Bike Club was the first time I rode Tapeworm. It's part of a network of trails shoehorned into a powerline right of way in Renton. It has a strange feel. Not quite post-apocalyptic, like South Seatac, but odd - it's really quite a large amount of land, and aside from a power station, there's nothing there, but it's right in the middle of some suburban housing.

The site is on a hill, and the trails themselves are very twisty. The people who originally built them were trying to stuff as many feet of trail as they could into the area. Between the pitch, the twistiness, and the usual Pacific Northwest vegetation, the trails are very technical. While part of what I like about mountain biking is the additional challenge of the terrain, last time I went to Tapeworm, it was a bit much for me.

When I'm in good racing shape, I often reel in the opposition on climbs, but lose places in technical sections. So when someone sent out an email about this race on my team's list, I thought it would be a good idea to enter. I've been talking about how I was going to start riding Tapeworm more for a while, but I don't like the atmosphere all that much - it doesn't exactly make the spirit soar to be there. Deciding to enter the time trial gave me a specific goal to train for by riding Tapeworm.

I managed to fit in two two-hour trips before the race. I did stop-and-repeats to varying degrees on both trips, and managed to ride up some things by the end that I couldn't when I first encountered them. Of course when it came time to race, I ended up doing my fair share of running anyway, but in general I felt pretty good on the trail I practiced a lot. The race course incorporated another one that I hadn't had time to work on as much, and in an uphill-trending direction, which is always harder on technical terrain. I got pretty bogged down in that section.

I think the takeaway is that I need to keep going out of my way to ride trails that are hard for me to ride cleanly, and repeat obstacles that stop me until I can pass them. None of this is really a surprise, but it feels good to have made some progress.